Details of the Sukhoi Design Bureau’s work on the stealthy aspects of the T-50 PAK FA fighter aircraft emerged in late December 2013, when the company’s patents were published.
According to the patent paperwork, taken together, all of the stealthy measures offer significant improvements over legacy fighter designs. The papers claim that the radar cross-section (RCS) of an Su-27 was in the order of 10-15 m 2 , Su-35’s Frontal RCS is 5 sqm, with the intention being to reduce the size of the RCS in the T-50 or Su-57 to an “average figure of 1 m 2 “. The rear RCS of Su-57 is same as the Su-35.
In common with other low observable aircraft designs, this reduction is achieved throught the use of radar-absorbing and radar-shielding materials and coatings, panel shaping (especially around the air intakes) and in the design of the junctions between moving elements, such as flaps and hatches.
In particular, the patent spells out the benefits of internal weapons carriage, s-shaped engine air ducts, (which were considered but are actually not implemented in the production PAK FA), and the use of radar blockers. It adds that the inlet guide vanes of the engines’ compressors generate “a significant portion [up to 60%] of the radar cross-section of the airframe-powerplant system in the forward hemisphere” and that this is reduced by using radar-blocking devices and radar-absorbing coatings in the walls of the air ducts.
The shape of the airframe reduces the number of directions that radar signals are reflected in with the angles of sweep of the wings and the tail plane’s leading and trailing edges, the edges of the air intakes and hatch covers being reduced and deflected from the aircraft’s axis. Viewing the aircraft from the flank, the fuselage sides, lateral edges of the air intakes and vertical empennage are all deflected at the same angle.
Some openings and slots on the airframe’s surface – such as the boundary-layer bleeds on the sides of the air intakes and the openings on the upper fuselage immediately aft of the cockpit – are covered with a thick grid, featuring a mesh of less than one quarter of the wavelength of a search radar, which reduces the reflections from these uneven surfaces. Gaps between the airframe elements are filled with conducting sealants, while the glazing of the cockpit canopy is metallised.
The surfaces of the PAK FA’s own five radar arrays are also angled off from the vertical plane, helping to ‘deflect’ enemy radar signals. The covers of the radar arrays are selective, letting through their own signals, but blocking other frequencies. Additionally, the array compartments are edged with radar-absorbing ‘curtains’ to reduce possible leaks of these amplified signals.
Antennas are recessed from the surface of the skin to reduce protuberances (the vertical empennage serves as a communications antenna), while the turret of the aircraft’s nose-mounted infrared search-and-track (IRST) sight is rotated backwards into a cruise position, exposing its rear hemisphere, which is covered with a radar-absorbing coating.
The release of this list of patents follows the July 2013 release of documentation covering the configuration of the fighter’s integrated avionics suite.
There are currently five T-50 prototypes – the latest, T-50-5, first flew on 27 October 2013 – supporting the development programme and they are believed to have undertaken over 300 sorties to date.
In the ‘Schedule of Activity for the Russian Ministry of Defence for 2013 to 2020’ published in mid-2013, the PAK FA’s Initial Operational Capability and the launch of full-scale series production is scheduled for September 2019. The Russian National Armament Programme stipulates that 60 production PAK FA fighters will be delivered between 2019 and 2021.
The assembly of aircraft T-50-6-1 is nearing completion and three further aircraft (T-50-6-2,T-50-7 and T-50-8) are in build. One of the T-50-6 aircraft is intended for static trials and the other one is intended for flight testing. Few of prototypes are already canonicalized for parts to other prototypes due to shortage of funds.
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