Russia’s entry into stealth fighter technology, the Sukhoi T-50, was unveiled in at the MAKS 2011 airshow n Moscow to much fanfare. However, what went largely overlooked was what that event meant for India, Hindustan Aeronautics were Sukhoi’s partners in developing the stealth fighter prototype, and according to current plans, India will ultimately deploy at least as many of the stealth jets as the Russians. The T-50’s test flight therefore brings India one step closer to fielding stealth fighters, as well as one step closer to fielding them before China.
Although the maiden public flight of the T-50 at MAKS 2011 was marred by some technical difficulties, the plane is much farther along than its Chinese equivalent. Whereas the much ballyhooed test flight of the Chinese J-20 was short, launched by surprise and tightly controlled, the Russians were confident enough to advertise the T-50’s debut in advance and undertake it at a major public event. Considerable information (secret or otherwise) about the plane was gleaned as a result.
Russian officials have indicated that the T-50 will enter production at the end of 2016, so it is very likely that the fighter will become the world’s third fifth-generation fighter aircraft, after the American F-22 and F-35. As a result, Russia, India and any export customers will almost certainly field production T-50s long before any Chinese equivalent enters service. Furthermore, most experts agree the J-20 project already incorporates technology from a previously abandoned Russian stealth fighter project, and that China might not be able to produce a viable stealth fighter without further Russian assistance.
This development puts the growing rivalry between India and China in a new light. Both India and China are large countries with booming economies and populations over the one-billion mark, and both India and China are engaged in extensive military modernization programs. India and China also have unresolved border disputes, and according to some sources, the Indian military now views China as a major threat (instead of Pakistan). The deployment of large numbers of advanced stealth fighters by the Indian Air Force in the near future is therefore a major development in the nascent Indian-Chinese arms race.
Although many aspects of the T-50 prototype remain classified, some information on the plane is available. The tail fins have been observed as fully movable rather than using conventional rudders, like those of the Norththrop YF-23 prototype. The radar is an advanced active phased array system, and the prototype that flew at MAKS 2011 is known to have been moderately stealthy. Russian newspapers have stated the design team of the T-50 intended to create an aircraft that was less stealthy, but more maneuverable than an American F-22.