ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (Reuters) - Russia's first fifth-generation fighter jet will make its maiden flight by year-end, the aircraft's designer said, as Moscow seeks to catch up with the United States in a military aviation dogfight.
Military and civilian plane-maker Sukhoi is bidding to revive an industry crippled by the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, which left Western rivals to dominate passenger markets and Washington to launch a fifth-generation fighter.
Asked when Russia's first post-Soviet fighter jet would take off, Sukhoi General Director Mikhail Pogosyan told Reuters: "We will spare no effort for this to happen this year, and I believe we have every reason to say this work is proceeding according to plan."
Pogosyan also predicted Sukhoi would take up to 20 percent of the world's regional jet market with Russia's first passenger airliner in almost two decades, the Superjet 100.
"We expect that, in our segment of regional passenger airliners, we'll take a 15-20 percent share of the global market. We think it will take us five to 10 years to achieve this," he said.
In the Reuters television interview on the sidelines of the MAKS-2009 aerospace fair outside Moscow on Wednesday, Pogosyan said he was hopeful Sukhoi's fifth-generation fighter jet would not face any last-minute hitches.
"There are always 'nuances' in the creation of military equipment that are impossible to predict," he said. "But I am hopeful we will be able to avoid such nuances."
Fifth-generation jets, such as the U.S. F-22 Raptor stealth fighter which first flew in 1997, are invisible to radar and boast "intelligent" on-board flight and arms control systems and supersonic cruising speeds.
Asked if the Russian fighter could challenge the U.S. Raptor, Pogosyan said he had no reason to doubt that the Sukhoi plane would be competitive.
Konstantin Makiyenko, deputy head of the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST) think tank, said that, even with delays, the Russian plane would likely make its first flight by January or February.
"But this doesn't matter much," he said. "There could be at least 10 years between the first flight of the fifth-generation prototype and commercial production."
Sukhoi's jets account for about half of Russia's military aviation exports and a quarter of its annual arms sales, with India the company's largest client, CAST estimates.
Sukhoi has over $4 billion worth of deals with India to supply some 130 fighter jets by 2014, CAST said.
Sukhoi is spearheading Russian efforts to break into the global market for passenger aircraft with its Superjet 100 regional jet.
Designed to replace ageing Tupolev-134 and Yakovlev-42 planes on routes between Russia's regional cities, the Superjet is a joint creation of the state's United Aviation Corporation (UAC) and U.S. plane maker Boeing.
The Superjet was developed with Italy's Finmeccanica and can carry 75-95 passengers.
The aircraft made its maiden flight, initially planned for 2007, in May 2008 and its first public flight in June this year. It is still undergoing tests.
In international markets, the Superjet will compete with Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer and Canada's Bombardier Inc, which currently dominate the sector.
"We greatly respect all the hard work they've done but we do think that the technological, engineering and scientific potential of the Russian aircraft-making industry allows us to achieve everything I've told you, even with such strong competitors," Pogosyan said.
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