Bill Sweetman Washington
Combat aircraft are the traditional Paris air show scene-stealers. But it has been a long time since there was an undisputed vedette to hog the limelight—a gap that the Sukhoi Su-35S fighter could fill this year as it makes its debut outside Russia.
Even two years ago, at the MAKS show in Moscow, the Su-35S—combining the proven aerodynamics of the T-10 family with a new integrated flight and propulsion control system including 3-D thrust-vectoring—showed some moves that no other aircraft has emulated in public, including a seamless transition from a dynamic deceleration (“Cobra” maneuver) into a low-airspeed turn, and flat spins—inverted and upright—under full control.
Any such demonstrations will be followed by a chorus of the usual suspects noting that “air show maneuvers” don't equate to air combat capability. However, flight demonstrations are not aerobatic tricks. Unpredictable flight paths challenge the guidance algorithms of any missile system and rapid nose-pointing can permit a short-range missile launch with a greater kill probability.
As for other fighters, naturally the Rafale will be on static display and flying, and while Dassault is not disclosing any specific plans, it will be surprising if some of Thales's work on an active, electronically scanned array (AESA) radar for the fighter is not on display. An Italian air force Eurofighter Typhoon is due to be on display, and may be flying. Consortium leaders regard last year's Farnborough air show as a milestone, with a visit by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron marking a renewed commitment to the fighter's future. There may be some more news about the Typhoon's new AESA radar: Eurofighter provided the sponsor governments with a full-scale development proposal for AESA in November, and revised it in January, at customer request, to improve its air-to-surface and electronic attack capability. (Those capabilities, as applied to a wide-angle AESA mounted on a “repositioner,” were the focus of the U.K.'s Bright Adder demonstration, which preceded the AESA definition.)
Eurofighter is looking at potential sales in the United Arab Emirates—where Rafale's efforts appear to have stalled—as well as reopened source selections in Denmark and, possibly, Canada. However, strong partner support will be essential to convince customers that the fighter will enjoy a robust upgrade program.
Saab has not publicly stated whether it will be bringing any aircraft to Paris. The Gripen Demo prototype was due to resume testing this month and its appearance may depend on flight test progress.
Boeing—competing with Gripen and Rafale in Brazil—is not bringing any fighters to Paris. Neither is the Joint Strike Fighter project office making any official appearance, while Northrop Grumman is skipping the show completely.
Another expected Russian military debutante is the Kamov Ka-52 Alligator, the new side-by-side, two-seat version of the Ka-50 (which appeared at Paris in 2003) with radar-guided air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons. The Yakovlev Yak-130 trainer returns in production form—nose to nose with its now-distant cousin, the Alenia M-346.