Russia's ambitious T-50 fighter plane project was meant to develop a rival to two futuristic US jetfighters, the F-22 Raptor and the planned F-35 Lightning-II.
But now, the T-50 appears to be rivaling the F-35 another way: in development troubles. The Kremlin is slamming the brakes on its "fifth generation" fighter program and cutting its initial rollout to a quarter of those originally planned.
The decision seems a setback for Vladimir Putin's sweeping $800 billion rearmament program, a vital component of the wider effort to restore Russia to its Soviet-era status as a major global superpower. However, the sharp slowdown in plans to procure the sophisticated new jet may represent an outbreak of wisdom on the part of Russian military chiefs, who will remember how the USSR was driven into bankruptcy by engaging in an all-out arms race with the US.
Financial constraints are the key reason cited for cutting the military order from 52 to 12 of the planes over the next few years, according to the Moscow daily Kommersant.
"Given the new economic conditions, the original plans may have to be adjusted," the paper quotes Deputy Defense Minister Yuriy Borisov as saying. The project to build a cutting-edge fighter plane, which is partly financed by India, will not be canceled, but held in abeyance while the Russian Air Force makes the most of its existing "fourth generation" MiG and Sukhoi combat aircraft, he added.
No one knows whether technical problems may also have played a role in the decision to shelve the fighter.