With Russia’s armed forces currently developing sixth generation technologies for the Su-57 next generation air superiority fighter, which will enter service in large numbers fielding these new systems around the year 2030, reports have increasingly indicated that the fighter is intended primarily not to engage Western fifth generation jets such as the F-22 Raptor - but rather to retain parity with sixth generation U.S. fighters currently being developed under the F-X Air Dominance Program. While Su-57 fighters on order today, and those set to enter service throughout the early and mid 2020s in relatively small numbers, are set to field only fifth generation capabilities, future fighters will deploy sixth generation technologies for the purpose of retaining parity with country’s near peer potential adversaries - which are currently heavily invested in developing sixth generation fighters. With next generation aircraft set to deploy advanced stealth capabilities, far surpassing those of even fifth generation platforms such as the F-22, Russia is reportedly investing in developing radio photonics radar systems for its combat aircraft. These are set to be deployed by Russia’s upcoming MiG-41 interceptor as well as future variants of the Su-57 - and possibly the Tu-160 and PAK DA bombers as well.
Regarding the way photonic radars function and can theoretically be used to provide considerably superior situational awareness to conventional radars, even against stealth targets at extreme distances, experts Fangzheng Zhang, Qingshui Guo and Shilong Pan noted in a recent report: “In the transmitter, a broadband LFM signal is generated by frequency quadrupling of a low speed electrical signal applying a single integrated electro optical modulator. In the receiver, the reflected LFM signal is de chirped to a low frequency signal based on photonic frequency mixing. The implementation of photonic de chirping can directly process high frequency and large bandwidth signals without any electrical frequency conversion. After photonic de chirping, ADC with a moderate sampling rate can be used in the receiver and real time signal processing is realisable. In the proposed system, the bandwidth limitations due to electrical signal generation and processing is eliminated. The maximum operation bandwidth is mainly determined by the electro optical devices, which can be tens or even hundreds of gigahertz. As a result, real time radar detection with a very high range resolution can be realised.” The United States’ own defence sector for its part has reportedly been heavily invested in developing such technologies for some time.
Leading Russian defence contractor Radio Technical and Information Systems, more commonly known as RTI Group, has reported that work on creating a mockup of an X band radio photonic radar system is currently underway, and such a system will be ready in a number of years. These radars will be able to effectively complement advances in air to air missile technology by building a highly accurate photographic image of a target to identify it automatically. They will be able to do so over considerably grater ranges than conventional radars, and will be able to detect advanced stealth aircraft where older radar systems may struggle. RTI reported regarding the development that they planned to have prototypes ready in the near future, though this process would likely take several years, and that the radars “will be able to provide radio wave imaging when an image has greater details with the possibility to identify the target type.” They further noted that photonic radars would be considerably lighter and consume less energy than models currently in use.
Photonic radars are among the many revolutionary new technologies currently being developed for the sixth generation of fighter jets, with other systems including hypersonic missiles, both for air to air and strike roles, as well as combat lasers and new more efficient engines to facilitate both longer range operations and hypersonic speeds. Due to the critical and fast growing importance of satellite systems in modern warfare, systems currently under development for the MiG-41 and possibly a sixth generation variant of the Su-57 are set to allow the aircraft to operate in near space and effectively perform a satellite hunting role. Ultimately while Russia is not investing heavily in manufacturing fifth generation fighter jets, the country is heavily invested in developing new technologies for its fighter fleet to retain parity and possibly even a qualitative edge over its Western rivals. Photonic radars among other systems will be key to Russia’s sixth generation fighters’ ability to engage upcoming sixth generation platforms currently under development in the West.