LFI and LFS: Russia's future strike and fighter aircraft

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Light Frontline Fighter (LFI/LFS)


Introduction to the LFI/LFS


Current Status


NEWS Updates: India, Russia to jointly develop the LFS


NEWS Updates: Sukhoi wins the tender to develop fifth generation fighter.


Latest LFS Development NEWS Updates

In April of 1999 for the first time Russia officially initiated the LFS program. The earlier LFI concept was under development at all major Russian design bureaus for quite a few years. Sukhoi, for example, modified it S-54 trainer project to come up with its S-55 LFI concept. Mikoyan is believed to have advanced much further in developing its LFI, although very little information is available.

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Mikoyan LFI (AKA I-2000) light fighter project

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Mikoyan LFI (AKA I-2000) light fighter project

Introduction to LFI/LFS:

Despite of its name - Frontal Interceptor - the LFI will have considerable ground attack capability. Many compare LFI with American JSF and this may be misleading: JSF (Joint Strike Fighter) is primarily a medium-range strike aircraft with significant air-to-air capability. The LFI, however, is intended to be primarily a fighter with extended ground strike capability. What Russia needs is a replacement for MiG-29, which can match the famous Fulcrum not only in air-to-air performance but also in cost of production. This will not be easy. The LFI must also improve on Fulcrum's ground attack capability.

But what about LFS? Well, by upgrading its existing fleet of MiG-29s to SMT standard Russia managed to add many years to the Fulcrum's effective service life at a very low cost. However, there is a need for a small ground attack aircraft with considerable air-to-air and VSTOL capability to supplement the MiG-29SMT as well as to supplement / replace older ground attack aircraft, such as Su-25. The LFS can be safely compared with American JSF in terms of technical requirements, which were formulated by RuAF's 30th Scientific Research Institute in 1998 and presented to Russian aircraft designers.

In the future Russian air force will look something like this: long-range interceptors will include Su-35s (or several other possible variants, such as Su-30M and Su-37) and MiG-31M, which later will be replaced by MFI (either MiG 1.42 project, Sukhoi's S-37, or some new development). Russia's medium-range strike aviation will gradually shift from aging Su-24s to Su-27IBs. In tactical fighter aviation MiG-29SMT will serve for quite a few years to come and will eventually be replaced by some LFI design, perhaps based on existing Mikoyan "I-2000" design, and supplemented by LFS. Tactical strike aviation will shift from Su-25 to LFS. As to long-range strategic bombers: it's a whole different story with many unknowns.

In accordance with the conditions set by Russian Ministry of Defense, all competing LFS projects by various design bureaus must be submitted for review to the Russian Air Force during September-October of 1999. The main three competitors are: Mikoyan, Sukhoi, and Yakovlev. All three have certain advantages: Mikoyan made a lot of progress on MFI and LFI projects and is believed to have developed some new interesting technologies, Sukhoi's main advantages are its good financial standing and S-55 project, and Yakovlev bureau is an expert in designing VSTOL aircraft. The new rules of the competition, established by Russian government, will assign the two unsuccessful competitors as subcontractors in charge of particular components of the victorious LFS project. This is a cost-saving measure and co-operation between the three design firms is essential to the project's success.

At the moment it is impossible to predict which of the three design companies will win: very little information is available on the competing projects. It is known, however, that the design requirements determined by Russian Air Force include: supercruise capability ( sustained supersonic flight without afterburners), internal carriage of primary weapons, and VSTOL capability.

What is known about the competing LFS designs is this: Mikoyan's early LFS design was to be powered by two 80-kN engines, possibly RD-33/RD-133. However, this had to be changed: as a cost-saving measure, Air Force requires that the aircraft is to be powered by a single Lyulka-Saturn AL-41F turbofan, which will be a common engine for the future MFI and Su-27IB aircraft. This would allow to decrease production and service costs. Sukhoi's known LFS design is the S-55 aircraft with tandem tri-plane configuration (similar to Su-35 and Su-37), powered by a single AL-41F engine with a 3D thrust-vectoring nozzle.

It is still unclear whether LFI and LFS projects will become one aircraft. The LFS designation is very general, meaning literally a light frontal aircraft. This seems to include the LFI concept. It is entirely possible that Russia will seek extended international co-operation on this project. Sukhoi already offered Poland to participate in the development / production of S-54. There is a large number of countries which in a few years will be looking to replace their aging MiG-21s, MiG-29s, Su-25s, etc. It is rather unlikely that many countries will be able to afford American JSF, so they will look for something more affordable, which also doesn't come packaged with American political demands. The LFS project is certain to attracts attention from Russia's largest arms buyers - China and India - as well as from smaller customers who are looking to improve their offensive capabilities, like Yugoslavia, Syria, Iran, Iraq, etc.

Development of Russia's LFI (logkiy frontovoi istrebitel) lightweight tactical fighter has been dramatically accelerated after the Russian Air Force decided its priorities for the next 10 years. Revealed here exclusively as the I-2000 (Istrebitel {fighter} 2000) project, the aircraft is due to become operational in 2005 as Russia's basic front-line fighter. It is also likely to become the leading export product of the Russian aircraft industry. Available information on the I-2000 indicates that it will be closely comparable to the US Joint Strike Fighter, operating in both the air-to-air and air-to-surface roles.

The aircraft comes from a long line of Mikoyan lightweight fighters, such as the MiG-15 and MiG-21. It is about the same size as the MiG-21 (shorter by 1.3m but wider by 4.5m), but noticeably smaller than its immediate predecessor, the MiG-29. Take-off weight is estimated at around 12 tonnes; maximum take-off weight at about 16 tonnes.

The design requirements for I-2000 call for reduced radar and infrared visibility and very high manoeuvrability, as well as short take-off and landing. The aircraft will have a blended fuselage/centre wing and a thick wing centre-section, with curved leading and trailing edges. The unusual aerodynamic configuration and powerful thrust-vectoring engines should provide excellent agility. Take-off and landing runs are short thanks to a specially designed landing gear that permits approaches at high angles of attack.

According to official sources, single and twin-engined variants of the LFI are under consideration. The graphics show a twin-engined variant with an all-new power plant. No engines of the required thrust currently exist in Russia.

The first design of a very light new-generation fighter was prepared by Mikoyan in the early 1980s, when design work also began on the heavy fighter, the MFI (sometimes known as the 1-42). The result was 'Product 33' powered by a single RD-33 engine from the MiG-29. It was of conventional design, appearing similar to the US Lockheed Martin F-16.

Although work on Product 33 became well advanced, it was not ordered due to the air force's reorientation towards multi-role aircraft - the lightweight Product 33 could be used for close air combat only. The basic Product 33 design is being offered by Mikoyan to China as the FC-1 fighter.

The only competition within Russia for the I-2000 is the S-54, developed by Sukhoi from an advanced trainer design of the early 1990s.

The S-54 is essentially a smaller, single-engined Su-35, with a more conventional layout than the I-2000. The status of the S-54 is unknown, but is thought to be in the initial stages of development. Having no real Russian Air Force support, the S-54 is intended for export as a complement to the heavy Su-27 and Su-30 aircraft sold to China and India.

It has been decided that the heavy fifth-generation MFI will not enter serial production. It will, however, begin flight tests this August as a technology demonstrator. Mikhail Korzhuyev, recently appointed Mikoyan's general director, said that flights of the MFI are now a matter of honour for the company.

The aircraft has been ready for flight tests for about five years, but grounded for lack of cash. An extensive upgrade programme for the MiG-29 is to continue in parallel with development work on the I-2000.

Current Status:

It was recently disclosed officially that an agreement had been signed between the heads of the two states, India and Russia, to extend the military co-operation between the two countries. Now the previous relation of buyer and seller will no longer be true, as they will be equal partners in the development of the advanced 5th generation Light Frontline Fighter which would be a true rival to the US JSF program.

    A recent project in which the two countries had cooperated was the development of the PJ-10 Brahmos Supersonic Stealth cruise missile which stands practically invincible at present. India excels in the field of computers and information technology, something which Russia still lags behind in. In the PJ-10, the base was the Russian Yakhont anti-ship missile and the guidance system, onboard computer and all-the-major software were Indian. We expect the contribution of India in similar fields even in the development of the LFS. The LFS being a frontline strike fighter will also need perfect offensive strike capabilities, during night and day, smart software for an advanced fire-control system and high resolution image from the radar.

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