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Russia flexes military power with 'futuristic' fighter jet

Russia returned to the global stage Friday as a first-rank military and technological power by launching a 'fifth generation' fighter plane, with futuristic characteristics of stealth, sustained supersonic cruise, and integrated weapons.

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A new Russian T-50 fighter lands at an airfield of the Sukhoi aircraft manufacturing plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur January 23. The new fighter aircraft is by some seen as Russia's response to U.S. advances in military aviation.

Sukhoi Press Service/Reuters

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Vladimir Putin is jubilant, the Russian aviation industry is filled with pride, and even normally skeptical military experts say they're truly impressed by reports Friday that Russia has successfully test-flown the first prototype of a "fifth generation" fighter plane.

They all may have good reasons to cheer. Building such a plane is so expensive, complex, and technologically sophisticated that, until now, only the United States has been able to field an operational version of one: the F-22 Raptor.

According to news reports, Russia's venerable Sukhoi company – maker of many famous Soviet warplanes – sent the V-tailed, swept-wing Sukhoi T-50 on its maiden flight for 47 minutes Friday near Komsomolsk-na-Amur in Russia's far east (see video here) and it exceeded all expectations.

"We started flight tests of the fifth-generation aircraft today," Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan told Russian news agencies. "I am strongly convinced that this project will excel its Western rivals in cost-effectiveness and these planes will constitute the backbone of the Russian Air Force for the next few decades."

A fighter of the "fifth generation" should have futuristic characteristics of stealth, sustained supersonic cruise, multi-role capabilities, integrated weapons and navigation systems that are controlled by artificial intelligence, over-the-horizon radar visibility and other cutting-edge wizardry.

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