Up close and personal with Russia’s 5th generation stealth fighter: first close-up pictures of the PAK-FA

Sep 03 2013 - 62 Comments

During the recent MAKS airshow, Sukhoi allowed for the first time journalists to have a look at the T-50 (PAK FA – Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii—Future Tactical Air System) from short distance. Marina Lystseva of Lenta.ru was among them and took the images you can find in this post (the rest is here).

The fifth generation fighter plane was inside a hangar at Zhukovsky flight test facility.


The aircraft is planned to enter active service in 2016 – 2016. So far four aircraft have been produced and involved in the flight testing program. A fifth T-50 is expected to join the rest of prototypes by the end of the year.

Under the current contract, the Russian Air Force is to get 60 such fighters. Even if most of its technical specs are secret, some details have emerged.


The aircraft is a stealth equipped with a front, side and rear AESA radar, as well as L Band radars. It features TVC (Thrust Vectoring Control), a top speed exceeding Mach 2 and supermaneuverability. It should carry a wide variety of weapons including air-to-air, air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles.

In other words, it will be a tough adversary for the F-22 and F-35.

H/T to Vadim Volkov for the heads-up

Credit: Marina Lystseva / Lenta.ru


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  • OG_Locc

    It’ll be interesting to see how observable it really is (not that we’ll ever know). F-22 and F-35 development drove a number of advances in machining technology – due the unheard of level of precision between mating pieces of skin, rivet depths, etc.

    The Russians appear to have gone a more rudimentary route, and simply constructed a normal aircraft using a “stealth” shape. Anybody who’s personally involved with the F-35 or F-22 manufacturing programs, will tell you hands down, the “shape” is the easy part of low observable aircraft, by a huge huge huge huge margin.

    Sure is cool looking though!

    • sam wise

      oh yeah one S-400 or S-300PMU2 will bring down your costly F-22 Craptor out of skies, Stealth means VLO, not complete invisibility still Ruskies Radar’s can track them & wait until Indian variant of FGFA comes out which is more stealthier than PAK-FA (Russian variant).

      • OG_Locc

        LOL. Sure thing chief. According to the people trying to sell them.

        How’s combat record of Soviet built integrated air defense networks over the last 30 years or so?


        • sam wise

          LOL. Ruskies Nebo VHF band radar & L-band protivinik radars are optimized for counter stealth.F-22 doesn’t stand a chance against S-330PMU2.May be UCAV’s like X-47 can evade detection.But Raptor or any other 4+++ gen aircraft doesn’t have a chance.L-band radars are primarily for counter stealth.

          • OG_Locc

            Again – according to the people who are trying to sell the systems. They’re happy to sell them to countries who’ll never face air strikes from a western country with stealth aircraft and advanced EW capabilities. Yet, S-300s are conspicuously absent from the only two countries who face virtually inevitable attack from Israel or NATO. The combat record of Russian defense systems is a lot more telling than the sales hype.

            I’m sure ten years ago, Syria probably thought Israeli F-16s “didn’t stand a chance” against their S-200s……

            • Mitchell

              Sam you (India) didn’t buy those Russian clunkers did you? I wonder what scrap prices are these days because brother those things couldn’t defeat a F15 much less a F22

            • Picard578

              SAMs are nearly useless, either Western or Russian. Especially if they are used by Arabs.

            • Aztec

              can you explain why did the americans block the transer of s-300 systems to iran

          • guest

            Russian radar worked really good in downing MH-17, when they thought it was the smaller Ukraine Antonov. American technology has always been at least 10 years ahead of Russia & China.

      • FrancisChalk

        The one advantage “to rule them all” still is, and will continue to be, reliability rate. The Russians have never been able to defeat that old foe when it comes to advanced aircraft. Similarly, as far as the Indian’s go, I had the pleasure of a one-year exchange tour with the IAF and their in-service rates are horrendous. If the conflict lasts a couple weeks, soviet kit is fine. After that, the skies will belong to US jets. Furthermore, the seemingly insurmountable advantage in airspace/battle management enjoyed by the US/NATO would essentially render any Russian/non-Western adversary to the “fighting blind” category relative to western aircraft. Thus, even if the Russians, Indians, Iranians, or anyone else, did develop an aircraft as capable (or even more capable) than the F-22/F-35, poor reliability and weak or non-existent combat control would doom them to failure in short order.

        • Disqus is an NSA shill

          an interesting point of view… so it’s down to strategic rather than tactical factors then… it all reminds me of wwii where the germans did have a clear tactical advantage at each and every point but still lost due to strategic loss of vision. conflicting philosophies, who knows what is the winning combination? 20 aircraft at 2 bil apiece or 2000 at 20 mil? we may never find out, at least i hope so…

          • Isog Sargent

            He didn’t say anything about strategical factors. Reliability is essentially a tactical factor since it has it’s greatest effect upon availability of aircraft and sortie rates. That’s not strategic.

  • C-Low

    I am with OGLocc looks like a lot of ping points just on the front (which is suppose to be the stealth end). I see seems in access panels, rivets, antenna, wow. Makes me question the true stealth ability and really question if it is anything near a US level stealth. Maybe more so at/under a F-15SE or the newest example of the F-18super hornet with conformals.

    Who sees who first usually gets to shoot first which that usually determines the outcome.

    • jagigen

      I get a feeling that the PAK-FA is built around the sweet spot between LO and performance. The “stealth” is only taken so far its worth the money as the cost of going for the full US level of stealth could not be justified.

      Especially if the manoeuvrability is extreme, the radar/IRST systems have range enough to detect, launch and strike other aircrafts before they – steatlhy or not – can detect, launch and actually reach the PAK-FA with a missile.

      Look at the F-35 where stealth probably is far more advanced then the PAK-FA but will it really matter in combat as it have a tiny radar, few missiles, poor manoeuvrability and low speed. It can be the most stealthy in the world, if it can not strike first it’s a pretty crappy fighter anyway.

      • OG_Locc

        Dude, the F-35 has the AN/APG-81 radar.

        • jagigen

          Doesn’t matter what it’s called. It’s still a tiny radar compared to f-22 and will not really give the F-35 the same advantage against the pak-fa as the f-22 with its larger radar and smaller cross section.

    • Brian

      Keep in mind that this AC may have those rivets, access, panels, antenna, ect may be disinformation for the public. When the US first generation XP-59 jets were being transported between factories & airfields, they installed dummy propellers to fool anyone observing the jet to prevent them from knowing the US was working on Jet technology. the military of any nation only releases information they want the public to know. And the Russians are not stupid. We wont know the true capabilities of this jet unless we meet it in combat or someone defects with a jet to the west which wont happen in the post Cold War world.

    • Rodney

      All the prototype Pak Fa’s have not got Ram coating. Hunt around on the Internet and you will if you are lucky still find photos of some early F35’s that look much the same. Rougher in fact with more rivets etc.showing. Not much point putting all the Ram and final coatings on a Prototype that will never be an operational aircraft. I imagine we might see Ram on the next final Prototype or maybe they will not bother until they start building the first batch intended to be operational aircraft. All they say is they will be using a new Nano coating. Maybe there coating is completely diff to the US one. Who knows?

  • Timmeehh

    That thing is about as stealthy as my left boot.

    • CSS

      i hate Russia too. go Obama!

    • Tom Hansen

      u mad bro? :)

  • Tariag

    It may be “less stealth” than F22 or F35… But hell the russians have a huge advance regarding manoeuvrability ! So, ok, nowadays dogfights are very unlikely to happen… But manoeuvrability demos are always very impressive for the ground soldiers and can play a lot in the psychological war…

    • Mike H

      Your post is completely wrong. US fighter pilots know exactly how to defeat “supermaneurverability”. You just take the fight vertical as soon as you see the cobra, and then right back down onto their 6 while the jet that just did a Cobra is a sitting duck with no energy, you just shoot them. What exactly do you think they have Mig 29’s at Miramar for, anyway?

      • Pacemaker4

        same reason they still have f-16’s….super manoeuvrable. out performed the f-15, f-35 etc.

  • OG_Locc

    The F-117 was 20 year old technology by the time one was shot down. The B-2, which is a whole different generation of VLO, was already in operation for a decade before that F-117 was hit by a volley of SAMs.

    • b-matt

      Exactly! So you’re pinpointing out what I’m refering to:
      The B-2 (and it’s VLO tech) is now 20 years OLD too….. ;-)

    • tuks

      Not a volley, 2 rockets were launched, one hit it. It was more or less routine hit.

      • displacedjim

        Of course: At a range of 13km(!!!!), pretty much ANY missile guidance radar is going to get enough return off a F-117 to guide a missile to it. The lesson to learn from that regarding LO is to not fly right next to SAM radars!

    • Otto

      what about the expensive american drone that Iran downed? is that 20 years old too? :D

      • OG_Locc

        There is not even a hint of evidence to suggest that Iran “downed” anything.

        Drones crash every single month, with no enemy action whatsoever.

        • Otto

          Then why did even Obama beg Iran to send it back? can you please explain that?

        • Guest

          Then can you please why Obama was begging the Iranian government to send it back?

          And can you tell me why you are lying? not even CNN is trying to lie in this case.

          • OG_Locc

            Good grief.

            What do you think I’m lying about? There is absolutely zero proof that Iran “downed” a US drone.

            Are you aware that we’ve lost over SIXTY Reapers and Predators since 2007, *none* to enemy fire. Drones crash constantly. A Global Hawk crashed in Maryland last year, another in Florida.

            The fact that the RQ-170 is the *first* drone we’ve crashed into Iran, is actually quite amazing.

        • CSS
          • OG_Locc

            Uhhh, the exact same way you explain this:



            • Tom

              His asking you to explain how Iran downed that drone and you are avoiding his question by saying that all these drones are faulty and crash by themselves all the time and thats nothing new . Are you trying to say that the US makes faulty drones? that can crash mostly intact? Thus allowing their enemy’s to “grab” them and steal its info and technology’s? Im trying to understand the logic behind your response here. How or why would the US send a compromised aircraft of such a sensitive nature into enemy Territory knowing that there’s a full well chance that it might crash on its own and for no apparent reason while keeping all its Data intact? it makes no sense.

              • Morgan Rock

                Honeypot. I’d bet a billion dollars that the Iranians got a dressed-up POS drone (looks that way from the way it didn’t seem to have any stealth coating whatsoever in photos) with hidden sensor gear and a ton of penetration software designed to covertly burrow into any computer system it’s hooked up to. You think if we really cared about it we wouldn’t just fire a cruise missile at the thing and blow it up from the gulf?

              • Stokanator

                Good god you people are amazing! It’s a drone! Do you not realize these things are designed and spit out like coins out of a slot machine!? It takes a couple a years to design and manufacture drones vs a programs like the F-35 that take a decade!

                Of course the U.S. wanted it back! We’ve asked for everything we ever lost in war back!

                I’m sure their are countries that can bring down US drones, Iran surely isn’t one of the, the thing failed and crashed!

      • guest

        Iran showed a picture of what they said was a US drone. It looked like something somebody built in there garage from scrap parts. It looked like nothing the US has. The Pres. was just making a joke. Beside drones themselves aren’t very hi-tech. The elctronic’s behind them is. Besides the new one from the “skunk” works does mach 6.

      • JS353535

        Yep! It’s old, outdated tech.

    • Guest

      Lol volley, made me laugh

  • Beefjerky

    People seem to be forgetting that the program is in the prototype phase. Stealth refinements come later, just like….

    • Exactly, this aircraft won’t even see combat because it’s not a finished product. As for the F-35 and F-22, well these two are not even combat proven, and though the F-22 is already in service, for me it remains a prototype until it manages to live up to the promises they make.

      Counting on stealth as the key element of all your new aircraft performances is putting all your golden eggs in a very dangerous basket. The enemy gets smarter too you know.

    • Mike H

      This is not accurate at all. Stealth is not something you throw on after the plane is developed. It’s something you design in from the beginning. Just look at this plane. Full of rivets, pitots hanging out everywhere, no saw tooth edges, no coatings on the canopy, raw edges everywhere, probably no carbon baffling inside the leading edges, etc, etc, etc, These are the little details that make this nothing more than a 4th gen fighter that’s a bit more capable. The SR-71, after it’s first refinement program was complete had the RCS of a BIRD. The F-22? A BEE. I guarantee you this thing would light up a scope like a christmas tree. There is no way this thing could detect or defeat the F-22 before it was already dead. Just no way.

      • disqus_STXkrV9NGc

        How can you determine the level of stealth and performance of a plane just by looking at a picture of a prototype?

        • JS353535

          I think he means the stealth level of THIS actual prototype. Figuring out it’s “stealthiness” is actually quite easy. This prototype isn’t, and for good reason. Russia isn’t going to tip it’s hand on what the final product will be, just as the US has done. The currently operational F-22 is absolutely nothing like it’s prototype in every measurable way.

  • kmbog

    Although stealth dictates a far amount of the aircraft’s shape a significant amount of the stealth is the plane’s coating. And I’d have to say this plane probably has little to no radar absorbent coating.

  • Sharkyjones

    Looks like “Firefox” – NATO – can we codename it “Firefox” after the Clint Eastwood movie please!!

  • Chiefy707

    Imagine 15 or so years from now when the IAF FGFA and the F-22 meet head up for some exercise. Lol, imagine the internet excuses as well…

  • twistedneck

    Very nice plane and super powerful radar designed to meet a F22 toe to toe even with less stealth.. this plane is not going to be going in a dogfight against F35 it will be dealing with the F22 / F15 escorts. the F35 will be in the penetrator / bomber role of the F105 Thunderchief and will be at much more difficult to track altitudes and headings, F22 will be up there begging the Pak’s to come Forward..
    Ignore the J20, it will be on the ground suffering some sort of Chinese crap fail in its fundamental design or manufacturing.. at least the parts that were not stolen from the Russians or USA.

    • Pedro

      The only thing the F-35 is going to able to penetrate is in your budget. A very big and deep hole.

  • Vaji

    Though I am no expert like some people here, but i think there are lots of differences in the concept and thought process of “stealth” for US and Russian Fighter Makers. While to the US it is actually reducing the observability on radars and trying to make the plane “invisible”, to the russians its about avoiding getting hit by any missiles. And these are evident in the differences in the two types of air-crafts we are discussing here. The PAKFA has lower LO than the F22 but a higher agility and maneuverable body frame. Which means that US F22 will try and avoid detection while PAK FA will try and avoid the missiles coming towards it. With the latest AESA radar, missile detection and radar jamming pods it will try and break off the guidance link of most incoming missiles and then with its superior maneuverability it will try and get away from the incoming missile path. The F22 will try and avoid detection wholly. Both these concepts have their pro s and cons. While for the PAKFA, a lot of it depends on the pilot’s skill and training to be able to track missile, break off radar link and move off the path of incoming missiles; for the F22 the concept of staying “invisible” and LO is reducing day by day with advances in radar and detection technology. The fact is while everybody gloats about the new “great” AESA radar on F22 but the same F22 will become visible to enemy radar if it uses the AESA in the full “active” mode to detect other fighters or jam incoming missile to other AESA/IRST radars.

    It is common knowledge that, newer technology will be more effective and the PAKFA when it comes will be 20 years younger than the F22. in todays world of free knowledge sharing, I dont think it is possible to maintain superiority over 20 years in one technology. While the latest F22 is much more advanced than the earlier ones, the Russians have the advantage of studying the F22 technology, assess the pros and cons and develop their own.

    I think they will not try and make the PAKFA as stealthy as F22 but will make it anti-F22 or in other words they will try and use the cons in F22 design and exploit them to make a F22 killer.
    All said and done, the Indian version of PAKFA which is being called FGFA will be different from the Russian one. And going by the recent example of Su 30, we can expect them to be much better than the Russian original version.

    • Demon Lord

      {” The PAKFA has lower LO than the F22 but a higher agility and
      maneuverable body frame. Which means that US F22 will try and avoid
      detection while PAK FA will try and avoid the missiles coming towards
      it. With the latest AESA radar, missile detection and radar jamming pods
      it will try and break off the guidance link of most incoming missiles
      and then with its superior maneuverability it will try and get away from
      the incoming missile path. The F22 will try and avoid detection wholly.
      Both these concepts have their pro s and cons. While for the PAKFA, a
      lot of it depends on the pilot’s skill and training to be able to track
      missile, break off radar link and move off the path of incoming
      missiles; for the F22 the concept of staying “invisible” and LO is
      reducing day by day with advances in radar and detection technology.”}

      Nonsense if the Pak-fa tries to avoid missile shots at it all that will happen is that the f-22 still undetected and still cruising supersonically will take more long range “freebie” missile shots at it, with every evasive maneuver bleeding more and more energy off of the pak-fa and slowing it down tremendously. It would only be a matter of time before the kinematic performance of the the pak fa would not be enough avoid the next missile. I’d say probably the third of fourth missile would be too much for the pak-fa pilot.

      Not to mention because it didn’t have to do any energy bleeding evasive maneuvers of it’s own the f-22 is still got plenty of speed and altitude to gain even more distance and separation between the two of them, to set up either more missile shots or to leave the fight entirely. It’s highly unlikely that in a head to head straight engagement with both aircraft facing each other that the pak-fa would even get a shot off. With the pak-fa pilot’s concentration totally devoted to evading all those missiles there is no way the f-22 pilot would be stupid enough to let the pak fa get closer, any smart pilot would use that time to gain even more distance between the two of them.

      F-22 is NOT a fixed design, it was designed to be a large aircraft with plenty of internal volume and space to adapt whatever new necessary technologies that emerge.

      The Russians chose the approach they did because of financial reasons. Keep in mind Mig’s 5th generation design that went up against sukhoi’s Pak-fa was indeed more stealthy, but realistically more expensive than the sukhoi. If the Russians could afford to develop an aircraft with f-22 level stealth they would have. Of course it’s not common practice with the Russians to admit limitations, so they claim they “chose” more maneuverability. They didn’t have a choice really, there are several analyst even within Russia who question their ability to deliver this aircraft as promised, they are still struggling to deliver true supercruising fifth generation engines, the avionics are far from being what was promised ect. Even the Indians, Russia’s partner are delaying signing contracts cause of concerns over reliability,( they were plagued with problems of engine reliability, with their su-30s which offered similar performance to western counterparts when, but at half the reliability and engine life)

      There is alot being made over this plane all over the internet from the moment it was shown. But it’s important to understand what it truly is.

      Unlike the fourth generation of aircraft the fifth generation is not about better aerodynamic design or cost effectiveness. This generation from the start has always been about “high technology” albeit at the cost of “HIgh expenses”. This is one category were the Russians have ALWAYS lagged behind the west. Where as the west usually lags behind in aerodynamic efficiency in it’s designs. But by trying to design a stealth fighter Russia is entering a field where they are no longer the masters and tremendous cost overruns, malfunctions, and failed promises will surely hammer this program as it did with the American fifth generation fighters.

      Even coming on the scene 20 years later than the f-22 the pak-fa “stealth” fighter isnt nearly as stealthy as the Yf-22 prototype of the late 80s early 90s.

      I can assure you that the almost decade long advantage of f-22 pilots flying and training all over the world has given them an Idea of what works and what doesn’t work in aerial combat regarding stealth fighters, they are aware of all their strengths and all their weaknesses and will be an extremely tough adversary. Where as pak-fa most of it’s strenghts and weaknesses won’t be that different from that of the flankers.

      So why does the Pak-Fa exist? Simple f-22 is a money gobbling beast of a program

      that has made lockheed tremendous amount of financial and propaganda success world wide. The sheer success of the f-22 is what set the stage for most of the countries to join in on the f-35 program, with Lockheed promising similar capability to the f-22 at much less cost. Now more than a decade later, we are seeing that it’s now true.

      Sukhoi plans to do the same. With the f-22 not available for export, how else can a country get their hands on a state of the art air dominance fighter? Answer Pak-fa.

      With no competitor except the poorly designed f-35 the Pak-Fa should sell extremely well (as long as the price doesn’t climb too much) in the foreign markets. So just as lockheed did in the 90s and early 2000s hyping the hell out of the f-22, sukhoi will do the same to get as much money as possible.

      But is it really a match or superior to f-22? The answer is yes and no, it depends on the decisions made by the american f-22 pilot on the day or night that they meet each other in combat.

      Never forget that in most fighter generations the Russian planes have enjoyed significantly better agility and performance to their American rivals, only to see them shot down in large numbers regardless, with the pilot, training, numbers, and strategic advantage playing the difference. US has largely maintained this advantage throughout the years and it’s hard to imagine a battle-space in any part of the world where they don’t have it.

      A few important questions that proponents of this plane should be asking themselves are,

      Why have the US banned foreign exports of f-22? This is the first time they’ve done this with their latest fighter. They sold the f-15 fairly early in large numbers to the Israelis and Japanese at a time when it was far and away the deadliest fighter jet in the world.

      Why haven’t the Russians done the same with the Pak-fa, if it really is more advanced than the f-22? Wouldn’t the russians be scared that it’s technology might fall into the hands of their rivals, and avoid selling it to the world.

      And most importanltly, if the f-22 was available to foreign export would india or any of the other countries considering Pak-fa and f-35 still be interested in those fighters?

      • Renato Dallarmi

        there is also a differente aspect: Not even the US could afford the F22 and 120 F22 are not going to set the world on fire. The programme was so expensive that it’s decreasing return drove the US to the program cancellation.Pretending they are as effective you make them to be (which is debateable given the ever decreasing range at which they LO makes them invisbile) they can make a differene in one theater rather than overall. If your next best thing is the F15 or the Hornet, than you may be doomed. The germans had the Tiger tank which was way better than anything the allies had but it did not win the war for them.

    • guest

      The Russkie plane is larger & no doubt heavier than the 22 & 35. Are they using composites technology? The F-22 is advertized as being the most maneuverable jet in the sky, & the F-35 more so. I wonder how many Russkies wet themselves off the coast of Canada, when they were confronted by them.

      • Renato Dallarmi

        it has been proven the F22 it is not the most manuvreable jet in the sky and the F35 is not even in the conversation


    From what I heard from reliable sources out of former Pope AFB engineers, there apparently have been more than one or two actual bits of ordinance dropped in ground combat (providing CAS/and or being part of newer joint (keyword being JOINT) w/ other types of similar air platforms. Not sure if Syria was the place, but if you guys have heard anything, post on here so I can get the skinny….thanks!

  • Isog Sargent

    I guess I don’t know much abut these things, but aren’t those canards and wouldn’t that effectively negate any stealth capability?

  • malcolm thomas

    Alas in 10 Years time America will Not be the Power it once was….The Russians and the Chinese have now Caught up with their Aircraft…And very soon China and Russia will Wipe out the Best of America`s Jet Fighters whatever Generation they are…The Chinese have Stolen secrets from America and Russia have Gained the Advanced Technology from some where else…The Tide is Turning against America and that will cause a Giant shift in Power to other parts of the World,Alas…

    • guest

      If the US stopped all technology advances, it would take Russia 10-15 years to catch up. Just with fighter jets. Their main bomber is a turboprop put into service in 1950. Ours is the B-2, with a B-3 on the drawing boards.

  • guest

    Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Easy to say stealth is just nice to have when yours doesn’t have it. F-22 & 23 radars are designed to detect & shoot long before the enemy can detect them.

  • Mike H

    The F117 is also out of service. The new stuff is much, much better.