A T-50 Update

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The T-50 display at MAKS is tamer than some people hoped. Despite the statements of political and industry leaders, I suspect that the fighter won't be in service for some years, expect possibly in the form of a small test squadron, because what the Russian industry has set out to do is difficult by any standard. 

Some of the clues to the fighter's development here also suggest that the T-50 will not constitute the entire fighter force for a long time, if ever. The Tactical Missiles Corporation exhibit booth points to two things: a robust weapons development program for the conventional Su-35S, and a "kick the door down" mission for the stealth fighter. 

Absent here is any sign of all-new weapons for the T-50, which instead looks likely to enter service with refined versions of existing systems. Interestingly, the closest that the T-50 (so far) is confirmed to be getting to an all-new weapon is a highly modified version of an existing anti-radar missile, the folding-wing Kh-58UShE. 

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Debate over the new weapon's intended relationship to the T-50 was settled by the video on the TMC stand:

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The Kh-58UShE is very different from earlier versions. It is slightly shorter and has inertial mid-course guidance, and has a broadband seeker where earlier Kh-58s were fitted with different seekers for different targets. 

The next likely candidate for the T-50's forward bay is the RVV-BD (air-to-air missile, long range), which is a modernized version of the Vympel R-37 that was designed for the MiG-31M Foxhound-B, but never put into production. Unlike the R-37, it is designed to be carried other than semi-conformal and videos and documents here show it carried by the Su-35S. However, its total external dimensions are within centimeters of the Kh-58UShE. It seems likely, therefore, that the T-50 forward bay has been designed around the minimum-risk RVV-BD, with the Kh-58 being modified to fit the same envelope.

This is all interesting to say the least, because since Day One of stealth in the US a guiding principle has been that stealth gets you close enough to use precise, short-range, low-cost weapons. And here come the Russians, equipping their first stealth fighter -- already fast and high-flying -- with a 1,400-pound ARM that can run out to 245 km at up to Mach 4, and an 1,125-pound, 200-kilometer range AAM.

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