At the beginning of 2021, as part of the 279 separate shipborne fighter aviation regiment of the aviation Northern fleet and 100 separate shipborne fighter aviation regiment of naval aviation of the Northern Fleet, there were 18 Su-33 fighters, 19 MiG-29K fighters and 3 MiG-29KUB aircraft. If desired or necessary, all these 40 vehicles can be simultaneously deployed on the Northern Fleet's only heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser.
Let's take it as an axiom that in the thirties of our century, the Russian fleet will rotate an aircraft-carrying heavy cruiser to a full-fledged aircraft carrier, the promising appearance of which is undergoing uncompromising discussions. And he, of course, will need airplanes.
They will be discussed in this article.
The trend towards choosing a single type of aircraft for a specific aircraft carrier is becoming a good form in the modern world. And only the desire to achieve maximum results in any specific niche or area of use pushes developers and customers to expand the range of aircraft types in the air group.
Three or four years ago, when the author was working on the article "Aircraft Carrier of the Russian Fleet", there was no clear idea of which domestic aircraft to choose as a prototype for developing a deck version. The newest (at that time) Su-35, brought to mass production and entering the troops, surpassed the already rather big Su-33 in size. And choosing it as a prototype would not look unambiguously successful for the type of aircraft carrier proposed in this article.
The lack of publicly available reliable information about the passing tests of the Su-57 inspired only confident optimism about the country's receiving a fifth-generation fighter.
At the moment, in terms of specific figures, we can confidently assert the validity of the choice of the Su-57 as a prototype for the development of a new generation carrier-based fighter, conventionally called the Su-57K, to replace the Su-33 and the armament of the new aircraft carrier.
The table under the name Su-57K gives the characteristics of the production aircraft Su-57.
Such a loose assumption allows us to extrapolate the parameters of the future aircraft, which at the stage of implementation in metal a few years later should not differ significantly from the prototype.
The advantages in terms of the characteristics of the Su-57K over its classmate (heavy carrier-based fighter) of the previous generation are visible, as they say, with the naked eye. And they can hardly be disputed even by fans of the Su-33.
The old dilemma about the choice of a heavy or light fighter to arm the future Russian aircraft carrier looks not so unambiguous. If we consider an aircraft carrier as a weapon system consisting of a ship and an aircraft, then I would like to find criteria by which one could assess the harmony of the combination of such different products.
How, for example, do we rate an artillery piece?
First of all, its caliber is mentioned in millimeters, and only then the relative length of the barrel in those very calibers.
Let's go from afar.
What is the main task of a Russian aircraft carrier or two in the navy, what should be given priority, strike capabilities or cover for ship groups from air threats on the high seas?
Fig. 1 Projections of the Su-57 as a future prototype of the Su-57K
The US fleet of aircraft carriers, having seized dominance in the world's oceans since World War II, is still attacking various coastal states with massive use of the good Super Hornet carrier-based fighter-bombers.
The example of the rotation of aircraft carriers in the Vietnam War has become a classic. As a result of the Cold War, the last F-2006 interceptor fighters have been decommissioned from American aircraft carriers since 14. The air defense capabilities of escort ships with the Aegis system on board have significantly increased. And the universal F / A-18 could cope with the few third-fourth generation fighter-bombers over the ocean.
Is this concept of using aircraft-carrying ships suitable for our country?
Of course not!
Firstly, for economic reasons, Russia will not pull the construction and maintenance of three aircraft carrier strike groups in the Northern and Pacific fleets.
Second, the concept and strategy of using the Armed Forces in general and the Navy in particular does not provide for their use in overseas theaters of military operations in full-scale conflicts like the Vietnam or Iraqi war.
Third, for objective reasons, it has historically developed so that the basis of the striking power of our fleet is made up of submarines and surface ships.
If we agree with the correctness of these postulates, then it is necessary to draw the correct conclusions.
В historical For the next thirty years, the priority program for the maximum development of the fleet should be the need to create two aircraft carriers as the basis for the stability of naval groups in the far sea zone.
When designing, building and operating them, the geographical and climatic conditions of the areas of responsibility of the Northern and Pacific fleets of the Russian Federation must be taken into account.
The parameters of autonomy, combat stability and versatility of the tasks performed by ships should be given priority over considerations of building a budget option.
The concept of "autonomy" means equipping ships with a nuclear power plant and the maximum possible supply of fuel and ammunition to perform tasks with maximum intensity, limited by the time of a specific operation on a fleet scale. And not the ability to circumnavigate the world on food and water supplies for personnel, accompanied by tankers, tugs and a hospital ship.
So, the declared (and actually conditional) autonomy of the TAVKR "Kuznetsov" in 45 days does not agree well with the autonomy of other ships of the first rank of our fleet in 30 days. And it really cannot be achieved without a universal supply vessel, especially when it is necessary to use the maximum speed of the course and intensive flights of the based air group.
The well-known principle of building ships of the American fleet
"all or nothing"
and is currently visible in all its glory.
The refusal of the United States at one time from the construction of nuclear destroyers and cruisers did not affect nuclear aircraft carriers. To ensure the highest possible intensity of assault aircraft flights from the deck of a giant ship, it is equipped with four steam catapults. Each of these monsters weighs 2800 tons without auxiliary equipment, occupies a volume of 2265 cubic meters and consumes up to 80 tons of fresh water in the form of superheated steam per flight shift.
The energy consumption for their operation with an efficiency of only 4-6 percent can be provided only by nuclear reactors. And then with the loss of the speed of the ship. Let's mention the 18200 square meters of the flight deck and the 6814 square meters of the under-deck hangar. And these are not all the characteristics from the "most" series.
So it is, for the planes on the ship it is done "all" and more "nothing"!
Other warship functions are performed by other ships.
Thus, it is possible to deliver a powerful, time-focused strike, both against ground targets and enemy ship groups.
The invulnerability of a defenseless ship is ensured by the maneuverable capabilities of the AUG, good awareness of the air situation and a multilayer air defense system, including aviation, long and short-range air defense systems, and REP systems. Such an effective, debugged and proven system for decades can only be resisted by creating something similar, using the enemy's shortcomings and weaknesses (which, of course, there are), relying on other tactics and existing or created elements of superiority.
Taking the excellent fifth-generation Su-57 aircraft as the basis for the development of the carrier-based fighter, we can immediately get a machine in the form of the Su-57K, which in a number of parameters will surpass the latest American fifth-generation carrier-based fighter F-35С.
The maximum thrust of the second stage engines (2 * 18000 kgf) and the maximum takeoff weight of the Su-57K (35500 kg) with a wing area of 82 square meters provides an advantage for our aircraft
at maximum speed (2500/1930 km / h),
practical ceiling (20000/18200 m),
by thrust-to-weight ratio (1,0 / 0,64),
in wing loading at maximum takeoff weight (433/744 kg / m2),
maximum operational overload (+ 9 / + 7,5 G)
compared to a single-engine (1 * 19500) F-35C with a maximum take-off weight (30320 kg) and a wing area of 58,3 square meters.
But that's not all and not the main thing!
The Su-57K can and should definitely surpass its counterpart in range and flight duration.
The Su-57K prototype surpasses the F-35S both in flight range without outboard fuel tanks (4300/2520 km) and in flight duration (5 h 40 min / 2 h 36 min).
Even if we assume a 10 percent deterioration in the process of creating a carrier-based aircraft (which we observe when comparing versions A, B, C of the F-35), then the advantages for many years will still be on the side of our fighter.
Let's return to the question of choosing between a heavy and light fighter for our aircraft carrier.
Those who wish can easily independently conduct such a short express analysis of the American F35C with our already existing MiG-29K and possible - the MiG-35K.
Honest conclusions will not be so clear and convincing.
The Su-57K, having an advantage in speed, range and flight duration, but numerically inferior to fighter-bombers from an American aircraft carrier, is able to provide reliable interception and oncoming air combat with them before the launch line of anti-ship missiles against our naval strike group at sea under two conditions:
competent tactics of application and
the presence of no worse than the Americans' awareness of the air situation at all stages of the operation.
The latter condition is considered necessary by experts on both sides. And it is provided by the American side with carrier-based AWACS "Hawkeye".
Modifications KUB, AWACS and EW
On the basis of a single-seat carrier-based fighter, a two-seat version should be created in parallel over time.
Due to some deterioration in flight performance, this model should take over the tasks for which in the past it was required to create a few, but highly specialized aircraft of other types and models.
The availability of a workplace for the second crew member is, first of all, necessary for solving combat training tasks with young replenishment of deck aviation pilots, where the cost of an unintentional error can be much higher.
Old F-14Ds and modern Su-34s with a crew of two professionals cannot be called bad. The modification of the Su-57KUB is practically not much inferior to a single combat vehicle when performing combat missions. But it becomes indispensable if suspended containers with side-looking radars and containers with REP equipment are developed, which can be controlled by a second crew member in flight.
The side-looking radar for the two-seat version of the Su-57DRLOU fighter can be created on the basis of the construction (and the element base) of the NO36 "Belka" radar, which is native to it.
Based on the need to obtain a carrier-based AWACS aircraft that is not inferior to the American Hawkeye, we select the same range for the side-looking radar as that of the Belka (frequency range X, with carrier frequencies 8-12 GHz and wavelengths 3,75-2,5 , 3,4 cm). Only with the optimization of the radar operation at a wavelength of XNUMX centimeters to reduce the influence of attenuation in the atmosphere.
The AFAR fabric, consisting of 4032 transmitting and receiving modules (PPM), located in 28 horizontal rows of 144 PPM in each, will fit into a rectangle with a height of 0,6 by 3 meters in size and will provide a horizontal beam width of 0,70 and vertical 3,60.
It is possible to fit two such AFAR designs into conformal, triangular-section suspended containers installed under the air intakes and aircraft engines.
The inclination of the antenna curtain in containers at 15 degrees from the vertical will provide optimal viewing angles of the radar in the elevation plane. If we conditionally accept the possibility of scanning AFAR within 90 degrees vertically and horizontally from the perpendicular to the plane of the antenna canvas, then with an aircraft patrolling altitude of 12000 meters (which is impossible for competitors in the face of E-2D Hawkeye and E-3C Sentry) at zero deflection, the radar beams will be directed to the sea surface at a distance of 50 kilometers to the right and left of the aircraft's course.
At such an altitude, the radio horizon of aircraft radars will expand to 450 kilometers, and in combination with a high patrol speed (900 km / h) and inaccessibility for short-range air defense systems, we get an almost ideal naval reconnaissance system for targets such as: surface ships of all classes, subsonic and supersonic anti-ship missiles and aircraft, all helicopters by definition and anti-submarine aircraft searching at low altitudes.
The placement of the aforementioned competitors with surveillance radars in fairings above the body and wings of the carrier creates a rather extensive so-called dead funnel under the aircraft. The fact that our reconnaissance officer has practically no such drawback makes it possible for him to detect missile launches from enemy submarines, which, according to their hydroacoustics, could carry them out against a guarded order or against targets on the coast.
The possibility of early detection of such a threat will provide a time gap for the response of a pair of interceptors on duty and for alerting the ships' self-defense equipment.
There is no reason to doubt the provision of information awareness of the aircraft in the forward hemisphere, which is provided by the currently most advanced domestic radar with AFAR NO36 "Belka".
Some doubts among skeptics may be caused by design restrictions associated with the placement of containers with APAR at the lowest points of the aircraft's suspension. The simplest geometry and knowledge of the radius of the earth's surface make it possible to come to terms with optimism with the shortcomings inherent in the chosen layout of the locators.
So, rather widely spaced engines and air intakes, under which they are located, and a rather compact wing allow, in the most extreme case, to ensure the rise of the radar beam at an angle of 9 degrees from the horizontal. Thus, when patrolling at an altitude of 12 kilometers, target detection is ensured at an altitude of 20 kilometers from a range of 50 km and at an altitude of 27 kilometers from a range of 100 km.
And, ending on an optimistic note, I would like to note that the detection ranges of typical air targets will be limited only by the energy potential, radio horizon and EPR!
Unity and struggle of compromise opposites
Having achieved not excellent, but remarkable capabilities of a carrier-based fighter in the AWACS version, for objectivity it is necessary to note both the resulting shortcomings and difficulties.
We will take it for granted that when designing the deck-mounted Su-57K, the Su-57 parachute braking system will be replaced with a brake hook for an aerofinisher on the deck of an aircraft carrier, the tricycle landing gear will be reinforced, folding wings and rear horizontal tail will be made.
In addition, in the two-seat version of the aircraft, which in itself will entail an increase in size and weight, it will be necessary to provide for a serious increase in energy costs to ensure the operation of containers with radar or electronic warfare equipment.
And now, since we have decided to equip the deck version of the aircraft with additional suspension points for conformal containers with radio electronics, we will be consistent in the development of this solution.
The carrier-based fighter is designed to gain air supremacy and conduct aerial combat over the sea by definition. But, while remaining the only type of fighter on an aircraft carrier and in an aircraft carrier strike group, it must also be able to carry out an attack on a surface target.
Of course, one can dream of pairing the Su-57K with the Dagger or Zircon missiles, which may be implemented in subsequent versions and modifications. And upon acceptance into service and a serial batch for new aircraft carriers, the aircraft should be capable of carrying a pair of Onyx anti-ship missiles in the aviation version.
For the sake of all the variety of equipment and armament of the aircraft, you will definitely have to sacrifice an aircraft cannon with ammunition on a two-seater version of the Su-57K.
Modern American Air Force aircraft F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning, learned from the sad experience of fighting in Vietnam between MiG-21 and F-4, are still equipped with 20 and 25 mm cannons with a considerable ammunition of 480 and 180 shells, respectively. Only now the naval version of the F-35B and C can carry a lightweight version of a 25-mm four-barreled gun with 220 rounds of ammunition in a container version.
Or they may not!
Both for reasons of stealth and giving priority to other weapons (depending on the task at hand). The serial Su-57 carries a single-barreled 30-mm cannon 9-A1-4071K (a modernized version of the GSh-30-1).
Maybe it's time for trial and error to try to revert to the 23mm caliber or the new 27mm on a carrier-based fighter?
The next concession to the deck version of the aircraft (or the pursuit of perfection) may be a complete rejection of the underwing suspension points for weapons. This measure will simplify the already complex design of the folding wing and will have a positive effect on the characteristics of the radar signature of the aircraft, as well as on the operation of the side-looking suspended radar of the AWACS version in particular.
The creation on the basis of the fifth generation fighter of the entire spectrum of vehicles for arming future Russian aircraft carriers will not only simplify the logistics of their operation, but also, as a harmonious carrier-aircraft system, may interest foreign buyers in the face of China and India.
The first will certainly not stop at the construction of three aircraft carriers based on the concept of the Soviet "Varyag". He may be interested in modern technologies for building nuclear reactors for Russian aircraft carriers and the created system of deck weapons based on a modern fifth-generation fighter base. And if they do not fully acquire the set for the next generation of their aircraft carriers, then, according to custom, they can purchase single copies for future cloning or in parts in the form of engines, radars or weapons.
India at one time financed the birth of the MiG-29K to arm its aircraft carrier acquisitions. Now, having before the eyes of the Chinese the experience of building and operating aircraft-carrying ships and their carrier-based aircraft, one can assume the emergence of a desire to acquire or build such ships for their own Navy. And in order not to reinvent the wheel, an appeal to Russia for advanced technologies may follow.
The main thing is that we ourselves, in our country, do not allow the accounting approach and effective management to stall the correct direction of development of the domestic fleet for decades.