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Who has the fastest warplane? Russia tests another supersonic T-50 fighter.

Russia today tested a second prototype of its Sukhoi T-50 fighter, a fifth-generation warplane that is said to be comparable to the US F-22 Raptor.

By Correspondent / March 3, 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin walks after inspecting a new Russian fighter jet after its test flight in Zhukovksy, outside Moscow, June 17, 2010. The new jet, Sukhoi T-50 fighter, is Russia's response to the US F-22 Raptor.

Alexei Druzhinin/RIA-Novosti/AP

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Moscow

Russia successfully tested a second prototype of its revolutionary new "fifth-generation" fighter plane Thursday, a futuristic, ultrafast, and stealthy warbird that may be in the possession of the Russian Air Force by 2013.

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If Russian claims about the Sukhoi T-50 multirole fighter are true, then the country that has made do with Soviet-era arms for the past two decades is poised to roar into the 21st century with a cutting-edge weapons system that is so advanced and complex that only the US has been able to field one.

"This is a unique achievement for post-Soviet Russia, and we're leaving Europe, China, and Japan far behind" in the race to build a fifth-generation fighter, says Alexander Khramchikin, an expert with the independent Institute of Political and Military Analysis. "This puts Russia at the top level in military development, and even higher."

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China recently tested its own version of a stealth fighter, but Russian experts say China's J-20 lacks many characteristics of the so-called fifth-generation warplanes, which are known for sustained supersonic cruise, over-the-horizon radar visibility, integrated weapons and navigation systems managed by artificial intelligence, and high-performance frames made from space-age materials.

Only one warplane fitting this bill, the US F-22 Raptor, has so far entered service anywhere, with the F-35 Lightning II due to become operational in 2016. Both have been criticized for their staggering price tag; critics have alleged that after research and development costs are factored in, the F-22 comes to more than $300 million per plane.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who recently was photographed inspecting the T-50, insisted last year that Russia has spent only $1 billion developing its new plane, and would invest another billion to make it production-ready.

After Thursday's successful 44-minute T-50 flight test, the Russian Air Force announced it would start buying the planes as early as 2013, as part of a $650 billion rearmament program ordered by the Kremlin last week.

Even skeptics say Thursday's successful rollout of another T-50 prototype shows that Russia is bouncing back as a leading military power.

"There is a big controversy going on [among Russian experts] about whether the T-50 is mostly a PR creation," says Viktor Baranets, a former Defense Ministry spokesman who's now a military columnist for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda. "But I must say, even if it is being over-sold a bit, that second plane in the air looks really good."

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