Russian Sukhoi T-50 Stealth Fighter Spotted Cold Weather Testing For Inevitable F-22 Raptor Showdown

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While the United States military, politicians and the incoming President Elect are bickering over the most expensive weapons acquisition program in history — the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II — Russia is moving forward with the development of the Sukhoi T-50 fifth-generation air superiority fighter.

The aircraft made its maiden flight on January 29th, 2010 and is scheduled to go into service in 2018. In the meantime, Russia has posted new images of its stealth fighter undergoing testing in frigid climates, taking off from snow-covered runways. If this is your first time using the T-50, which is the replacement for the Sukhoi Su-27 and MiG-29, its design probably looks familiar. Its shape looks like the lovechild of the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the Northrop YF-23 (which lost the Advanced Tactical Fighter competition to the YF-22 in early 1990s). It wouldn’t be the first time that Russia cribbed an American design (take a look at the failed Buran shuttle program).

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The T-50 is highly automated, which reduces the pilot's need to focus on more mundane aspects of flight control while he (or she) is in the thick of combat situations. In addition, the T-50 makes use of various composite materials in as well as stealth technology to reduce its radar cross section. America’s premier F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II fighters make use of similar strategies to remain “invisible” to enemy radar.

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Sukhoi, along with many industry analysts, believe that the new T-50 will have no problems matching or surpassing the performance of fighters like the F-22 Raptor, while coming in at a lower per-unit price ($50 million compared to $150 million). The T-50 will also allegedly be more maneuverable in part due to its Multi-Axis Thrust Vectoring (MATV) technology. Whereas the F-22 Raptor can vector its thrust up and down (controlling pitch), the T-50 adds the ability to vector thrust left to right (controlling yaw).

Like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lighting II, the T-50 includes internal weapons bays to help reduce its radar signature (and reduce drag). There are two main weapons bays along the centerline of the aircraft’s belly and two secondary bays near each wing root. The T-50 is said to have a top speed in excess of Mach 2, and has the ability to supercruise (without afterburners) at Mach 1.6. Ferry range (maximum range) is rated for just over 3,400 miles.

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We hope that the F-22 Raptor and the T-50 will never have to meet in a real-world conflict (although it's probably inevitable). However, the outcome of such an air battle will likely be a testament of not only the specs of each aircraft, but pilot training, complex sensors arrays and mesh networks that modern warplanes use to provide real-time assessments of threats.