MOSCOW — Russia on Friday unveiled a new fighter aircraft touted as a rival of the US F-22 stealth jet and developed amid the highest secrecy as part of a plan to modernize the armed forces.
The fifth generation fighter, manufactured by the Sukhoi company and known as the PAK FA, made a maiden flight of just over 45 minutes at the firm's home base of Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Far East region.
"The flight lasted 47 minutes during which all the aircraft's systems were tested. It was successful," Sukhoi spokeswoman Olga Kayukova told AFP. "This is the first time it has been unveiled."
Pictures broadcast on state television showed the fighter jet -- which has been kept closely under wraps for years -- flying at altitude and then landing on a snow-surrounded runway.
"The aircraft performed well in all stages of the flight programme. It is easy and comfortable to pilot," said Sergei Bogdan, the pilot for the flight, in comments published on the Sukhoi website.
The new jet has the capability of carrying out long flights above the speed of sound as well as simultaneously attacking different targets.
Russia is currently embarking on a major programme to re-equip its military, not least the air force which is still using largely Soviet-era equipment and suffers from frequent crashes.
The new fighter, which has been in development since the 1990s, is due to enter the armed forces in 2015, Russian news agencies said.
The first flight of the PAK FA (Prospective Aviation System of Frontline Aviation) is being seen in Russia as a major boost for the military after the project was hit by repeated delays over the last years.
"There is no doubt that the plane is needed," the ex-commander of the Russian air force, Anatoly Kornukov, told the Interfax news agency.
"Our Su-27 and MiG-29 planes are good but have aged. They are 20 or more years old and it's time to have something as a replacement," he said.
He said the new plane could easily stand comparison with the US F-22, also a fifth generation stealth fighter.
"It's going to be no worse than an F-22. I've been in an F-22 and I know."
Russia's campaign to modernize its military has been marred by repeated setbacks with new equipment, above all a string of failed tests of its new Bulava sea-based intercontinental nuclear-capable missile.
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