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Russia Spending Scarce Funds on Futuristic Warplanes

Moscow, April 22 (RFE/RL) - Russian Air Force commanders say Russia is developing 'fifth generation' fighter aircraft capable of countering NATO's top warplanes, including the United States' Stealth bomber.

Nikolai Borisikhin, chief navigator of the Russian Air Force, told our correspondent recently that Russian military designers have two such aircraft under development. He said the Sukhoi design bureau has built experimental models of a multi-purpose fighter designated SU711. He said the models already have passed ground tests and have made at least four flights from a research installation 20 kms south of Moscow.

A senior specialist at Sukhoi, Vladimir Yakovlev, said the SU711 tops the design bureau's previous designs by, as he put it, "100 percent" in armament, avionics and maneuverability. He said the aircraft is so responsive that even medioce pilots will be able to perform maneuvers now only feasible for a handuful of Russian aces.

The Deputy Chief Commander of the Russian Air Force, Mikhail Soroka, told our correspodent that the Moscow design bureau Mikoyan also is developing a plane, the MIG-37, that will have Stealth-like ability to evade radar detection. Mikoyan is to start flight tests of the MIG-37 this year. The MIG-37 was to have been shown at the Zhukovsky international air show MAKS last year, but Defense Minister Pavel Grachev cancelled the showing at the last minute for security reasons.

The Russian officals boasted openly in general terms about development of the SU711 and the MIG-37, without being willing to divulge drawings or specifications. Russian newspapers have carried accounts of the experimental aircraft also.

The officials told our correspondent that defense finances will prevent either aircraft from being commissioned any time soon. Air Force Deputy Chief Soroka said the Air Force has acquired no new aircraft in recent years. Soroka said he hopes for an improvement in Russia's overall economic situation that will, in his words, "allow us to acquire what we need."

The Russian Air Force retained 60 percent of the aircraft and 40 percent of the ground installations of the former Soviet Union.