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Russia's 'Fifth-Generation' Fighter Makes First Flight

The Sukhoi "fifth-generation" fighter jet makes its maiden test flight.
MOSCOW (Reuters) -- A new jet fighter seen as Russia's response to U.S. advances in military aviation made a successful first test flight today, planemaker Sukhoi said.

The "fifth-generation" fighter -- Russia's first all-new warplane since the Soviet collapse -- flew for about 45 minutes, Sukhoi spokeswoman Olga Kayukova said on Rossiya 24 television.

"The plane performed very well. All our expectations for this first flight were met," Kayukova said. "The premiere was a success."

Analysts have said it would probably be five to seven years before Russia's military gets to fly the first of the new fighters.

The plane took off from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Russia's Far East, Kayukova said. Authorities had initially promised the maiden flight last year.

The fighter, which Rossiya 24 said has been tentatively dubbed the T-50 by its makers, is crucial to demonstrating that Russia can hold its own and even challenge U.S. technology.

It is seen as Moscow's answer to the U.S.-built F-22 Raptor stealth fighter, which first flew in 1997.

Fifth-generation jets are invisible to radar, have advanced on-board flight and weapons control systems, and can cruise at supersonic speeds.

The Soviet collapse plunged Russia's military into a cash-strapped time of troubles, and its planemakers have been building military aircraft based on Soviet-era designs.

Several failed tests of the submarine-launched Buklava (Mace), an intercontinental ballistic missile touted by the Kremlin as able to pierce any air defense, has embarrassed Moscow.

The new plane is also important for Russian arms sales.

Sukhoi is Russia's largest exporter of military planes and accounts for about a quarter of the country's annual arms sales, which it said were worth $7.4 billion last year. Its biggest client is India.