A rendering of the Checkmate light tactical aircraft (Su-75) / Photo: © Rostec State Corporation press service

The sixth-generation aircraft will appear by 2050, work on it is underway

A rendering of the Checkmate light tactical aircraft (Su-75) / Photo by © Rostec State Corporation press service

Improvement of combat aviation from generation to generation takes place in the process of accumulation of experience and exchange of opinions between scientific specialists, designers, engineers and military personnel. Often such interaction leads to the development of revolutionary concepts. The concept of a sixth-generation aircraft, expected to appear by 2050, is currently under consideration. Evgeny Fedosov, scientific director of the State Research Institute of Aviation Systems (GosNIIAS), academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told TASS in his editorial column.

The human factor is an integral part of aviation now and will remain so in the future. Despite the fact that artificial intelligence technologies are developing at a rapid pace, only a pilot’s human intelligence and intuition are capable of assessing a critical situation and making the only correct decision. “That is why we are not trying to replace a living pilot with a machine, but to create all conditions for performing complex combat tasks,” writes Evgeny Fedosov.

Now scientists, specialists and military men are working on the concept of the sixth generation aircraft, search research and exchange of opinions are going on. Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences believes that such an aircraft will appear by 2050, but already now it is necessary to understand what armed conflicts of the future will be like. Due to the fact that the fight is going on in the information space, as well as military and powerful political and economic confrontation, the wars of the XXI century will be hybrid. GosNIIAS believes, writes Evgeny Fedosov, that the sixth-generation air grouping will consist of manned aircraft and UAVs, with drones operating in the close range and able to operate in “kamikaze” mode.

“The emergence of air-to-air missiles with a range of 300 kilometres or more makes the use of drones relevant. They can attack targets in the near zone, but to understand the tactical situation after a strike, you still need a person. And he should work in the far zone, so as not to run the risk of being shot down,” the academician believes.

At the same time, further development of combat aviation in the direction of complication is a vicious practice. From generation to generation, the functions assigned to the aircraft grow, which leads to the complication of the technique and the growth of the aircraft’s weight, and the larger and heavier the aircraft is, the more expensive it is. “All paths lead to a multifunctional aircraft – there will be no more mass aviation. Mainly because aeroplanes are very expensive and economics is the decisive factor,” concludes Evgeny Fedosov.

Mikhail Strelets, Deputy Managing Director and Director of Sukhoi Design Bureau, believes that the future of multirole combat aircraft will be linked to their specialisation. Instead of a common multi-purpose platform, it is envisaged to develop several specialised platforms, each of which will solve a specific set of tasks. This approach will not only reduce development costs and speed up its deployment, but will also increase the effectiveness of specific missions. This strategy will allow for faster technology integration and upgrades to individual components of each platform without affecting the system as a whole. For the successful realisation of this concept, it is necessary to ensure the flexibility of the aircraft to adapt to different missions.

The embodiment of such a concept and a transitional solution to the sixth generation can be represented by a light tactical aircraft, the development of which is underway at Sukhoi Design Bureau – Checkmate. At the end of 2023, UAC patented a universal platform that allows the functionality of the aircraft complex to be radically changed while keeping its transport capabilities unchanged. This is achieved by mounting a specialised head unit at the aircraft construction stage, depending on the tasks assigned to it by the customer.

Interchangeable head units can carry different functionalities and various contents. They can be, for example, a single-seat crew cabin of a manned aircraft, a two-seat crew cabin or the head end of an unmanned aircraft. In this way, the modules modify the functionality and purpose of the vehicle without increasing its weight and keeping the cost at a reasonable level.