This article is a hypothesis about that forthcoming fighter. Extrapolation of Soviet development trends points to introduction of the aircraft around the turn of the century—thus the designation MiG-2000 given it here.
A number of influences, constraints, and possibilities are taken into account in this prediction. In addition to the options offered by technology, these include Soviet military doctrine, Soviet forecasting and planning philosophy, mission profiles that are likely to be required, and the impact of Soviet design practices. (See "The Structured World of the Soviet Designer," AIR FORCE Magazine, March 1984.)
Marxist-Leninist doctrine permeates all aspects of Soviet society: it is the foundation for all governmental action and planning. This doctrine mandates that the military establishment be prepared to wage war successfully, according to the dictates of the Communist leadership. This generates a military doctrine that, in turn, determines the size, character, and goals of the armed forces and that ensures the integration of organization, tactics, training, and equipment. This all-encompassing philosophy is applied throughout the military system as an integral element of doctrine.
Basic to Communist doctrine is the concept of centralized economic planning and control. The Soviets regard forecasts of scientific development and directions of research as critical elements in their centralized planning. They use these forecasts to plan when they will introduce new machinery, new production methods, and, in particular, new technologies. The models generated by the forecasting agencies are scrutinized by expert evaluators to ensure that the trends are realistic and within national capabilities. These models can be modified to account for unexpected events. Current forecasting methods also attempt to predict potential scientific breakthroughs.
In short, the Soviet economic and military system is directed—and constrained— by a doctrinally directed planning philosophy that targets advanced technologies and that predicates future development on present knowledge. With the future thus predetermined, a Western analyst should he able to use trend plots to extrapolate future efforts—in this case, as they affect military aircraft. Until recently, the characteristics of Soviet fighters have been very well documented in the open press. Available data on the most current aircraft is less accurate, but that which has been revealed should be sufficient to establish trends.
New MIG by the Year 2000
A projected date for introduction of the next-generation fighter was obtained by extrapolating the past efforts of the Mikoyan/Gurcvich Prototype Design Bureau (MiG OKB). This bureau was used as a baseline because it has designed virtually all Soviet air-superiority fighters produced since 1945. When the chronology is analyzed, it becomes apparent not only that each successive design is closely related, but also that each has incorporated a progressively larger percentage of new technology, with a longer span of time between the introduction of new designs. Taking each introduction as a statistical event, a trend emerges. An extrapolation of this curve indicates the next introduction of a MiG fighter to occur in approximately the year 2000.
These extrapolation methods are based on standard forecasting techniques. For instance, the importance of past events declines in relation to their chronological distance from the present. As an example, the MiG-17 Fresco of 1950 would have much less influence on the MiG-2000 than the MiG-23 Flogger of l966. Conversely, for realistic projections, these methods allow, for an increasing margin of error in a forecast in proportion to the length of time that the projection is made into the future. The resultant curves are then weighted accordingly. This combination of statistical analysis methods was used to determine the basic characteristics of the future Soviet fighter.
The best available open-source data on the characteristics of MiG production fighters was plotted against their introduction year. Such characteristics as Mach number, gross takeoff weight, wing loading, and thrust-to-weight ratio were then extrapolated to the year 2000.
One complication that had to be addressed was the accuracy of the data on the characteristics of the aircraft. More hard data was available on older aircraft, especially from Soviet sources, than on newer aircraft. Data on the Flogger, the Fulcrum, and in some cases the Fishbed is much softer because of the lack of Soviet data and the secrecy of official Western estimates. However, several reputable and semiofficial sources have made educated estimates, and these were represented by a span of available assessments rather than by single values. Discernible trends were easily established from Soviet aircraft data, in contrast to the randomness of the trends derived from data for contemporary Western aircraft.
The Soviets have been evolving toward a tactical maturity that is being driven by new system capabilities and by the new offensive nature of their doctrine. Air combat is no longer viewed as an activity restricted to defense but rather as a fully integrated part of the combined arms offensive. The Soviet fighter pilot must now be an aggressive intruder, always taking the necessary initiative to defeat the enemy or at least to divert enemy attacks from bombers. Operations are no longer limited to friendly territory, but extend deep into enemy territory. The Soviet fighter pilot is expected to dominate the engagement upon arriving in these extended zones.
"Our Air Force has now become a powerful arm of the armed forces of the USSR," said Chief Marshall of Aviation P. S. Kutakhov, Commander in Chief of Soviet Air Forces until his death in 1984. "It is highly mobile and maneuverable, making it possible to shift the efforts of aviation from one sector of the theater of war to another, to penetrate deep into the enemy rear, to use different weapons and electronic warfare resources in all-weather conditions, at any time of the day or year, and to make sudden strikes against large permanent and small mobile targets."
The depth of these extended zones of operations can be determined by extrapolating the combat radius trends of the aircraft used for these missions. At first analysis, the trend is not obvious. The MiG-23 Flogger, with a radius of nearly 700 nautical miles, constitutes a notable departure from the much shorter ranges of fighters produced before and after its introduction.
The relatively long range of the Flogger can be explained, though. That aircraft came along at a time when Soviet doctrine had shifted emphasis to extended second-echelon operations. The Flogger was modified in development to take on a long-range role in addition to the traditional MiG interceptor role.
The MiG-29 Fulcrum constitutes a return to the lightweight, shorter-radius fighter philosophy. The longer-range fighter mission has apparently been given to the Su-27 Flanker. Therefore, assuming a short-range/long-range mix, the Fulcrum follow-on, the MiG-2000 is projected to have a combat radius of approximately 500 miles.
How the MiG-2000 Would Be Used
The MiG-2000 is seen as escorting fighters and bombers and conducting fighter sweeps. One postulation of Soviet air combat in the opening phases of a conflict is that unescorted attack helicopters and subsonic fixed-wing attack bombers would take care of operations at and immediately beyond the forward edge of the battle area (FEBA). Heavy concentrations of surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) make these zones a high-risk, low-payoff environment for escort fighters. MiG-2000 fighter sweeps would take place beyond this SAM belt.
Success in the combat phase of the mission, according to the Soviets, is achieved by first-pass kills. Older, limited-aspect infrared (IR) missiles required interceptwithin visual range and from the aft quadrant. Modern, all-aspect missiles, when used by more capable aircraft, allow beyond-visua1-range (BVR) tactics. As a result, Soviet tactics strive for a seventy percent probability of kill in the first pass by opening with a BVR engagement.
Long engagement time must be avoided. If a decision is not rapid, the Soviet pilot will disengage. General Thzov of the Soviet Air Forces defines the initial maneuver and fire, as well as the number of weapons, as the crucial components of the air combat phase. In this context, the Soviets are placing a minimum of four and as many as eight missiles on each fighter and have reinstalled the gun.
The mission profile (see adjacent diagram) calls for acceleration to a supersonic Mach number to traverse the SAM belt, deceleration to optimum cruise speed, and then acceleration to supersonic speed prior to combat. At the maximum combat radius, the fighter must be able to make at least three high-energy maneuvers. These were defined by extrapolating basic F-16 maneuvering requirements. After disengagement, the fighter drops back to optimum cruise speed until it reaches the SAM belt, which it crosses in a supersonic dash. It should be able to loiter for five minutes before landing at its home base. There are several requirements for an aircraft to accomplish such a mission successfully, and they should be achievable with a design derived from the trend extrapolations.
High-energy maneuvering capability is critical to successful combat. The Soviet tactician sees little advantage in continuing a combat encounter beyond two or three passes. This philosophy of very short combat engagements has evolved in consonance with the all-aspect missile, which reduces the importance of sustained maneuverability. Therefore, in order to achieve quick kills, the pilot must have a high instantaneous-turn capability so that he can quickly point his nose in the general direction of the target and fire.
These extreme, instantaneous maneuvers, during the combat stage will produce very high G-loads. High thrust to weight must be coupled with a sophisticated flight control system. These maneuvers also emphasize the one limiting factor in all high-G environments—the pilot. Thus, to maximize the benefit of advanced maneuvering capabilities, there is a need for high-G cockpit design.
Basing should be as close to the front as possible to maximize the penetration depth. In accordance with standing Soviet criteria, the aircraft would be equipped with rough field landing gear to enable it to operate from austere, forward airfields. Additionally, to operate from locations other than airfields—roads, for example—short takeoff and landing (STOL) capability is required.
The aircraft must operate efficiently at supersonic speeds at medium to high attitudes and at high transonic speeds at lower altitudes. The aircraft propulsion system and overall configuration must present stealthy low-observables signatures in order to operate against an adversary whose sensors are increasingly capable. The aircraft must have advanced electronic warfare systems because of the extended time spent deep within enemy territory. Self-protection jammers, secure IFF, and secure data link communications would be required. Weapons must not degrade performance or increase observability while being carried.
The Soviet engineer follows a doctrine of designing an aircraft that is adequate—but not excessive—to mission requirements, a rugged and reliable system using a limited but highly standardized variety of components. These components must be producible by low-skilled manpower under wartime conditions. In the past, the engineer has been able to develop clever solutions to fit these constraints.
Guidelines for the Designer
The designer will follow a number of guidelines: Meet design requirements while respecting the "production as if in wartime" doctrine; design for production with low-labor-skill levels, limited advanced materials and processes, and minimum reliance on outside sources; be conservative in rating the levels of component quality; pay close attention to design quality, but only where necessary; use only those technologies that have been proven and approved by the military customer; minimize maintenance and maximize availability during short, intense combat conditions; and limit performance to feasible, low-risk goals.
The configuration thus derived is a single-seat, cranked-delta-canard/wing, twin-engine design. This concept is based on the author's interpretation of Soviet military doctrine, historical trends in Soviet fighters, mission requirements, Soviet design practices, and basic design considerations. In following this approach, each design consideration was investigated separately.
Propulsion. Several Western advanced-cycle engines were considered as models for the prospective powerplant, since very little open-source data is available on present Soviet military engines. Because the Soviets tend to simplify designs of military systems—in keeping with the doctrine of high reliability and low, systems complexity—an advanced but low-risk Western engine cycle was substituted for this study. The engine was simulated by an advanced Pratt & Whitney fighter attack/interceptor parametric-performance propulsion system model. The engine cycle was matched with an appropriate two-dimensional, thrust- vectoring/reversing nozzle and a variable-geometry inlet to model a complete propulsion system.
Several benefits are possible with nonaxisymmetric nozzles. For example, both high-energy maneuvering and STOL capability are enhanced with the less complex vectoring possible with a two-dimensional nozzle, as contrasted to a symmetrical, or three-dimensional nozzle.
Crew Station. The cockpit layout incorporates several features to increase the G-tolerance of the pilot. Such items as variable seat-back angle, raised heel rest, and sidearm controllers are included to sustain the nine-G-plus conditions encountered during extreme, instantaneous-turn-rate maneuvers.
Surfaces. For some time, Soviet literature has shown a marked interest in wing/canard layouts. When a canard is combined with vectorable nozzles, fly-by-wire, and relaxed static stability, an interesting configuration results. Not only will the canard be an aerodynamic control device, but it can also be used to trim the vectored thrust during certain high-angle-of-attack maneuvers and STOL operations. The all-moving tips are another device in which the Soviets have shown an interest. One of their approaches has been to attach the surface along a hinge line rather than with trunnions.
Landing Gear. Landing gear on Soviet military aircraft are designed for much more rugged operation than are those on Western aircraft. This feature is attributable to the unusually severe environment in which they must operate and the requirement for aircraft to be ready for military commanders to call upon, regardless of the terrain available for runway. Therefore, gear layout usually incorporates relatively low-pressure tires, in conjunction with lever suspension for operations on sod or packed ice.
Armament. The Soviets have been increasing missile loadings on their aircraft as a result of the increased reliability and enhanced capabilities of their missiles. However, the inherent drag of several externally mounted weapons can seriously degrade the performance of an otherwise high-performance design; thus, for drag considerations, the MiG-2000 incorporates an internal weapons bay. Guns are included as a hedge against electronic countermeasures, which could foil missiles. On the assumption that the Soviets will be returning to more lethal armament, two 10-mm cannons are included.
Systems. In concert with the "production as if at war" philosophy, assured reliability is designed into all weapon systems. Additionally, since most new Soviet recruits possess little or no technical background, maintenance has to be "soldier-proof." Organizational-level maintenance is kept at a minimum by designing systems at the lowest level of technology possible. In fact, many systems are derated to maintain the required level of reliability. Most on-board systems are repaired at the depot level, virtually eliminating intermediate-level maintenance. Thus, the commander requires only a semitrained support cadre to maintain his assets, reducing the amount of time needed to integrate new recruits and recently recalled reservists into operational units. Additionally, without large maintenance facilities to support, air bases can be smaller, much more austere, and, importantly, much less vulnerable.
Materials. The Soviets have for some time been developing a composites industry. By the year 2000, it should be mature enough to use this materials technology for most airframe components. The weight saving from the use of composites is well known; however, in the case of Soviet aircraft, the beneficial characteristics can be greater. This is because high composite strength, and therefore weight savings, is negated with cutouts. Western aircraft have a multiplicity of access panels, each requiring fasteners, in contrast to the few inspection ports and limited number of access panels in Soviet aircraft. Soviet emphasis on depot maintenance decreases the importance of easy flight-line access to internal components. It is expected that the MiG-2000 will incorporate a high percentage of composites.
Stealth. To be effective, a military aircraft must be able to deliver a payload to its destination with a high probability of surviving enemy defenses while en route; thus, the ability to evade enemy detection becomes paramount. In the past, electronic countermeasures, speed, and maneuverability have been the principal methods used to achieve this end, usually at some cost to performance or payload. However, if these methods and new low-observables technologies are integrated concurrently during the conceptual design stage, a lighter, lower-cost configuration would result. A more optimum balance among competing design features would be possible and a number of Stealth features could be incorporated with much less penalty.
Maneuverability. Rate of climb and rate of turn of the optimized MiG-2000 were plotted for comparison against the maneuvering capability of preceding aircraft. Rate of climb, better than 65,000 feet per minute, is consonant with the historical trend curve. However, rate of turn for the MiG-2000 is figured to be about twenty degrees per second. This is well below historical curve projections—if the data for the MiG-23 Flogger is included. The Flogger turns at only about half the rate foreseen for the MiG-2000. It should be remembered that the Flogger is something of an aberration in the trend pattern, as seen in the earlier discussion of combat radius. It appears that the Soviets, in the case of the Flogger, traded some maneuverability for range.
When postulating a future Soviet weapon system, there is a tendency to predict what the Soviets are capable of accomplishing and not what the trends indicate they will actually accomplish The fact is that the Soviets are perfectly capable of conceiving any number of advanced weapon systems, but a projection based on that premise will be unrealistic, inaccurate, and unnecessary. The Soviets have shown and their doctrine dictates that they will follow preplanned patterns in virtually all national endeavors. Military aircraft are no exception. Therefore, if the trends and doctrine are interpreted correctly, the next generation of Soviet fighters should hold few surprises. The inertia and character of their system is such that deviations by Soviet designers from conservative, previously established plans are much less likely to occur than under the high-risk requirements imposed on Western designers.
The MiG-2000 design illustrated in this article is, of course, only hypothetical and is based solely on open-source data. Nevertheless, it does serve as a focus on Soviet aviation technology trends as well as on where future research may be concentrated. Therefore, the exact configuration of the next Soviet fighter is not as important as the determination of its potential performance. Several different configurations can provide similar performance levels, but military analysts are interested only in capabilities.
The Soviet leadership has always expressed the need for advanced combat aircraft and has shown little hesitation in providing whatever manpower, resources, or industry is required. To reach required military levels, the Soviets have supported procurement goals fully in the past. By all indications, they are still as determined as ever.
MiG Technology Trends
Mach Number. Because of materials and aerodynamic limitations, maximum Mach number has stabilized in the 2.3 to 2.6 range. Since the Soviets use air-superiority fighters to supplement the point-defense interceptor force, the higher Mach number is more likely for the MiG-2000. However, it is interesting to note that the Soviets no longer consider maximum possible altitude and speed as the prime criteria for their fighters. Instead, high-energy maneuvering at lower altitudes is now considered equally important.
Takeoff Gross Weight. With the increasingly complex requirements of each new generation of aircraft, there has been a steady weight growth over time. As Soviet designers introduce more multimission capability into each new fighter and as range requirements increase with evolving military doctrine, takeoff gross weight has increased.
Wing Loading. Before data on the MiG-29 Fulcrum became available, an increased ratio of aircraft weight to wing area (W/S) would have been projected for the MiG-2000. However, the Fulcrum showed a marked reversal in this trend. Two key influences are responsible: more efficient engines that provide more available thrust to overcome the higher drag of a larger wing, and evolving Soviet tactics to counter Western trends and related successes. In fact, Soviet planners are now stating that maneuvering engagements are dependent on lower wing loadings as well as higher thrust-to-weight ratios. They are deemphasizing high-speed interception over the immediate front in favor of theater air superiority.
Thrust to Weight. The T/W trend in Soviet fighters reflects a steady improvement in engine technology. In the past, the Soviets have seemed to lag behind the West in many aspects of turbine technology, but this appearance is deceptive. Actually, they have pursued a wartime production philosophy that requires that, in such areas as engine design, low complexity and high reliability take precedence over the advanced technologies and their attendant high risk. In the past, Soviet designers have, to a degree, compensated for higher fuel consumption by increasing useful payload weight and lowering relative systems weight, thus allowing a larger percentage of the takeoff gross weight to be fuel. However, to fulfill the current long-range fighter mission, the Soviets are now concentrating their efforts on improving the fuel efficiency of their engines.
As a Senior Engineering Specialist at General Dynamics Corp.'s Fort Worth, Tex., facility, Richard D. Ward is the lead designer on advanced-design programs. A recipient of a BS degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Oklahoma in 1962, his career in the aviation industry has included work with Rockwell and McDonnell Douglas. He has participated in the X- 15, B-70A, F-4, F-15, and F-18 programs. For the past sixteen years, he has been a configuration designer on conceptual design programs that have included design analysis of foreign aircraft, with emphasis on Soviet design and procurement practices. He is the author of the article "The Structured World of the Soviet Designer" in last year's Soviet Aerospace Almanac.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag