The Sukhoi T50 PAK is a beautiful fighter jet now in the prototype stages of development by the Russian Air Force. Similar to the American made F22 and F35, it is a stealth aircraft (radar absorbent) with extraordinary abilities. The American made F22 took over a decade to develop into production with some $30 billion in costs before the first production model rolled off the assembly line. Even then the run was cut short at 189 due to cost over runs and a worsening economic climate of 2009, which dramatically affected even America’s ability to pay for such wonder weapons. Part of the Pentagon's justification for shutting down the F-22 line was to divert money to the F-35 program, a highly complicated aircraft whose coverage attracts bipolar reactions from the media, great or awful we don’t know, but one thing is for sure, it is expensive.
The Sukhoi T50 PAK first flew on January 29, 2010. At a time when America was retrenching many saw it as a viable competitor to the F22 in the skies where ever, and against the F-35 in the market place, since the F=22 was deemed by the United States Congress too sensitive to export. The second Pak 50 flew in late 2010, while the third and fourth prototypes were packaged with avionics and weapon systems, made flights in 2011 and 2012, demonstration of fully functioning aircraft. The next generation avionics, weapon systems and engines remain in development. The engines would prove to be a problem.
The nation of India signed on to be a full partner in the Pak 50 development process with their version to be called the Perspective Multirole Fighter (MRF). This deal was announced in late 2010 with each nation committing to six billion dollars apiece to develop the aircraft, with production line models expected to cost some $100 million apiece. By 2012 India announced a two year delay in the program. Also in 2012 spiraling costs forced India to cutback on the number of planes it was going to purchase, from 212 to 144, which significantly increases the cost per aircraft. The United States Pentagon has a term for that, it is called the death spiral.
India has been dealing with a problem of too many Soviet era Russian jets falling out of the sky, so as it seeks to keep up with China, this former champion of the non aligned nations, has begun a strategic pivot towards purchasing western aircraft to fill its defense needs. Towards that end a purchase of 36 French Rafael fighters was announced this year. An earlier deal for more Rafels with substantial Indian coproduction was aborted because the Indian arms industry was incapable of making the same quality at anywhere near the price quoted out of France. India continues to be a problem client demanding Dassault coproduce the planes with Indian manufacturers. It is highly doubtful the Indians are capable of this order as their indigenous jet, the Tejas, ordered in 1983, and thirty two years later, the sixteen prototypes made have yet to equate into front line service. The funny thing about Russian news services is that they push the Kremlin propaganda that none of the Tejas have flown yet, while sixteen have actually been built and tested.
Differing stories between would-be partners on the production of the Sukhoi T50 PAK lead Russia in private to ask, what do they do to fund it? Until 2014 Russia did what Russia does best, they sold oil and gas, lots of it. When oil sold at $100 per barrel, money rolled into Russian coffers. United States Senator John McCain once criticized Russia as a gas station pretending to be a country. In 2014 that game changed with a flood of American produced oil obtained via fracking caused the world oil market to oversupply and prices plummeted. See graph:
The year of 2015 saw the Russian ruble implode with ensuing budget cuts as a dramatic shortfall of state revenue introduced a note of fiscal reality to Vladimir Putins agenda. Since Russia still acted like a wild card on the world stage, contrition was not going to be an option. Where would they make up the money to pay for critical things like the Sukhoi T50 PAK? The extremely naïve Obama Administration in search of a legacy made a move many stateside still grumble about and gave the Russian military the prospect of a financial lifeline inconceivable a year earlier.
Iran, like Russia an outlaw state, had been shoved to the sidelines of economic participation while oil soared from 2009 to 2014. As oil endowed the mad mullah state with free money with which to terrorize its neighbors, via proxy wars in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and even little Bahrain, when oil was high there was no need to bow down to western concerns over the rogue nations nuclear program. That all changed when oil imploded from $100 per barrel to one half that in late 2014. Bloomberg news cited that market direction in this article.
Nuclear sanctions atop low prices for oil strangled a state where the local idea of manufacturing may be best described as hand woven rugs produced in a manner unaltered for centuries. Not exactly a real world business plan, and despite economic reality hobbling their messianic visions of a Shiite dominated middle east, the Obama administration offered them a gift for the ages. In return for self- inspections on the previously sanctioned Iranian nuclear program, (what does the world largest gas reserves need nuclear centrifuges?) the naïve US administration offered to release a staggering amount of assets frozen in the United States ever since the hostage crisis of 1979. By now those sums were estimated to be upwards of $150 billion. Certain media sources say more, but even the liberal NPR put the figure at $100 billion . The nuclear deal was reached this summer, and as sanctions unwound on Iran, Russia began its extended air show demonstration of its latest weaponry designed by its use to impress a mad mullah state revived with long frozen assets. The Russians and Iranians have already announced the first of what should be many arms deals to come. A not so contrite Iranian military commander promised, “ Iran will deliver a “crushing response” to any country that attempts to wage war against it.”
The sale of commercial jets and surface to air missiles will surely expand/ Tuesday night BBC reported twenty six cruise missiles launched by Russian Navy from the Caspian Sea, over Iran and Iraq to hit targets in Syria. Presumably the Iranians were consulted about the flight path over their country. One popular website, foxtrot alpha reported today, October 8, 2015, that at least four Russian missiles crashed while passing Iranian air space. The mMllahs can’t be too happy about that, though these are tech savants who purchased a Chernobyl style reactor from Russia on which to base their nuclear program.
What can be learned out of this mess? The Obama administration has nobody to blame but itself for giving Russia such a perverse opportunity to remarket its once stalled weapons program, and if this weeks demonstration of weaponry is at all effective at bolstering the Iranian client state of Assad, count on the Russians selling a lot more weaponry to an Iranian state that knows no bounds in civilized behavior. Thirty plus years ago United States President Ronald Reagan worked with the Saudi’s to lower the price of oil to a number that by design would bankrupt the Soviet war effort in Afghanistan. How does this writer know that? Former national security council member Richard Pipes told of that in a private conversation. His exact words were he was on the jet sitting on the tarmac of an airfield in Saudi when that deal went down. Today the United States has a leader born of the self esteem generation where hubris matters more than thought. This kind of gameplan would have been unthinkable because the United States worked in concert with allies on common problems. No longer is that the case, people are cutting their own deals as a matter of survival. Hubris and self esteem, God help us, correct that, God help Syria.