Russia and the United Arab Emirates have reached an agreement to jointly develop a new combat aircraft. The plane will reportedly be a “fifth-generation” fighter, according to Russian defense contractor Rostec, that will fly some time after 2025.
The announcement was made at the IDEX 2017 arms trade show in Abu Dhabi. Rostec CEO Sergey Chemezov told Defense News that the aircraft will be based on the twin-engine MiG-29 (above), which was originally fielded in the 1980s. Chemezov said that development of the fighter would commence in 2018, and would take “seven to eight years”. He also stated that production would take place in the United Arab Emirates.
A fifth-generation fighter is one that is commonly considered to be optimized for stealth and high performance. This typically includes so-called “supercruise” capability, or the ability to cruise above the speed of sound. It often also includes an advanced active electronically scanned array radar and advanced networking capabilities. The F-22 and F-35 are fifth-gen fighters.
The choice of the MiG-29 as the basis is an odd one, though, and reflects a compromise. True fifth-generation fighters often take a decade or more to develop—just look at the saga of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. Using the MiG-29 airframe will allow Russian designers to speed up the development process. It also means the airframe will dictate the stealthiness of the plane, rather than the need for stealthiness dictating the shape of the plane.
The United Arab Emirates picked an odd bedfellow for developing its first combat jet. Russia is currently developing the fifth-gen PAK-FA fighter with India. Ideally, this allows both partners to field an advanced fighter at a fraction of the cost of developing it themselves, but development issues, delays, and spiraling costs have left the Indians deeply dissatisfied with the PAK-FA program, to the point where the Indian Air Force wants to purchase fewer of the aircraft.
What will the plane look like? It’s uncertain at this point, but Russian defense blog BMPD has a concept design floated by Rostec in recent years of an advanced MiG-29. The plane appears to have a large delta wing and an enlarged fuselage, absolutely necessary in order to carry weapons internally and preserve the aircraft’s stealthy shape. The UAE-Russian fighter may look something like this.