The first prototype of Sukhoi's T-50 fighter, also known as the PAK-FA (future tactical fighter), is supposed to roll out this year. However, a new story by Reuben Johnson in the Weekly Standard supports the school of thought that the first aircraft will basically be a technology demonstrator, a new airframe wrapped around engines and systems also used on the Su-35BM, and that an operational PAK-FA is a long way in the future.
Johnson may not be the world's best known aviation writer, but he brings a unique perspective to the study of Russian aviation. I first met him when he was working for General Dynamics in Fort Worth - a fluent Russian-speaking aeronautical engineer. He was part of a remarkable outreach effort in Gorbachev's perestroika era, which resulted in an exchange of visits in 1989-90 between GD and MiG. So both his reporting and analysis bear attention.
If he's right, Sukhoi director general Mikhail Pogosyan is steering a careful path between pleasing political leaders - who would like to see Russia develop an F-22-like stealth warplane - and ensuring military operators that they will have a competitive aircraft when they need it. By defining the initial versions of the PAK-FA around the engines, avionics and weaponry of the Su-35, Sukhoi can ensure that a very capable (if not stealthy) fighter is ready to go when needed.