Yesterday marked the official debut of the Sukhoi T-50, a Russian aircraft designed to challenge the U.S. military's F-22 Raptor -- otherwise known as the most advanced fighter jet on the planet -- for supremacy of the skies.
The stealth jet, also known as the PAK FA, was unveiled during the MAKS-2011 air show held near Moscow and is scheduled go into mass production within a relatively short span of three years, according to a report published by RIA Novosti, a state-run Russian news agency. The news comes on the heels of the revelation back in January that China was testing their own stealth fighter dubbed the J-20.
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Meanwhile, production of Lockheed Martin's F-22 has been slashed from an original slate of 648 fighters to only 187 because of the technology's high cost and a decision by officials to divert more resources toward developing the F-35, a smaller albeit cheaper and more versatile stealth fighter. The fact that last year's National Defense Authorization Act didn't include funding for the purchase of additional F-22s indicates the program, as it stands, simply isn't a priority.
The Pentagon's rationale, as repeatedly stated by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, is that, with the current state of warfare, upgrading the fleet to such a degree would be both expensive and unnecessary.
According to a report by ABC News:
"The F-22 is clearly a capability we do need -- a niche, silver-bullet solution for one or two potential scenarios -- specifically the defeat of a highly advanced enemy fighter fleet," Gates said then. "[But] the F-22, to be blunt, does not make much sense anyplace else in the spectrum of conflict."
Despite the U.S. Air Force's involvement in multiple major combat operations since the F-22s went operational in December 2005, the fighters have never been sent into combat.
In defense of the program, dozens of supporters in Congress and state governments wrote letters to President Obama in 2009 arguing the full force of F-22s would be needed to meet the future challenge of other nations like Russia and China. At the time, Gates dismissed those claims and said the U.S. next generation fighters would greatly outnumber any adversaries' for the next 15 years at least.
But the aerial arms race may soon be heating up. To demonstrate how formidable and cost-efficient Russia's next generation aircraft is compared to the F-22, RIA Novosti created an infographic that shows how the planes measured up when pitted in a head-to-head match up.
While the T-50 appears to have equally impressive capabilities, the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that it isn't as stealthy as the F-22 since the aircraft is designed to be more agile. Also, it'll still be a while before the Russians can ramp up its military fleet to the point where it can truly rival the U.S. Air Force.
Still, if not now, then when should the U.S. worry?
(via ABC News)
Image: Infographic: RIA Novosti
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