Recently, an interesting article by Roman Skomorokhov appeared on VO "Why is the VKS another plane?", in which the author assessed the need of our military-space forces for a new light multi-purpose combat vehicle (the “photo” above is not her, it's just someone’s creative fantasy).
The fact is that recently in the media there was information about the start of work on the creation of a light multi-purpose front-line aircraft (LFMS). Money for primary aerodynamic calculations in this direction in the amount of as much as 4 million rubles. allocated RSK "MiG". And so, dear R. Skomorokhov asked the question: why do we need this plane?
The argument against the LFMS is completely sound. Today, there are already 12 types of operational tactical aircraft serving in the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Navy aviation: MiG-29, MiG-29K, MiG-35, MiG-31, Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, Su-30, Su-33, Su-34, Su-35, Su-57. Yes, the MiG-29, Su-24, Su-27 serve their last terms, but even after that we will have 9 types of operational-tactical aviation! Isn't it a bit much?
Well, let's try to compare the "typology" of operational-tactical aviation of our airborne forces with the same USA.
Everything is simple here. In the United States, there are no such aircraft either in the Air Force or in creation projects. We have a MiG-31 in service and a certain MiG-41 in development. It is rather difficult to say why it is needed, but, fortunately, this is not the topic of this article: we only note that this interceptor must be able to “work” not only in the air, but also in near space, and also have an unmanned version. From this point of view, the development of such a machine, at least as a concept, probably has a right to life. And maybe not only as a concept - in the end, someone must “clean” the near space from spy satellites, and even hypersonic drones. In addition, the MiG-41 will not be useless in more “mundane” conflicts. Indeed, along with the ability to conduct long-range aerial combat, he should also receive the latest stealth technologies, which in combination with a speed of 4M or higher, as well as a large combat radius, if used correctly, will give him certain tactical advantages.
We have no such aircraft, neither in formation nor in development. Another thing is the Americans. True, the Americans who have become famous SR-71 Blackbird have already written off, but they are developing the unmanned SR-72 with might and main. Moreover, according to reports, we are talking about high-altitude and hypersonic aircraft - it was stated that the speed of the SR-72 can reach 6M.
Thus, it turns out that the Russian Federation retains the MiG-31, which it inherited from the USSR, as part of the VKS, and it seems quite reasonable and rational not to abandon dozens of completely capable combat units with the existing infrastructure just for the sake of unification of the composition! And we and the Americans are designing high-altitude and high-speed aircraft, only we - in the form of an interceptor, they - in the form of a scout. In other words, the United States and I have no particular difference in this area.
Air conquest fighters
The top of the "food pyramid" among the Americans is the F-22 - a heavy fighter that turned out to be too expensive even for the Americans, which is why it was released in a very limited batch.
Our analogue is the Su-57 - this is the best we have today, even with engines of the 1st stage. But, apparently, the aircraft also proved to be excessively expensive for mass construction.
Alas, no matter how good the fighter, it cannot be in two or three places at the same time. In real conflicts, the number of combat vehicles is of great importance. That is why, with the advent of the F-22, the Americans were in no hurry to abandon the gradually aging F-15Cs, which still occupy the place of the “workhorse” in the US Air Force. An analogue of this aircraft in the Russian Federation should be considered the Su-27. At the same time, the Su-27 is serving its last terms, and even in its modernized version it clearly does not reach the American Eagles, since the modernization was of a very budgetary nature.
But the Americans are not going smoothly. No matter how good the F-15C is for its time, it is physically obsolete and it’s time to dump this type of aircraft stories". As a result, the United States found itself in a very unimportant situation - in the near future they will be forced to write off a little more than half of the fighters at their disposal to gain air supremacy. Of course, for the United States this is unacceptable, we need new planes, but where to get them? Reviving F-22 production is too expensive; the USA does not have the latest heavy multi-functional fighter projects. As a result, the Americans, oddly enough, took the path of saturating their Air Force with heavy fighters of the “4 ++” generation: we are talking, of course, about the F-15CX. An analogue of this aircraft in the Russian Federation is the Su-35. As the F-15CX is the pinnacle of the F-15 family’s development, the Su-35 is the pinnacle of the Su-27 family, and both of these planes have gone very far from their “grandparents” and are, to a large extent, new cars.
As for naval aviation, the situation here is this: the Americans at one time saved on the development of a carrier-based fighter to gain superiority in the air, deciding that "it will do," and that the Hornets and Super Hornets will successfully cope with any remaining enemy after the collapse of the USSR. We still have a bit of Su-33 - perhaps they are not physically worn out as Su-27, but their avionics are categorically outdated today, and it makes no sense to start an expensive upgrade for the sake of a dozen aircraft. The presence of such aircraft still gives certain tactical advantages to the only Admiral TAVKR fleet Soviet Union Kuznetsov ”, and indeed, today, sailors are happy with any aircraft, but still the Su-33 will also leave for a well-deserved rest, and soon enough.
Thus, the United States currently has three types of aircraft gaining dominance in the air, of which in the next decade, apparently, there will be two - F-22 and F-15СХ. We have four such aircraft, of which in the near future will also remain two - Su-57 and Su-35. Thus, we don’t have any particular disastrous “diversity” in this type of combat aircraft.
Here everything is much more interesting. To date, the Americans have one aircraft of this type - F-15E. This aircraft is essentially a two-seater variation of the F-15C, optimized for striking at ground targets. And, despite the known differences, the F-15C and F-15E are modifications of the same aircraft, which greatly simplifies the maintenance and servicing of these machines.
Of course, the F-15E is also aging, like the F-15C, and the day is not far off when cars of this type will not be able to rise into the air simply due to physical wear and tear. Therefore, the Americans are preparing to replace him with might and main. Functionality F-15E will pass "by inheritance" F-15EX, which will be a shock modification of the fighter to gain air superiority F-15СX. Simply put, due to physical aging, the F-15E / F-15C pair will be replaced by the F-15EX / F-15CX.
Everything is much more complicated here. An analogue of the F-15E is the Su-30SM.
But, in addition to the “Su-thirtieth”, our Sukhoi Air Force and Navy also have Su-24 and Su-34 at their disposal, which are also “sharpened” for shock functionality! And if everything is generally clear with the Su-24, since its unmodified version has already been withdrawn from service, and the modified one, whatever one may say, has survived in recent years, then the presence of both the Su-30 and Su-34 is obviously irrational.
There are two ways of building strike tactical aviation. You can make attack aircraft based on multi-functional fighters, or you can - as a separate project. Each of these approaches has its pros and cons. A specialized aircraft will be more successful in its main function, but its creation and operation will be much more expensive than the modification of an existing fighter into an attack aircraft. Alas, we went all the way at once.
Due to its not-so-modern design, the Su-30SM cannot be considered a promising aircraft for gaining air supremacy, although today it is still capable of effectively fighting 4th generation fighters. As a strike aircraft, it is not bad, but still, most likely, will be inferior to the latest American F-15EX. An analogue to the latter could be a shock double version of the Su-35, but nothing is heard about the development of such.
The Su-34 is still a clean “drummer” of a separate project, which in its main function, and if equipped with the latest avionics, is quite capable of surpassing the F-15EX. Thus, we can say that we needed to either make a shock version of the Su-35, abandoning the Su-30SM and Su-34, or not to do this, and replenish the troops of the Su-34, but abandoning the Su-30SM. Or, as an option, abandon the Su-34 and the strike version of the Su-35, pull up the Su-30SM avionics “designate” it as the main attack aircraft.
Alas, for a number of objective reasons this was not done, and where the Americans will soon have only one F-15EX, the Su-30SM and Su-34 will be in the VKS. Two attack aircraft against one. Moreover, the "American" will be unified with the F-15CX air conquest fighter, and the Su-30SM and Su-34 will have nothing of the kind with the Su-35. As a result, where the United States will manage, in fact, with one aircraft (F-15EX / CX), we will have as many as three - Su-35, Su-30SM and Su-34. Not good.
The name “light” is very arbitrary here: the author simply “reduced” to this category all multi-functional fighters that are not heavy. The United States has such aircraft ... it's hard to even count. We will say - three, that is, F-35 of all modifications, F / A-18E / F and, of course, F-16. Although one can count four, if we single out separately the VTOL F-35D variant. Or even five, if you consider separately the modification of the "Hornet" - the electronic warfare aircraft "Growler", although this is not a fighter. But let’s stop at three.
In this case, the F-35, in some reasonable perspective, should replace the F-16, but with the F / A-18E / F, everything is not so clear. The latter were being built with might and main after 2010, so, most likely, the fleet is not at all ready to abandon the Super Horn in favor of the F-35C. Sailors are going to use both types of aircraft for at least two more decades.
What about us? There are MiG-29 of old modifications, which are already quite “pensioners”, there are a small number of “remodels” of the MiG-29SMT that will still serve, and there are still new MiG-29Ks - the ship version, which is also the most advanced. At the same time, the MiG-29K is the backbone of the Russian carrier-based aviation and will remain so for a long time. As a matter of fact, there are quite a lot of differences between the MiG-29SMT and MiG-29K, but hardly more than the F-35A and F-35D, so perhaps our MiG-29SMT and K forces can be counted for modifications of the same same plane. In addition, formally, we also have the MiG-35. Why - formally? There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the MiG-35 is a land variant of the MiG-29K, and the author is not sure that they should be considered as two different aircraft. And secondly, because, alas, no one is going to replenish the MiG-35 VKS in any mass order. In fact, deliveries of the MiG-35 to the VKS look like a “for show” action, which helps keep the MiG RSK afloat on the one hand, and increases the export potential of the MiG-35 on the other. For, as you know, those planes that the manufacturing country has put into service are better sold. And there are no other light fighters in the Russian Air Force and Navy.
Thus, in the near future, the Russian Federation will have three modifications of the MiG-29 (SMT, K and "thirty-fifth"), and the United States - three modifications of the F-35 and "Superhornet." We can say that we will have one type of light fighter, and the Americans - two. At the same time, the saddest thing is, the MiG-29 in its current form is inferior to American aircraft in the capabilities of avionics.
The Americans have an old A-10 already, we have a no less elderly Su-25. These planes are very different, but belong to the same class, and neither we nor the United States are pushing for the development of new attack aircraft. Apparently, in the foreseeable future, both we and the Americans will finally lose this class of combat aircraft.
But what about other countries?
Yes, Germany, England, France, etc. cost fewer types of combat aircraft. But you need to understand that their Air Force, in general, is not self-sufficient. They are suitable for “admonishing” third-world countries that do not have any serious air force and air defense, or for supporting Big Brother, that is, the US air force in a global conflict.
And now, twenty years later ...
The last remaining in service of the MiG-31BM by this time, of course, will already retire, so there will be no interceptors at the Russian Air Force. The Americans will be left with two heavy fighters to gain air supremacy F-22 and F-15СX - and we will have the same number, Su-57 and Su-35. The United States will have a strike F-15EX, we - the Su-30SM and Su-34. In terms of light fighters, the Americans have F-35s of three modifications and, possibly, the latest F / A-18s, we have a handful of completely outdated MiGs of three modifications. The attack aircraft will not remain with us, nor with them.
And, strangely enough, we can be a plus for heavy fighters, since the American "Raptor" by 2040 will be on the verge of complete physical deterioration. But on strike aircraft and light fighters in the red we find ourselves, on the contrary, we. In the case of attack aircraft, this will happen because the United States will begin mass re-equipment of its air forces with new aircraft after 2020, while we have a large number of Su-30SM and Su-34 commissioned in 2010-2020, and the first of they will have to be written off already due to physical wear and tear.
A modern combat tactical aircraft is capable of serving about 30 years. About as much is planned for the F-35, for example. Strategic bombers / missile carriers, of course, are capable of more, but not about them. And we must understand that twenty years later, the first aircraft received by the Russian Aerospace Forces under the GPV 2011-2020 program will need to be decommissioned. That is, by about 2040, the whole question will arise of updating the fleet of combat aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces and the Navy.
Creating a combat aircraft
It is not only costly, but also very lengthy. Take, for example, the same American Raptor. Competition for this aircraft was announced in 1986, and began to operate in 2005, that is, 19 years after the competition. And even if we count from the moment the first serial aircraft arrived in the army, what happened in January 1, it still turns out almost 2003 years. The creation of the Su-17 started in 57, that is, we can say that the cycle of its creation will take about 2001 years.
And finally, LFMS
What can be expected from this program? Alas, there is little information about it, and indeed, news from afar is rarely true. We are talking about a relatively light twin-engine aircraft, which can be built in versions of a fighter gaining dominance in the air, strike and, possibly, attack. Moreover, it is obvious that work on this aircraft is in its earliest preliminary stage.
Thus, it can be assumed that the LFMS will be ready for deliveries to the Air Forces in 20 years, just when the Su-30SM, Su-34, MiG-29 of all modifications begin to retire. And if our designers succeed, then with the help of the LFMS we will just get rid of the different types of operational tactical aircraft.
By the time the rearmament is completed, the Russian Air Forces will include heavy fighters gaining air supremacy (Su-57) and more massive ones based on the LFMS, as well as attack and maybe even assault based on the same LFMS. Also, perhaps, the MiG-41 interceptor will appear and ... actually, that's all. By the way, based on this, it can be assumed that the LFMS will not be too light, rather, it will be an average multi-functional fighter.
If this is so, then the decision to create a LFMS should be considered absolutely correct and timely. But if under the abbreviation “LFMS” we get another MiG-3 variation in 5-35 years, then we should unconditionally agree with the position of the respected R. Skomorokhov.