Some analysts predict the Lockheed Martin F-35 will dominate the $15-billion-a-year global fighter market for decades, overshadowing rival fighter designs from established aerospace firms in the U.S. and Europe – and from one upstart alliance of Russia and India and junior partner Brazil. But problems deep inside the F-35 program might open the way for the competing designs. The implications are particularly weighty for the Indo-Russian team, whose new fighter could, under the right circumstances, really shake up the world’s combat aircraft market.
But in the fighter business, the barriers to entry are unusually high. The design expertise is stretched thin and political considerations often trump flight performance and even price. Most importantly, fighter development is pricey: the American F-22 program, predecessor of the F-35, has cost some $60 billion for just 200 airplanes. Talk is cheap, but airplanes are expensive – and so far the Indian-Russian plan is mostly talk.
Still, increasing Indian confidence in research and development, plus Russia’s economic resurgence on the back of high oil prices means the Indo-Russian “PAK-FA” fighter (that’s a Russian acronym for “Advanced Tactical Frontline Fighter”) just might be capable of exploiting recently deepening chinks in the F-35’s armor. If so, Russia and India might reap benefits beyond the revenue for its aerospace industries. Fighters have a way of forging and reinforcing political and military alliances that are about much more than mere airplanes.
One thing’s for sure: PAK-FA’s potential for success is directly linked to F-35’s potential for failure.
(MiG-1.44 art via Wikipedia)