An unusual ad campaign gives a first glimpse of Russia’s new stealthy fighter jet

Rostec ad for new Russian stealth fighter jet
A photo posted on social media by Russian state-owned firm Rostec hinting at the company’s new fifth-generation fighter jet.

  • Rostec published some photos of a new design (or mock up) of a 5th-generation fighter jet ahead of MAKS 2021 airshow next week.
  • Not much is known about the new jet, but the media campaign seems to indicate that it will be oriented toward the export market.
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Photos started circulating on Twitter on July 15, 2021, of an aircraft believed to be a new Russian 5th-generation design.

The jet, covered by black canvas, was rolled to the static display at the MAKS 2021 show, that starts next week.

The appearance of the mysterious aircraft did not come completely unexpected. On July 11, Rostec posted a mysterious tweet that teased an announcement.

On July 13, TASS did a short report on what is expected to be the new Russian aircraft. TASS directly stated that the new jet would compete with the F-35, quoting Executive Director of Aviaport Aviation News Agency Oleg Panteleyev.

Panteleyev said that this is also the main reason why the teaser of the new design, released by Rostec, has been published in English. Rosoboronexport, as Panteleyev said, has invited over 120 delegations from 65 countries of the world to the aerospace show.

This suggests that this year’s edition of MAKS may be export-focused, with a significant emphasis placed on the promotion of the new aircraft.

It remains unclear whether the airframe is a prototype or just a mock-up.

The characteristics of the jet are also somewhat cryptic. TASS claims the jet would feature low RCS, high thrust-to-weight ratio, advanced weapons and significant payload – these are somewhat generic descriptors, usually assigned to most of the 5th-generation, or wannabe-5th-generation multirole combat aircraft.

The premiere is scheduled to take place on the first day of the MAKS show in Zhukovskiy – July 20, 2021. The Aviationist will have two correspondents on site and will probably be able to provide additional details on the new stealthy aircraft.

The shape seems to be (loosely) similar to the one of the YF-23.

According to some analysts, the new aircraft has been developed by the Sukhoi bureau. Based on the hashtags used on social media and images released so far the new type could be named “Checkmate.”

As noted Stephen Trimble on his Twitter account.

We may be dealing with an export product, modeled after the Su-57 Felon, but made cheaper to operate than the first of the Russian stealthy fighter aircraft.

Yesterday Rostec released an ad teasing the jet, also pointing to the export profile of the design, suggesting UAE, India, Vietnam and Argentina might be potential customers.

We have also noted that one of the pilots, in the last shot of the video, is wearing an American flight suit.

Still, for now, we know little about the jet, hence everybody needs to wait for it to be officially unveiled during MAKS 2021.

It is symptomatic, however, that Russia follows the footsteps of the US, creating a tandem of fifth-generation platforms. This may be viewed as an analogy of the US F-22/F-35 duo, with the Raptor being a counterpart of the Su-57, and Lighting being a counterpart of the new, lighter, single-engine design.

Panteleyev seemingly confirmed this, saying that the new, lighter design would be an answer to tactical problems.

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Russian bombers launched cruise missiles during a surge in military exercises

A Russian TU-95 bomber flies over East China Sea in this handout picture taken by Japan Air Self-Defence Force and released by the Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan July 23, 2019. Joint Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS
A Russian TU-95 bomber over East China Sea in a handout photo taken by Japan Air Self-Defense Force and released on July 23, 2019.

  • Russian Tu-95MS “Bear H” and the Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers launched Kh-555 cruise missiles at a range in the Komi Republic.
  • This exercise was one of many during a recent surge of Russian military activity across the entire country, especially around the Black Sea.
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The Long-range Aviation Command of the Russian Air and Space Force conducted a command-staff exercise as part of the routine winter training, according to the Russian Ministry of Defence.

Notably, the exercise included the launch of cruise missiles from its Tu-95MS “Bear H” and Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers. This exercise is one of the many disclosed during the recent surge of Russian military activity across the entire country and especially in the Black Sea region.

About 10 aircraft, including the Tu-95MSs, Tu-160s and their supporting Il-78 “Midas” tankers, flew from the Saratov region to a range in the Komi Republic, in northwestern Russia, west of Urals, where they struck ground targets with the cruise missiles, returning to their base after more than seven hours.

The mission included “[air-to-air] refueling at an altitude of more than 6,000 meters [about 19,700 ft] and a speed of about 600 kilometers per hour [about 320 kts], as well as air patrolling in a given zone.”

Although not mentioned in the statement from the MoD, the bombers involved should belong to the Bomber Regiments based at Engels airbase, which is in fact in the Saratov region, while the unspecified range should be the Pemboy range, which is in fact in the Komi Republic about 60 kilometers from Vorkuta.

The same range was also used in 2019 to perform the first test of the Kh-47M2 Kinzhal Hypersonic Missile in the Barents Sea region.

As for the cruise missiles, the MoD published a video from this exercise showing inert Kh-555 missiles being loaded in the bomb bays of both the Tu-95 and the Tu-160.

The Kh-555 is a conventionally armed variant of the Kh-55 (NATO reporting name AS-15 “Kent”) nuclear-tipped subsonic cruise missile, with an improved guidance system and a range of at least 2,500 km (1,350 nm), with some sources reporting it up to 3,000/3,500 km.

The missile became operational in the early 2000s and can be carried by the Tu-95 (six or 16 missiles, depending on the bomber’s version) and the Tu-160 (12 missiles).

According to some sources, the Su-34 “Fullback” is also capable of carrying one Kh-555, while it is not known if the Tu-22M3 “Backfire” has been fully integrated with the missile, even if it was being tested. The Kh-555 was used during Russian strikes against ISIS ground targets in Syria in 2015.

‘Surge’ in military drills

russia tu-160 bomber
Tupolev TU-160 strategic bomber at the MAKS-2005 international air show, outside Moscow, August 16, 2005.

This is just one of the bombers exercises in what some analysts called a “surge” of Russian military activity.

Another notable one happened a day after the cruise missile exercise, with two Tu-160 Blackjacks performing an eight-hour mission over the Baltic Sea escorted by Su-35Ss of the Aerospace Forces and Su-27s of the Baltic Fleet’s Naval Aviation, supported by an A-50 “Mainstay” Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.

In response, NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem (Germany) launched allied fighter aircraft from bases in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland to intercept and identify the approaching Russian aircraft as some of them were not identifiable by transponder signal and no flight plan had been filed, posing a flight safety hazard for civilian air traffic.

More precisely, NATO specified that the Russian aircraft were intercepted by German and Italian Eurofighter Typhoons from the Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia and Lithuania, respectively, and Polish Air Force F-16Cs fighters from Poznan Air Base.

In addition, the Royal Danish Air Force national air operations centre scrambled their F-16s from Skrydstrup Air Base. The bombers stayed in international airspace above the Baltic Sea and returned to mainland Russia after roughly three hours.

These recent bomber missions do not seem to be related to the Russian buildup around Ukraine and Crimea which has caused concern among the international community.

Officially, according to the Russian MoD, the buildup is due to scheduled exercises which are taking place in Crimean training ranges and the Black Sea to check the readiness of the Armed Forces.

Numerous armored and air defense units, tactical aircraft and warships have been deployed in the area, under the eyes of cellphones and social medias on the ground and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT) aircraft in the sky.

As always, disinformation and fake news are playing their part to further complicate the understanding of what is happening in the area and what we should expect in the near future.

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