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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Sukhoi Wins Tender For New Fighter Jet

After a number of delays, the government on Friday chose Sukhoi to develop the country's $1.5 billion next-generation fighter project, but it remains unclear who will finance the project.

Rivals MiG and Yakovlev also will contribute to the fifth-generation jet, while Sukhoi will lead the research and development, Industry, Science and Technology Minister Ilya Klebanov said after a government meeting to discuss the country's nine-year defense program.

Sukhoi is expected to produce a draft design for the new jet by 2003 and present it to the government, Interfax quoted Klebanov as saying.

The government had said the new fighter would test fly in 2006 and hit mass production in 2010, eventually replacing the fleet of Su-27 and MiG-29 fourth-generation fighters.

"We are glad that a decision has been made at last," Sukhoi spokesman Yury Chervakov said by telephone Saturday. "Further foot-dragging could have jeopardized the industry."

Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan said last year that the new jet will sell for between $35 million and $40 million and that 500 will be built for domestic use.

The government sees development of the fifth-generation fighter not only as a response to similar projects in Europe and the United Sates, but also as a chance for the industry to tap its scientific potential.

Both MiG and Sukhoi began developing next-generation fighters in the1980s, but their Project 1.44 and S-37 have only been used as flying laboratories for testing new technologies and were never turned into full-fledged programs.

"This [fifth-generation fighter] program will be of a scale we haven't had for the past 25 years," Chervakov said.

"It will require a technological breakthrough from the aviation industry," he added.

The air force -- which in the past decade has not received a single new jet, opting instead to modernize its existing fleet -- sent out technical requirements for the new fighter to the companies last summer, with the winner of the tender expected to be chosen by the end of last year. But the final decision was postponed to the first quarter of 2002.

It was delayed again after a meeting in March when newly appointed air force chief Vladimir Mikhailov decided to look at the program in more detail.

Meanwhile, both industry players and experts question the need for a new fighter.

The state lacks the resources to finance the program and it is unclear who will pay for its development. Klebanov has said the jet could be financed from the winning company's own export revenues, but industry players bristle at the idea.

"It will lead to an absurd situation where producers finance research and procurement in the interests of the state when it's the other way round in the rest of the world," one defense industry source said.

"The legal mechanism of taking away export money from companies has not been worked out, and the government will have to change the legal system for the industry as a whole, not just this particular contract. Companies will not be happy," the source said.

"If we make a jet of the next generation, we have to understand where we get the money from and who will buy it and what tasks it will resolve," Vladimir Barkosvky, MiG's first deputy chief designer, said last week before the result of the tender was announced.

The company was not available for comment over the weekend.

Some industry players and experts say the air force does not need a next-generation fighter and that today's fleet could last at least another decade if avionics and navigation systems are upgraded.

However, the project would help sustain and develop research in the defense industry, said Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.