Military aviation: a new bomber and fifth generation fighter planes
Yesterday at the Voice of Russia a round table discussion was held that was dedicated to the 100-year anniversary of the Russian Air Force and the prospects for development of Russian military aviation and the aviation industry. Well-known Russian military professionals and defense industry experts took part in the event. In the course of perfecting the technical equipment of the Russian Air Force and developing new aviation technologies, Russian experts are looking at the international experience in the area. Ivan Kudishin, editor-in-chief of the "Aviation and rocket technologies" weekly has produced a report on the main trends in the global aviation industry.
Over the last ten years the subject of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) has become very popular. If in the early 2000s it concerned only aircraft designed for reconnaissance missions (of all weight categories – from super light to heavy), the focus has moved towards UAVs capable of performing reconnaissance and attack missions. A good example is a tender held by the US Navy UCLASS to develop an unmanned attack aircraft – a carrier-based bomber. Taking part are firms like Northtrop Grumman (the unofficial favorite), Boeing, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin. The development of a carrier-based UAV is an extremely difficult task – it has to be able to land not on an airfield with set coordinates and location, but also on a moving aircraft carrier. The creation of reusable or non-reusable UAVs to be launched for a variety of mobile platforms, including submarines and patrol aircraft is today the key direction in this area.
The Russian military has resumed the development of a bomber and reconnaissance aircraft of a new generation which is expected to replace the outdated hardware of the B-1B and B-52H after the year 2025. It is planned that the aircraft will be low observable, subsonic and as an optional manner (piloted). It means that it could be used as either a UAV or a piloted aircraft if needed. The vehicle will be equipped with a fairly large variety of high precision aviation armaments with low observability. As far as the fifth generation aircraft go, the US experience in their development has been largely negative. Only 187 F-22 jets, which have an excellent upgrade and development potential, have been built by Lockheed Martin. Of those, two aircraft have been lost in accidents and one due to the faulty pilot life support system. About 160 aircraft are in active use, but only 55-65% of those are in full combat readiness.
The new F-35 aircraft that is currently undergoing tests suffers from two incurable ‘diseases’ at once: excessive universalization and an uncontrolled rise in costs of research and experimental design work. While it possesses excellent, cutting-edge avionics and a reduced radar perceptibility, the aircraft does not possess a supersonic cruise speed, has limited agility and dynamic characteristics, as well as very limited possibilities of combat load placement in internal cargo bays. Due to a number of serious design defects, the programs of the deck-based modification F-35C and STOVL (short take off and vertical landing) F-35B aircraft are under the threat of closure. At present, the price of a single F-35A aircraft when shipped for export is $122.8 million (while initially, the aircraft was marketed as a cheap one and intended for mass production - costing up to $ 60-70 million, and a series of more than 2000 aircrafts), and the cost of a STOVL F-35B aircraft, according to the current year’s estimates, exceeds $190 million.
As an alternative, Boeing and Lockheed Martin offer significantly modified models of existing F-15, F-16 and F/A-18E/F aircraft with significantly reduced radar visibility and enhanced combat capabilities. The former is achieved by the placement of weapons in conformal or suspended containers, the latter - by the installation of cutting edge radars with an active phased antenna array (AESA radar), an improvement in other sensors and avionics, as well as integration of all the combat aircraft in the theater of military operations into a single virtual network with the possibility of free exchange of tactical information.
Currently, the production of strategic medium-range military transport aircraft (MTA) Boeing C-17 continues (for export). It is not planned to close the assembly line, so the prospect of the US air force supplies remains a possibility.
Mass production of С-130J Super Hercules aircrafts continues, and it has a good export potential. But in the near future a MTA/fuel tanker Embraer KC-390 will enter into a competition with it. This aircraft is intended to enter into service in the Brazilian air force in 2014. The price for a C-130 is $67 million, and the declared price of a KC-390 (with comparable payload parameters and significantly higher cruising speed) is $50 million.
Active scientific research and experimental design work into hypersonic aircrafts are carried out under the auspices of the DARPA Agency. As a result, a fundamentally new and virtually indestructible means of destruction with a global range of 4 - 18 thousand km is expected to be constructed.
Today several world leaders in helicopter engineering (including the EADS) are conducting work on the construction of an active rotor, which could adapt to specific conditions of a flight. The controlled flaps technology is actively used.
Tests of rotary-wing aircrafts of new generation are being successfully completed or have been completed in the US and in Europe. In the USA a conception tested by a real aircraft has received development, which is called the "conception of an advancing blade". According to it, advancing blades of two aircraft’s propellers turn their blades in the direction of air flow, as a result the aircraft becomes a quasi-normal helicopter with one rotor, all the blades of which are moving backwards. Such a scheme has restrictions regarding cyclic pitch control, therefore, an additional propulsive agent was needed - a screw with five blades.