Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) expects to fly a hypersonic “sixth-generation” fighter before 2025. However, Russia has yet to field an operational fifth-generation aircraft, and Moscow’s prospects for developing a sixth-generation warplane with hypersonic capability would seem to be fairly remote.
“We expect that the sixth generation aircraft will fly before 2025,” Vladimir Mikhailov, chief of United Aircraft Corporation’s military aircraft directorate, told the Moscow-based TASS news agency. “It will make its first flight—as we plan—no later than two to three years after 2020.”
Mikhailov—a former commander of the Russian Air Force—told the news agency that UAC has already completed the concept definition for the new warplane. Indeed, research on the new sixth-generation fighter—to include engineering design—is well underway according to Mikhailov. Mikhailov added that Russia plans to equip the prospective new warplane with long-range hypersonic missiles.
But the Russians are not just aiming to equip the new fighter with hypersonic weapons; Moscow is designing its sixth-generation airframe to be capable of hypersonic speeds. “It will be hypersonic at several Mach, single-seat, invisible to the enemy, super-maneuverable, multifunctional and made of composite materials,” Mikhailov said. “The aircraft will have a cockpit, but will be able to fly with both a pilot and without a pilot. That is, it will combine a manned and unmanned variant.”
The first inklings that the Russians were attempting to develop a new sixth-generation aircraft came earlier this year in March when Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, commander of the Russian Air Force, said that work on a sixth-generation fighter—that would be built in manned and unmanned variants—was already underway. At the same time, Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin said that Sukhoi had presented him with relatively mature design concepts for a new sixth-generation fighter.