Russia’s proposed new military transport will be a behemoth of an aircraft — assuming such a plane can even fly and Russia is even vaguely serious about actually building it.
According to the Kremlin propaganda outfit RT, citing design specifications from Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission, the new PAK TA transport will have the improbable ability to achieve supersonic flight while carrying massive payloads. The Kremlin plans to acquire 80 PAK TAs by 2024.
The introduction of the PAK TA is in keeping with Moscow’s stated goals of modernizing its air fleet within the next decade. Russia has dedicated $130 billion through 2020 for the modernization of its aging air force, which is largely made up of Soviet-era aircraft.
But until prototypes of the plane are built and begin flying, there is no telling how well the plane will actually perform or if it is even practical. Russia’s fifth-generation fighter, the T-50, has run into design problems. According to the Indian Air Force, the joint Indian-Russian variant of the T-50 still has numerous stealth and engine problems even at a late stage in its development.
And the PAK TA presents an even greater challenge. A supersonic plane of its size and cargo capacity — an anticipated 200 tons — could land only on a very long, reinforced runway that may need to be designed specifically for the plane. It would necessitate an astonishingly large fuel load, which would further limit the number of airports from which the aircraft could take off and land. It would also have an enormous wingspan that would make the plane an easy target for enemy forces.
On a more basic level, who would entrust 200 tons of cargo aboard such an outlandish, experimental aircraft?
It would be an astonishing accomplishment if a prototype ever takes the skies — never mind 80 finished planes.
For now, the aircraft is at most an aspiration for Russia. It may also just be a propaganda ploy meant to highlight the Kremlin’s modernization drive and create the impression that Russia’s military-industrial complex possesses technological capabilities beyond its actual capacity.
Even if the PAK TA may be crude Kremlin psy-ops, the concept art for the new aircraft is still pretty spectacular. Here’s what Moscow is claiming about its fanciful superplane of the distant and probably nonexistent future.
The PAK TA is being developed by the Russian aviation company Ilyushin.
The next-generation carrier is touted as being able to travel at supersonic speeds, carry up to 200 tons of cargo, and have a range of 4,350 miles.
The PAK TA’s payload capacity is envisioned as being 80 tons more than that of the US’ largest cargo plane, the C-5 Galaxy.
RT estimates that a fleet of PAK TA’s could carry 400 T-14 Armata heavy tanks. Left unaddressed is why anyone would risk loading 400 tanks into a fleet this ridiculous.
The plane is thought to feature an upper gas turbine as well as twin electrically powered fans. The back of the plane’s wings will generate vectored thrust — assuming a single one is ever built.