Russia’s new stealth fighter made an eyebrow-raising surprise appearance on June 5—soaring over the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow ripped from Ukraine in early 2014.
The T-50—Russia’s answer to the U.S. Air Force’s F-22—is far from war-ready. Indeed, the twin-engine, radar-evading warplane is suffering such serious design, quality-control, and financing problems that it might never enter frontline service in large numbers.
But practical realities may very well be beside the point. The T-50’s flights over territory that once belonged to Russia’s bitter rival Ukraine sends an apparently powerful message, albeit one that doesn’t necessarily hold up to close scrutiny.
After flying air cover for the annexation of Crimea in 2014, supporting Russia’s ground war in eastern Ukraine through 2015, and undertaking an intensive air campaign in defense of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in 2016, the Russian air force could be near the point of exhaustion.
But a big, powerful, high-tech stealth fighter, roaring impressively over captured enemy terrain, is a statement to the contrary. The implication of the T-50’s maneuvers over Crimea is that Russia—in particular, its struggling air force—is still strong.
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Image courtesy of Sergei Bobylev/TASS/Alamy Live News