What Use Can the Russian Air Force Make of a Dozen Su-57 Fighters? The Role of Initial Production Variants of the New Air Superiority Platform
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
19 August 2018
With mass production of the Su-57 next generation air superiority platform postponed, Russia’s Air Force is set to place an order for just a dozen initial production variants of the fighters which will be delivered over several years - possibly followed by further orders of similar sizes in the early 2020s in the interim until full production begins. The Su-57 airframe will continue to be modernised in the interim, with new sixth generation technologies continuing to be tested, and the jet will reportedly be put into mass production as a sixth generation fighter with these technologies already integrated once their development is complete. With initial production variants fielding only fifth generation technologies, which Russia’s armed forces claim are sufficient to match those of the American F-22 Raptor - but insufficient to match the upcoming America's sixth generation Air Dominance Fighter currently under development - the role of these less advanced Su-57 variants has been put to serious question.
While for a smaller country a dozen elite next generation fighters can be a game changer, Indonesia’s induction of eleven Su-35 jets being a prime example, for the Russian Air Force - fielding the second largest air superiority fleet in the world only to China - the significance of twelve new fifth generation fighters for the service's combat capabilities - even those as formidable as the Su-57 - will remain small. The true value of the fighters however, other than the prestige they will provide the Russian military as the third in the world to have developed and deployed a fifth generation aircraft, is the experience of operating next generation technologies. Flying, maintaining and servicing next generation jets will provide valuable knowhow to Russian pilots and crews, which upon the entry of a sixth generation variant of the Su-57 into mass production will allow it to seamlessly be inducted into a service already familiar with its operation.
Much as operating the Su-35 over Syria has provided the Russian military with invaluable experience, and led the Air Force to order modifications to the jets to refine their capabilities on this basis, so too will operating the Su-57 for over a decade before mass production begins likely contribute a great deal to the refinement of the design. With weaponised prototypes having already been deployed to Syria in early 2018, where lessons learned were reportedly valued highly by the aircraft’s developers, so too could early production variants prove invaluable in war games and in limited deployments to combat theatres - not for the contribution they would make to the Russian fleet’s capabilities as such, but rather for the lessons the Air Force can learn and use to refine the platform’s design. As a result, upon the initiation of mass production, the fighters will already be highly optimised for combat operations and their integration into service will be far less troublesome that it would be if the Air Force lacked this experience operating early production airframes. The induction of the Su-57 into active service as a fifth generation fighter, even in small numbers, could also potentially lead to foreign orders for the aircraft - which currently represents the only fifth generation air superiority fighter available for export anywhere in the world.
Why Pakistan Needs Russian T-90 Tanks; Growing Defence Cooperation Could Lead to Further Contracts for Su-35 Fighters and S-300 Missile Systems
South Asia , Ground
18 August 2018
As part of the growing defence partnership between Pakistan and Russia, a result of Islamabad’s sharp pivot away from the Western Bloc in the Cold War’s aftermath and entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation security alliance, the South Asian state has reportedly shown considerable interest in acquiring Russian manufactured T-90 battle tanks to modernise its armoured warfare capabilities. With neighbouring India, Pakistan’s prime military rival, itself deploying over 4000 T-90 and T-72 platforms, Pakistani forces appear desperately in need of a new and more capable armoured platform. As battle tanks exported by the United States and China such as the M1 Abrams and Type 90 fail to match to the Russian T-90 in their capabilities, and with the superior South Korean K2 Black Panther remaining well beyond the Pakistani defence budget, acquiring Russia’s most capable export platform appears to be the only effective means for the Pakistan’s ground forces to acquire a tank capable of matching those fielded by India. With the vast majority of Pakistani battle tank such as the Type 69 and Type 59 far surpassed qualitatively by India’s Russian made combat vehicles, and even its elite Chinese Type 90 and Ukrainian T-80 failing to match India’s T-90, acquisition of the T-90 will go a long way towards closing the qualitative gap.
The T-90M, the most sophisticated export variant of the platform, retains a high degree of survivability provided by the blend of steel and composite materials in its armour - serving to reduce its weight while strengthening its protection. Additional defensive measures allow the tank to detect laser designators and rangefinders to alert crew to the fact they are being targeted. Advanced explosive reactive armour and slat armour screens are also critical to providing additional protection. The platform boasts a powerful and fuel efficient engine, allowing to to travel at nearly 40 miles per hour on roads with a range of 340 miles without refuelling. Requiring relatively little fuel and maintenance, the being extremely difficult to destroy even for other T-90 tanks, the platform will provide a major enhancement to Pakistani armoured warfare capabilities.
Pakistani Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir Khan stated regarding the possible acquisition of Russian made battle tanks: “We are interested in T-90 tanks and this will not be a one time purchase, but a long term commitment.” This comes as part of Islamabad’s broader efforts to increase military technical cooperation with Moscow as a secondary partner alongside China, in response the deterioration of its defence partnership with the United States. Interest in the T-90 comes shortly after Pakistan contracted a batch of MI-35 attack helicopters, while he Kilmov RD-93 engines used by Pakistan’s semi indigenous JF-17 single engine fighters are themselves based on the Russian RD-33 designed for the MiG-29 twin engine fighter - and Russia has thus also played a little known but key role in the Pakistani fighter program. Reports also indicate that the South Asian state has sought Su-35 air superiority fighters to counter the vast qualitative advantage provided by India’s vast Russian built Su-30MKI fleet. In much the same was as the Indian T-90, India's Su-30MKI aquisition has since the early 2000s given the country an overwhelming advantage in its areal warfare capabilities over its neighbour, and acquisition of Russian air superiority platforms of a similar calibre remains the only effective means of gaining qualitative parity for Pakistan.
Reports of Pakistan's interest in acquiring the S-300V or S-400 in response to India's acquisition of the very same game changing weapons platform provide a further example of the country's attempt to gain parity by turning to the very same elite Russia weapons systems which have few parallels elsewhere. Moscow’s willingness to provide Pakistan with state of the art military hardware may well be greater due to two major factors, the first being Islamabad’s entry into the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the second being India’s efforts to reduce its reliance on Russian arms and growing defence cooperation with the Western Bloc. India’s cancellation of the FGFA fighter program, under which the country's was set to jointly manufacture several squadrons of early production variants of the Su-57 fifth generation fighter, has been a particularly hard setback for Russian defence firms - which a number of analysts have predicted could influence the country to more easily agree to provide Pakistan with the T-90, Su-35 and S-300 despite Delhi’s protests.
South Korea Developing Lethal Bunker Busting Cruise Missile for its Next Generation KF-X Stealth Jets; Defence Industry Continues Rapid Growth
Asia-Pacific , Missile and Space
18 August 2018
Amid a series of sizeable investments in power projection oriented weapons systems for its Navy and Air Force, South Korea has begun to develop a lethal New bunker busting cruise missile loosely modelled on the German Taurus KEPD 350. As the only client for the Taurus outside Europe, an extremely costly but highly specialised platform at well over $1 million each, South Korea has considerable experience operating the state of the art missile. As a condition for agreeing to purchase the weapons platforms, Taurus Systems agreed to provide technology transfers which were key to building up Korean expertise in the field. Given the precedents set by similar weapons programs its defence industry has embarked on, it is likely to produce a more capable weapons platform at a lower cost. The Korean Defence Acquisition Program Administration states regarding the weapons program: “As part of offset deals to buy Taurus missiles for the past years, South Korea received some part of the Taurus KEPD 350 technologies... Based on the transferred Taurus technology, we’ll develop our own air-to-ground, long-range missile to be integrated into the KF-X fighter jet, which is expected to be operational by 2026.”
Travelling at low altitudes over ranges of over 500km, and deploying massive 480kg highly sophisticated multi penetrator warheads, the Taurus and its Korean derivative post a lethal threat to hostile targets well beyond Korean coasts. With a speed of Mach 1, and making use of an advanced stealth profile which serves to seriously complicate attempts to gain a radar lock, the Taurus is extremely difficult to intercept for all but the most sophisticated of enemy air defence platforms - and its low flight altitude serves to further enhance its survivability. Combined with the formidable range of the F-15K Slam Eagle strike fighters, advanced twin engine heavy platforms jointly developed by South Korea and the United States and relying on Korean manufacturers for 40% of their components, the Air Force is capable of using these missile platforms to launch lethal precision strikes against targets across East Asia well beyond the Korean Peninsula. The combination of the Taurus and the Slam Eagle is has resulted in South Korea's armed forces fielding of the most formidable strike platforms in the world.
While the Taurus missiles, initially developed for European fighter jets, were later modified to deploy from Korea’s heavier and more advanced Slam Eagle jets, the derivatives currently under development are set to be deployed by South Korea’s indigenous KF-X stealth fighters. These twin engine fifth generation combat platforms are currently being developed under a $15 billion program, in which Indonesia also retains a 20% share, and the South Korean Air Force is expected to receive approximately 120 of the medium weight jets from the mid 2020s. While little is known about the medium weight fighter, it is set to serve as a lighter complement to the F-15K, and is expected to have an inferior stealth profile but a superior speed, operational altitude and manoeuvrability relative to the F-35A.
Investment in the development of an indigenous cruise missile, incompatible with newly inducted F-35 jets which are highly restricted in the kinds of weapons they can carry due to their need for internal weapons storage, indicates a great deal to faith in the KF-X program - one which has seen its fair share of troubles. Whether the new missile will also be compatible with the F-15K heavy fighters alongside the Taurus, jets which are expected to form the elite of the country’s aerial warfare capabilities for the foreseeable future, remains to be seen. Whether South Korea will move to export its new bunker busting missiles to other operators of Western fighter jets, competing directly with European producers from which it obtained many of its technologies, also remains in question - with considerable implications for the future development of the country’s defence industry.
China Developing Elite New Variants of the J-15 Flying Shark to Deploy from EMALS Equipped Future Carriers; Implications for the Balance of Power at Sea
Asia-Pacific , Naval
18 August 2018
Entering service with China's People's Liberation Army Navy in 2012, the J-15 Flying Shark twin engine air superiority fighter today represents the service’s only carrier based combat jet. Deploying from China’s sole commissioned aircraft carrier the Liaoling - a close derivative of the Soviet Kuznetsov Class warship, and using an airframe based on a prototype of the Russian Su-33, the J-15 makes use of a number of cutting edge indigenous technologies which combined with an abundance of funds for modernisation have made it a considerably superior platform - one of the most capable carrier based fighters in the world today. Fielding the J-15, China's Navy is the only one in the world today to deploy a large number of carrier based air superiority fighters, with the Flying Shark heavily specialised in air to air and anti shipping roles needed for war at sea rather than a strike role against enemy ground targets. This closely reflects the highly defensive orientation of the PLA’s carrier program at present, which has not invested in long range power projection capabilities suited to operations far from the country’s coastal waters such as air to ground strike optimised fighter jets, and the carrier fleet much like the J-15 appears instead to be heavily tailored towards protecting China's maritime claims at sea.
While the original J-15 fighter, much like the Su-33, was designed to operate without a catapult system and instead makes use of a ski jump to take off from a short carrier runway, with China's two upcoming carriers the Type 002 and Type 003 set to deploy advanced electromagnetic catapults (EMALS) future carrier based fighters will need to be compatible with such launch systems. Deploying combat aircraft using EMALS not only reduces the strain on their airframes, thus increasing their service lives and reducing maintenance requirements, but the launch system also provides the aircraft with considerably more energy upon launch which allows them to take off with more fuel and munitions than their counterparts using either ski jumps like the Kuznetsov Class or steam catapults like America’s Nimitz Class supercarriers. For the J-15, a heavy, high altitude and long ranged fighter with a considerable payload relegated to operating at just a fraction of its potential from carriers such as the Liaoling due to the limitations imposed on its takeoff weight by the ski jump system, the introduction of carriers with EMALS to the PLA Navy has considerable implications for the fighter's combat capabilities. With Russia’s Su-33 facing imminent retirement, and the United States Navy for having retired its own elite carrier based air superiority fighter the F-14D in 2006 and cancelled the planned fifth generation replacement, a carrier based variant of the F-22 Raptor, due to budgetary constraints and the lack of near peer threats in the Cold War’s aftermath, the J-15 will soon be the world’s only carrier based air superiority fighter in service. When deployed using a new launch system, this will make the Chinese Flying Shark by far the longest ranged, highest flying and most heavily armed jet at sea - operating at speeds far surpassing the lighter F-18E and F-35C deployed by U.S. carriers.
A number of reports have indicated that the first of a new generation of Flying Sharks have already been manufactured and are currently being used to train pilots to operate using catapult launch systems at the Huangdicun training facility - where the navy previously trained its carrier pilots in the years leading up to the Liaoling's entry into service. According to analyses of recent satellite photos of Huangdicun, mock runways with jet blast deflectors and catapult launch systems have been in active since at least 2016 - almost certainly for the testing of a new generation of carrier based aircraft. While the J-15 fighters in service onboard the Liaoling are incompatible with EMALS, leading to some speculation that the PLA would prefer an entirely new stealth fighter for its upcoming carriers, recent satellite images of Huangdicun indicate that new production variants of the Flying Shark have been designed to operate using electromagnetic launch systems and have been in testing for over a year. Separate testing of what appears to be an electronic warfare variant of the J-15, a similar concept to the U.S. E/A-18G Growler, has also been observed. While the development of a catapult compatible variant of the J-15 has been widely speculated since the fighter first entered service in 2012, its confirmation raises a number of questions regarding what other modifications the new carrier based air superiority fighter will field.
With the J-15 at the time of its first induction having represented the pinnacle of Chinese military aviation, with capabilities similar to those of its land based counterpart the J-11B, the country's capabilities in the field have advanced considerably since with the induction of fifth generation and '4++ generation' platforms fielding technologies far in advanced of the original J-15. It remains highly likely therefore that the new Flying Shark, possibly under a new designation - J-15B perhaps - will field a number of next generation technologies significantly superior to those of the original fighter. Based on the next generation technologies integrated onto the J-10C and J-11D, next generation modernisations of older airframe designs, the new J-15 could well expect thrust vectoring, AESA radars, stealth coatings, extensive use of composite materials and the latest PL-15 air to air missiles to be among the upgrades implemented. Combined with the use of a new electromagnetic launch system, an effective force multiplier for the Flying Sharks relative to operating with a ski jump, this will make China's future carrier air wings considerably more capable than those currently in service - better exploiting the high potential of the J-15 airframe and posing a far greater challenge to the country’s near peer potential adversaries at sea.
MiG-35 Set to Enter Service Ahead of Schedule; The Critical Role of Russia’s Next Generation Light Fighter and How it Mirrors America's F-35
Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft
17 August 2018
According to the President of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), the country’s Air Force May receive next Generation MiG-35 twin engine fighters ahead of schedule. Manufacturing of the first batches of fighters has been accelerated to reduce costs and keep to a high pace of production, according to the official, with the armed forces having placed an order for 30 of the new jets and planning follow up orders for at least 140 more. UAC President Yury Slyusar stated regarding the production schedule for the jets: "As for MiG-35, we will for the first time test the so called model of ahead of schedule deliveries with the Defence Ministry. This will allow us to keep up the rhythm and lower the expenses on the aircraft manufacturing, while the Defence Ministry will be able to receive the new aircraft a little earlier than the state defence orders schedule says.”
The first phase of deliveries is expected to take place in the coming weeks, with an initial batch of six fighters set to imminently come off production lines. UAC began the final phase of flight tests for the MiG-35 in May 2018, with factory trials having been completed three months prior in February. One possible additional factor which has influenced the decision to deliver fighters sooner is the postponement of mass production of the Su-57, a heavier analogue to the MiG-35 specialised in an air superiority role and making use of a fifth generation stealth airframe. While the MiG-35 Fields next generation technologies across the spectrum, from AESA radars to three dimensional thrust vectoring systems, the latest infra red search and track systems, advanced and highly specialised standoff munitions and possibly even K-77 air to air missiles, its lack of a stealth airframe has led it to be designated a ‘4++ generation’ fighter.
Much like the United States, Russia has long relied on inducting two complementary fighter jets of different weights and roles, a lighter, less costly and unspecialised platform which serves as a frontline fighter and an elite and specialised jet which serves in an air superiority role. Much as the Su-57 serves as an analogue to America's F-22 Raptor, so too does the MiG-35 act as a formidable counterpart to the lighter F-35A Lighting II. The aircraft are set to be fielded in considerably greater numbers than their heavier counterparts, and due to their shorter ranges they are designed for deployments at airfields closer to the frontlines of war. A navalised variant of the MiG-35 is reportedly also being considered for Russia's planned new carrier warships - an analogue to the F-35C, while the country's planned vertical takeoff capable jet is also set to use many of the MiG's next generation technologies - giving an analogue to the F-35B. While the designs of the MiG-35 and its American analogue differ considerably, Russia's armed forces have expressed confidence that its new light jet, the most sophisticated fighter in mass production in the country, will be able to counter the American joint strike fighter. The MiG-35 enjoys a far superior thrust/weight ratio, considerably greater sortie rate and lower maintenance time, twice the air to air missile payload, more sophisticated standoff munitions, and the ability to operate at considerably greater speeds and altitudes, relative to the F-35. These assets, combined with deployment of infra red search and track systems, three dimensional thrust vectoring and the latest electronic warfare suites are likely to make the new Russian jet a more formidable fighter in the light multirole category than the American F-35 - one which comes at a small fraction of the cost both to acquire and to maintain which can facilitate acquisitions in large numbers - both by Russia's Air Force and by a number of export clients.
Russia Offers the Philippines Lethal ‘Black Hole’ Submarines with Kalibr Cruise Missiles - U.S. Threatens Consequences Should Manilla Accept
Asia-Pacific , Naval
17 August 2018
Amid growing defence ties between Moscow and Manilla, with Russia providing the Southeast Asian state with advanced armaments and even military aid, Filipino Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has reported a Russian offer to provide his country’s navy with advanced Kilo Class diesel electric attack submarines. Among the most advanced warships of their kind in the world, dubbed ‘Black Hole’ by NATO for their near complete silence and resulting high survivability, the Improved Kilo Class are reportedly being offered with a soft loan, under which Russia would provide partial financing for the Filipino acquisition either interest free or at below market interest rates.
Kilo Class submarines represents a highly potent asymmetric asset, one which a number of small states have invested in to counter threats posed by larger and more capable adversaries. Iran and China have both acquired the vessels to counter the threat posed by the vastly larger surface fleets of the Western Bloc and their allies in the Middle East and East Asia respectively - and at the time of acquisition the Kilo Class were possibly the most capable asset in the Chinese Navy’s for countering threats posed by the U.S. Navy’s vast surface fleet. Russia for its part has similarly invested heavily in the relatively inexpensive warship as a means of undermining the naval supremacy of the NATO alliance, which combined fields a surface fleet several times that of the Russia’s own. Vietnam too has invested in acquiring half a dozen of the Improved Kilo, an asset aimed largely at countering the far larger Chinese Navy which the small Southeast Asian state could not hope to threaten with purely symmetric assets.
With the Philippines’ defence budget paling in comparison to those of major powers such as the United States and China, the former which has a long history of imposing its will on the country through force and the latter with which it has an ongoing territorial dispute, investment in the Kilo Class could well be key to providing the country’s navy with a much needed asymmetric enhancement to its combat capabilities and a viable deterrent against both these larger powers. Armed with the latest Kalibr cruise missiles, torpedoes, mines and on some variants even surface to air munitions, the Black Hole submarines will if acquired likely become the country’s most formidable deterrence asset. With Russia seeking to expand its influence in Southeast Asia and find new clients for its advanced new weapons systems, the Philippines will likely be able to acquire the platforms on excellent terms. Whether Manilla will be willing to endure the inevitable pressure and retribution that will ensue from the United States, recently applied to clients for high end Russian arms from Indonesia and India to Turkey and Iraq, remains another key factor - one which is likely to be key to determining the future of the arms deal.
The Untied States for its part has strongly opposed the sale as part of its campaign to undermine Russia's defence industry and stop the proliferation of Russian arms. U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Asian and Pacific Security Affairs Randall Schriver warned Manilla: "should think very carefully about that. If they would have to proceed purchasing major Russian equipment, I don’t think that is a helpful thing to the alliance." Threatening the Philippines with a downgrading of its defence partnership with the United States, the official further noted a number of the Western Bloc's grievances with Moscow - which he indicated Washington was eager to see Manilla take its side on, stating: “I think more than that, I mean let us understand the nature of this regime in Russia. I don’t need to go to the full laundry list… Crimea, Ukraine, the chemical attack in UK, so you are investing in not only platforms but making a statement about our relationship.” Ultimately by politicising the issue of an arms sale, the United States may well succeed in undermining the sale and defence cooperation between its former colony and its major adversary - despite the U.S. itself being poorly placed either to ensure Filipino security against Chinese forces or to provide a comparable platform to the Kilo Class.
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- What Use Can the Russian Air Force Make of a Dozen Su-57 Fighters? The Role of Initial Production Variants of the New Air Superiority Platform
- China Developing Elite New Variants of the J-15 Flying Shark to Deploy from EMALS Equipped Future Carriers; Implications for the Balance of Power at Sea
- MiG-35 Set to Enter Service Ahead of Schedule; The Critical Role of Russia’s Next Generation Light Fighter and How it Mirrors America's F-35
- Iran’s F-14 Air Superiority Fleet is Actually Growing; Why More Tomcats Are Very Bad News For Tehran’s Adversaries
- Forty Years of the Fighting Falcon; A Look at the F-16's Four Decades in Service