Is Russian company Sukhoi building a new stealthy “single-engine low-observable hypersonic light tactical fighter”? A news report in Russia’s TASS news publication says yes, citing an industry source.
What might that look like? The report says the aircraft will reach super high speeds above Mach 2 and operate as a light tactical plane with a take-off weight of eighteen tons. Not surprisingly given this reported weight and speed, the TASS report claims the new plane will have “super maneuverability” due to a thrust vector control engine.
“The plane’s thrust-to-weight ratio will be above 1,” the TASS report says.
The new aircraft could also be unmanned, according to the report, which offered few additional details on the aircraft and did not specify any kind of timeframe. Is it purely conceptual at this point? Or something potentially already taking shape? Some initial thoughts which likely come to mind are, simply put, would it rival the speed, stealth and overall attributes of a U.S. sixth-generation aircraft? Little is known about the U.S. sixth-generation stealth fighter; however, there certainly could be some conceptual parallels between the two. Certainly, when it comes to maneuverability, should the U.S. sixth-generation jet be anything like a next-generation F-22 jet, then perhaps the two new aircraft would compete to be the fastest and most maneuverable on earth.
Perhaps of greatest significance, the reference to “hypersonic” remains unclear. There are already plans to fire hypersonic weapons from several fighter jets, and Russia claims to already have an air-launched hypersonic missile. The United States plans to fire hypersonic weapons from aircraft, too, to include an F-15 jet as well as other aircraft such as an F-35 jet. As for a manned jet traveling at hypersonic speeds, U.S. scientists have in recent years been very clear that such a prospect is, at least at the moment, nowhere in sight. Humans simply would not be able to survive the heat conditions associated with hypersonic flight. An unmanned jet, however, could introduce a different possibility even if it is lightweight. Engineering any kind of a single-engine fighter plane to travel at hypersonic speeds does not seem entirely realistic . . . at least not according to most cutting edge science. The TASS report says the new stealth fighter would travel at speeds above Mach 2, a speed well short of the Mach 5 speeds typically associated with hypersonic flight.
The TASS report quotes the Rostec CEO saying the firm is pursuing both light-and-medium high-speed combat planes that are both manned and unmanned. This concept, in which aircraft are engineered for both manned and unmanned missions in an almost interchangeable way, also exists with the U.S. military, quite possibly with programs like the sixth-generation program.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.