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Russia-India fighter makes successful maiden test flight

Russia’s new fifth-generation stealth fighter (FGFA), a joint project with India which is set to form the backbone of the two nations’ air power till the mid-21st century, made a successful maiden test flight on Friday.

The plane performed “very well” during a 47-minute flight at an airfield in the far eastern city of Komsomoslk-on-Amur and met “all our expectations,” a spokesman for the Sukhoi Corporation, which designed the FGFA, said.

The flight marked a breakthrough for Russia, making it the second country in the world after the U.S. to have built a fifth-generation fighter plane. The FGFA will also be a quantum jump for India as the first joint project with Russia where the Indian aviation industry will be a full-fledged partner.

Under a 2007 inter-governmental agreement, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited took a 50 per cent investment stake in the $8-billion project and will contribute 25 per cent of design and development work. The two countries will shortly sign commercial contracts and set up a joint venture company to build the aircraft.

India will be responsible for supplying the plane’s navigation systems, mission computer, cockpit displays and will provide composites for the airframe. While the Russian Air Force has opted for a single-seater, the IAF will get a modified two-seater derivative.

The Russian Air Force is expected to begin inducting the new aircraft in 2015. The twin-seat version for the IAF may be ready two years later. Each side plans to acquire 250 planes.

Sukhoi head Mikhail Pogosyan voiced confidence that the FGFA will beat the U.S. F-22 and F-35 fifth-generation fighters in cost-effectiveness.

“The joint Russian-Indian aircraft will not only strengthen the defence might of the Russian and Indian air forces, but will take a worthy place in the world market,” said Pogosyan, whose company’s previous project, the Su-30 fighter jet, has become a world bestseller. India has purchased 140 Su-30MKI and will build as many under licence.

Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said he expected the FGFA aircraft to be very competitive in international markets because its price would be significantly lower than that of the American rivals.

“I think by definition this aircraft will be able to occupy up to one-third of the market,” the analyst said.

According to designers, the FGFA will be a truly stealth plane almost invisible to enemy radars: it will be 40 times harder to detect than the Su-30MKI.

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