Moscow: Russia's new-generation fighter plane, currently being jointly developed with India, will make its maiden flight no later than in 2012, a senior Air Force official said on Tuesday. Russia and India signed an agreement on cooperation in the development and production of an advanced multi-purpose fighter aircraft on October 18. “The deadlines have been set – it [the fighter] must take to the skies in 2012 and enter service [with the Air Force] in 2015,” said Lt. Gen. Igor Sadofyev, deputy commander of the Russian Air Force.

The general said Russian-Indian cooperation on the project would significantly boost its development.

“International cooperation and joint development efforts will certainly expedite the process,” Sadofyev said. “It's a path the whole world is taking nowadays, and we are no exception.”

He also said the Air Force was planning to procure at least six to eight Su-34 Fullback strike aircraft every year, starting from 2008.

“Russia's Air Force desperately needs the Su-34s,” the general said.

“I would prefer to re-equip at least two air regiments every year – that is, 48 aircraft,” Sadofyev said. “Unfortunately, this is financially impossible at present, but it is perhaps we will get six to eight planes annually”.

The $36 million Su-34 fighter-bomber is a two-seat strike aircraft equipped with twin AL-31MF afterburning turbojet engines. It is designed to deliver high-precision strikes on heavily-defended targets under any weather conditions, day or night, and fields weaponry that includes a 30mm GSh-301 cannon, up to 12 Alamo or Archer AAMs, ASMs, and bombs.

Designed by the Sukhoi, the Su-34s will replace the Su-24 Fencer frontline bombers. Experts said the new bomber has the potential to become the top plane in its class for years to come.