Government will fund but investment needed from industry and potential participants

Sukhoi has won the Russian LFI lightweight frontline fighter programme. The decision is a further blow to RSK MiG, which recently lost the Russian air force's advanced trainer competition to Yakovlev.

Ilya Klebanov, the minister for industry, science and technologies, says Sukhoi is to complete an initial LFI proposal and prepare the development schedule by year-end.

Sukhoi has also been asked to include RSK MiG and Yakovlev in the programme. The latter was involved in the initial stages of the LFI competition as a subcontractor in the programme.

LFI funding has been included in Russian president Vladimir Putin's "Weapons Programme for 2001-10" initiative.

Details remain shrouded in secrecy, however. It is estimated that $1.5 billion will be allocated for research and development - with development of avionics, systems and weapons, and creation of a production line pushing the estimates to $5 billion. Some Russian industry sources, however, put the potential cost at $6-9 billion.

Sukhoi general director Mikhail Pogosyan says investment from industry and potential foreign partners is also needed. It is widely acknowledged that the industry could provide $1-1.5 billion over the next 10 years from sales of in-production combat aircraft.

Various schemes to make industry invest in the LFI have been considered, including introduction of a tax on fighter sales and the formation of a company to manage the project that would be open to commercial investment.

China and India are listed as potential participants. The issue was discussed last month during a visit by Russian officials to Russia.

Although some in the Russian aerospace industry describe the LFI project as a "serious challenge", Pogosyan says: "We can create the aircraft by 2010-12. Fifth-generation programmes were initiated in the Soviet Union in 1983 and since then we have worked out the required technologies. We tried them on the S-37 Berkut, which made over 150 flights."

Russian industry believes production of 500-600 aircraft will be sufficient to achieve profitability, based on a $35-40 million unit fly-away cost. However, the industry's optimism is not shared by the Russian military.

Source: Flight International