Russia’s Mysterious First Stealth Fighter Found on Bing Maps
View Larger Map | Get Directions | View Bird’s Eye This might be the easiest ever find of an MIA airplane. You’re looking at a Bing Maps image of the Mikoyan (MiG) Project 1.44, Russia’s first attempt at building a flyable stealth fighter and the jet that some said was sent to China to ...
This might be the easiest ever find of an MIA airplane. You’re looking at a Bing Maps image of the Mikoyan (MiG) Project 1.44, Russia’s first attempt at building a flyable stealth fighter and the jet that some said was sent to China to help kick-start Beijing’s stealth development program. The jet is the larger of the two shown above sitting just outside of Moscow at Zhukovsky airfield (we have no idea what the smaller, darker plane alongside the 1.44 is).
Project 1.44 was meant to be the Soviet Union (and later Russia’s) super-fast, super-maneuverable answer to the United States’ premier fighter, the F-22 Raptor. However, the jet was underfunded in the days following the collapse of the Soviet Union. When the plane finally took its maiden flight in 2000, its designers found multiple flaws with the aircraft and the project was abandoned.
The 1.44 was designed with stealth-like angles, an internal weapons bay and supposedly used electronic countermeasures and special coatings to help reduce its radar signature. It also featured digital flight controls along with thrust vectoring engines and canards (little wings) on the front of the fuselage aimed at making the jet incredibly maneuverable.
But, in 2001, Russian officials shelved Project 1.44 in favor of a more modern design from MiG’s rival Sukhoi — the T-50 PAK FA. The 1.44 supposedly disappeared into storage after that. A quick Google Images search reveals recent-looking photos of the jet in storage — some of which claim they are from 2009 and taken near Moscow. (Google Maps also shows grainy satellite imagery the plane sitting on the ramp at Zhukovsky airfield.)
However, the saga of Project 1.44 doesn’t end there.
In late 2010 China unveiled its J-20 stealth fighter, a jet that struck many as an updated version of the Project 1.44 design. Just look at the tail-end of both jets and you’ll see where this idea comes from. The J-20, like the 1.44, is a big, single seat, twin-engine jet complete with an internal weapons bay and canards on the front. The obvious differences disappear there. The lines of the J-20 are a lot stealthier than the 1.44’s. The engines are laid out differently on the two jets (the 1.44’s air intakes are slung below the fuselage while the J-20’s hug the plane’s sides).
While MiG has denied giving information on Project 1.44 to the Chinese, Reuters in August 2011 cited a senior Russian official as saying “it looks like they got access . . . to documents related to the Mikoyan.”
The wire service also cited an “independent analyst” named Adil Mukashev as saying that China bought the tail section of the MiG 1.44.
It’s important to note that the Russians refused to sell Beijing Sukhoi Su-33 aircraft carrier-borne fighters after it was discovered China was attempting to reverse-engineer and build an unlicensed version of the Su-33’s predecessor. Beijing’s J-11B land-based fighter and the J-15 carrier-based fighter are the results of that effort. (Though there are rumors that the work on these Chinese jets actually occurred under a secret contract with Russia.)
As you can see from the image above, Project 1.44 still sits in Russia. Maybe the Chinese bought the tail of a non-flying mock up of the aircraft or just got access to the designs. Heck, maybe the Russians aren’t lying about not giving information on the 1.44 to the Chinese. Maybe someone like China’s Red Star hacking crew stole the designs. Red Star is suspected by Russian cybersecurity giant Kaspersky Lab of stealing defense, industrial and diplomatic secrets on behalf of the Chinese government, with a focus on victims in Russia and Asia.
John Reed is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He comes to FP after editing Military.com’s publication Defense Tech and working as the associate editor of DoDBuzz. Between 2007 and 2010, he covered major trends in military aviation and the defense industry around the world for Defense News and Inside the Air Force. Before moving to Washington in August 2007, Reed worked in corporate sales and business development for a Swedish IT firm, The Meltwater Group in Mountain View CA, and Philadelphia, PA. Prior to that, he worked as a reporter at the Tracy Press and the Scotts Valley Press-Banner newspapers in California. His first story as a professional reporter involved chasing escaped emus around California’s central valley with Mexican cowboys armed with lassos and local police armed with shotguns. Luckily for the giant birds, the cowboys caught them first and the emus were ok. A New England native, Reed graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a dual degree in international affairs and history.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.