In an open-source assessment of Russia's Sukhoi PAK-FA, aka the Raptor Killer, Air Power Australia concludes, "once the PAK-FA is deployed within a theatre of operations, especially if it is supported robustly by counter-VLO capable ISR systems, the United States will no longer have the capability to rapidly impose air superiority, or possibly even achieve air superiority." Moreover, the Obama administration's decision to kill the F-22 air superiority fighter in favor of the multi-role F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may prove disastrous, as "the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter struggles to survive against the conventional Su-35BM Flanker… Against [a basic-model] PAK-FA, the F-35 falls within the survivability black hole, into which US legacy fighters such as the F-16C/E, F-15C/E and F/A-18A-F have already fallen.”
When the Obama administration killed the F-22, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the administration's case in a speech before the Economic Club of Chicago. Gates explained that F-22 was unnecessary because nobody else was anywhere close to fielding an aircraft comprable to F-35, let alone F-22:
If the Russian's had flown the PAK-FA nine months ago, you have to think Congress would have rolled the White House to keep the F-22 line open, which it almost did anyway. As it is, the line will close at the end of this year, and all our eggs, and all the eggs of our allies, will be in the F-35 basket, at the mercy of a program that's way overbudget and has no chance of being completed on time. By the time F-35 does go into service in any significant numbers (if that ever happens, and it didn't in the case of F-22), it may be obsolete -- if the Russians can actually produce the Raptor Killer in any considerable numbers.
Can the Russians produce the PAK-FA in considerable numbers? The Russian defense industrial base is in sorry shape (think the Shkval torpedo that likely sunk the Kursk and the Beluva submarine-launched ballistic missile that has offered Moscow one spectacular embarrassment after another). But if the Russians can get the PAK-FA off the ground despite all that, maybe it's not as hard to build a fifth-generation fighter as the Pentagon thinks.
Still, why should we assume the Chinese won't likewise be able to fly a fifth-generation fighter sooner than our projections anticipate? The Chinese are already working on their own fifth-generation fighter, and Russian arms sales to China are dwindling. Would Beijing pay for this kind of technology? Would Moscow sell it? I wouldn't want to bet America's air superiority on the assumption that they won't.
The Obama administration and its liberal base wanted to kill the F-22 because, they argued, it was unnecessary. Even if Air Power Australia is wildly overestimating the PAK-FA's capabilities and wildly underestimating the combat potential of the F-35, the Russians are flying a fifth generation fighter! How long can it be until the Chinese builds a "handful" of them?
The balance of power between the White House and Congress has shifted drastically in Congress's favor over the last nine months. Maybe somebody in Congress can prevent the closing of the F-22 production line at the end of this year.
HT: The Gormogons