Will the PAK DA outstrip the American B-2?
The Russian armed forces continue to update their strategic arms. Next in line is the development and production of a new Advanced Long-Range Aviation Complex (the PAK DA). Experts suggest that there may be nothing new in this project, and that it would become a copy of the American B-2 ‘stealth’ bomber.
But is that really the case?
According to reports in the Russian media the Tupolev aircraft production company will begin development work on a strategic bomber, which is due to replace the Tu-95 and Tu-160 aircraft currently in service. It is suggested that the airframe of this aircraft will resemble a ‘flying wing,’ and that it would be subsonic and fitted with a system to reduce its radar target signature.
Army General Valeriy Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff, announced in the summer that development work on the PAK DA to replace the Tu-95MS and Tu-160 bombers will begin in 2014. Along with this plan, the series production of the aircraft itself will begin in 2020.
An official representative of the Ministry of Defense then announced that the PAK DA would be equipped with all the precision weapons currently being developed, including hypersonic weapons.
Boris Obnosov, the General Director of Tekhnicheskoe Raketnoe Vooruzhenie, announced that a hypersonic missile for the new bomber “has already been produced, but flies for only a few seconds.” Series production of the missile itself is to begin in 2020.
Nevertheless the military wanted to make this a subsonic aircraft. Why was this decision made? Taking everything into consideration, all this relates to the aircraft’s future role in combat. It could either be a fairly compact, stealthy missile carrying aircraft, or a hypersonic aircraft with the potential to penetrate existing air defense systems by virtue of its speed.
However the appropriate technical solutions, which permit development of a relatively large stealth bomber able to fly at hypersonic speeds do not yet exist. A small, subsonic stealth aircraft, which can operate from medium sized airfields with the potential to carry hypersonic missiles, is able to patrol the launch area over long periods and strike the target with high-speed weaponry at very short notice. This was the reason the Americans chose not to use the B-1 supersonic bomber for this role in favor of the B-2.
How similar though are the PAK DA and the B-2? From a scientific-technical point of view ‘copying’ a similar aircraft is no more than an observation of the laws of aerodynamics and other fundamental laws, which define the operability of aviation and space technology.
When designers are faced with identical or similar tasks, their solution will follow more or less the same methodology. However, a huge number of differences lurk behind the external similarities, which define the level of sophistication of one combat system over another. As experience has shown, few would deny that the Tu-144 and ‘Concorde’ are alike. The aerodynamic configuration of the F-15 is similar to that of the Su-27, but the Russian designers—even though they started work a little later—produced an undeniably more successful aircraft from the point of view of the airframe.
This being the case it is remarkable that the Americans owe a great deal to the Soviet scientist Pyotr Ufimtsev for actively introducing stealth technology into their own fighter-bomber aircraft.
In 1975 the Advanced Development Projects department of the Lockheed corporation received a translation of an article by Ufimtsev, in which he proposed a method that could be used to calculate the reflection of a radar beam from a two-dimensional body. This algorithm opened the way to developing an aircraft invisible on radar screens. It could be said that at that moment the history of stealth aircraft began. Later one of the authors of ‘invisible’ aircraft Alan Brown who led the U.S. Air Force’s first stealth program Senior Trend, which began in 1978 admitted that Ufimtsev’s contribution to creating a computer program for stealth technology could be estimated at between 30 percent to 40 percent. This though is a controlling stake in a new technology.