Grom-2019

A Russian MOD press-release outlined Grom-2019 — Russia’s annual strategic nuclear forces exercise which begins today and runs through Thursday.

Grom-2019

The MOD officially describes the activity as a “strategic command-staff exercise in the command and control of the Armed Forces.”

RVSN, LRA, VTA, and Northern and Pacific Fleet forces will be involved. Ballistic and cruise missile launches will terminate on the Pemboy, Kura, and Chizha ranges.

Pemboy near Vorkuta is typically for ALCMs; Kura and Chizha are for ballistic missiles. VTA tankers will refuel Russian bombers. 

The head of GU MVS General-Major Yevgeniy Ilin indicated activity will include 16 ballistic — Yars ICBMs and Bulava,  Sineva (SS-N-23), and Stingray (SS-N-18) SLBMs — and cruise missile firings.

The press-release said 12,000 personnel will participate in the exercise along with 213 ICBM launchers, 105 aircraft including five bombers, and as many as 15 surface ships and five submarines.

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Mil and Kamov Under One Roof

Mi-35

Mil’s Mi-35 multipurpose combat helicopter

State-owned helicopter conglomerate Russian Helicopters plans to bring the Mil and Kamov design bureaus under a single organizational structure before 2022, according to a company statement.

Russian Helicopters (itself controlled by government holding company Rostekh) announced the two longstanding bureaus will be united in a new National Helicopter Center named for M. L. Mil and N. I. Kamov [National Center of Helicopter-building or NTsV — НЦВ].

Mil and Kamov will be joined in one business by mid-2020. “Further integration processes connected with optimizing the activity of the two design bureaus in the format of one company will continue until 2022,” Russian Helicopters noted. The company said the center will unite the potential of the two helicopter-building schools for more effective resolution of design and modernization missions.

The independent Mil and Kamov “brands” will be retained, but their workers will be combined in the NTsV. The merger is supposed to remove existing administrative, legal, and economic barriers to cooperation between their designers.

Ka-52

Kamov’s Ka-52 attack helicopter

Interfaks-AVN reported the establishment of the center is explained by a need to optimize the work of a whole range of supporting and administrative sub-units and to allow engineers from both bureaus to exchange technical solutions, unify standards, and share work loads.

Besides cutting management and labor costs, the union of Mil and Kamov is supposed to reduce the time required to put helicopters into serial production.

According to Russian Helicopters’ deputy general director Mikhail Korotkevich:

By our accounting, the distribution of tasks between two design bureaus, as well as between the production and repair plants of the holding will allow us to free up 15-20% of their annual effort which can be directed at creating technical reserves and developing new equipment.

Korotkevich added that Russian Helicopters wants to eliminate “unnecessary competition” between Mil and Kamov on similar helicopter designs. He expects more efficient use of infrastructure and lower expenditures on testing to come from the merger of the bureaus.

This merger of Russian helicopter giants will be interesting. 

There are mergers and then there are mergers. Putting Mil and Kamov under the same tent as separate entities is one thing. Сhanging their business and breaking their “rice bowls” is something else. Actually achieving efficiencies and savings is another thing too.

From Soviet times, the Russian approach was to create competition where it wasn’t in the socialist centrally-planned economy. That’s how the MOD and defense industry created world-class armaments — Sukhoy vs. Mikoyan, Ilyushin vs. Antonov, Rubin vs. Malakhit, Yuzhnoye vs. Makeyev vs. MITT, etc.

Over time the design bureaus — probably guided by the MOD and government — tended to concentrate on their specialties rather than competing directly.

This hasn’t stopped brutal clashes particularly when state purchases of weapons systems are limited or declining. It may be happening now, and it may have led the Kremlin to rationalize Russia’s military helicopter market. But blending Mil and Kamov won’t be easy. There has been more recent bare knuckle competition between the helicopter designers than in other segments of Russian defense industry.

In recent days, Primorye media reported on a demonstration by workers at Kamov’s AAK Progress plant 100 km northeast of Vladivostok. They are protesting the lack of orders for their helicopters and attendant cuts in the work force.

Contract for Tornado-S MLRS

Tornado-S

According to Kommersant, Perm-based ZAO Special Design Bureau (SKB) received a contract worth 6-7 billion rubles ($93-$108 million) to produce 20 combat systems for the Russian MOD. The paper’s sources say the contract is for Tornado-S multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS) and transport-reload vehicles. The equipment is to be delivered in 2020.

The 12-tube, 300-mm Tornado-S (9K515) MLRS is a “deeply modernized” version of the Smerch. It reportedly features GLONASS satellite navigation, automated fire control, and 9M542 PGMs. Unlike earlier systems, Tornado-S gives specific flight profile data to each rocket. Its effective range is 120 km.

Tornado-S first entered the inventory in late 2016. Smerch was accepted for service in 1989.

The new 9K515 weapons system includes the 9A54 launch vehicle and 9T255 transport-reload vehicle.

Tornado-S and TZM

The 20 systems in the contract likely include 16 launch vehicles (two battalions of eight) and four transport-reload vehicles (two per launch battalion).

The Russian MOD is using new Tornado-S MLRS to build a heavy rocket launcher brigade at the district level in each of its four MDs. In Soviet times, each MD (front) disposed of its own rocket launcher brigade, typically four battalions of 18 40-tube, 122-mm BM-21 Grad systems.

Those “brigades” look like this now:

  • Western MD…Tver…79th Brigade…three battalions of Tornado-S…12 launchers.
  • Southern MD…Znamensk…439th Brigade…??? battalions of Tornado-S…??? launchers.
  • Central MD…Shchuchye…232nd Brigade…two battalions of 220-mm Uragan…16 launchers.
  • Eastern MD…Novosysoyevka…338th Brigade…2-3 battalions of Uragan…16-18 launchers.

But these are more like rocket battalions than the brigades of old days.

The first Tornado-S deployments began in 2017 in the Western MD and continued in the Southern MD in early 2019.

It seems likely the Tornado-S systems due in 2020 will go to the Central or Eastern MD before the Western or Southern get more.

Kommersant detailed the poor financial status of ZAO SKB. Its parent, long-time sole producer of Russian MLRS Motovilikhinskiye Plants is bankrupt. SKB was split away to keep creditors at bay. The rest of Motovilikha is supposed to retool to make civilian products. The growing problem of insolvency in Russia’s OPK is worthy of a look.

Putin on Import Substitution

Putin addresses the VPK

No one in Russia’s defense industries will say Moscow’s program of import substitution isn’t going well. But, while acknowledging some success, the Supreme CINC intimates it could be going better. Izvestiya recapped Putin’s remarks last week as follows [my trans.]:

Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged mistakes in planning the import substitution program in the defense-industrial complex (OPK). According to him, they caused movement in the deadlines for several state defense orders in 2018.

“Considering the complexity and interconnection of all our rearmament plans for the army and navy, such failures have to be effectively eliminated,” the head of state said at a session of the Military-Industrial Commission on Thursday, September 19.

Putin also ordered the government and leading departments “to take supplementary measures to guarantee technological independence in the area of military production.” Including those products in the design phase.

The head of state also noted that the process of import substitution in the OPK is ongoing and Russia has achieved technological independence in more than 350 types of armaments.

“The import substitution program began five years ago, over this time we’ve really managed to advance somewhat, at least in a number of significant directions,” TASS cited Putin.

The President noted that in recent years the share of the domestic electronic component base in modern types of armaments has grown substantially and the production of engines for helicopters and Navy (VMF) ships has been arranged.

“Also soon it will be possible to repair engines for An-124 aircraft in Russian enterprises,” he added.

On August 1, 2018, Deputy Prime Minister Yuriy Borisov announced a possible breakdown in the deadline for delivering combat ships to the VMF in 2018. He noted that the state “practically every year” struggles “with systematic violations of the period for supplying ships and boats to the VMF by a number of shipbuilding enterprises.”

Meanwhile in February 2018, Pavel Pechkovskiy, a directorate chief in the Defense Ministry’s Department for Support of the State Defense Order for Ships and Naval Armaments, related that practically all main equipment for VMF ships had been fully shifted to domestic types in the framework of import substitution.

Mr. Putin doesn’t sound particularly pleased, and his praise is faint (“really managed to advance somewhat”). He was likely more frank behind closed doors.

The share of domestic electronics “has grown,” but Putin doesn’t tell us where it stands in absolute terms.

But in May, an economist writing in VPK estimated not more than 15 percent of the “electronic component base” (EKB) is Russian-made, and not less than 70 percent of the OPK is buying foreign EKB in the same volume as always.

The Russians are producing the VK-2500 gas turbine to power their military helicopters. They used to get helicopter engines from Motor Sich in Ukraine.

As Putin noted, Russian industry is updating the D-18T engine for the Ukrainian-made An-124 transport. The modernization of the An-124 is supposed to carry the transport into the 2040s.

Meanwhile, the Antonov Design Bureau in Kyiv claims Moscow lacks many essentials to overhaul the An-124 (e.g. documents, design drawings, test data). And AO UZGA is having difficulties that may be technical or financial in renovating the D-18T. Of course, the updated D-18T isn’t really an import substitute.

Then there are naval gas turbine engines for Russia. They too were formerly made in Ukraine and need replacement. Russian engine-builder ODK asserted earlier in September that its enterprises are now filling all orders for engines once supplied by Motor Sich. But Izvestiya leaves the reader wondering if ships due this year will be late anyway.

Still Waiting for Subs

Budnichenko and Krivoruchko at Sevmash

Krivoruchko and Budnichenko at Sevmash

The press-conference photo shows Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Aleksey Krivoruchko with Sevmash general director Mikhail Budnichenko. Heavily scaffolded CGN Admiral Nakhimov provides the backdrop. The Sevmash boss looks like he needs some antacids.

Krivoruchko told the assembled Russian media:

“The quantity of nuclear submarines being transferred to the fleet will be increased, the decision on this has been made. We expect to receive 10 nuclear submarines of projects 955A and 885M by 2024.”

If we’re generous, we could say the Russian Navy got (or will get) five new SSBNs and two new SSNs — a grand total of seven — in the first two decades of the 21st century.

Now Krivoruchko says Sevmash will finish and deliver ten in the next five years.

Let’s look closer.

The initial 955A — Knyaz Vladimir — is in trials and could be accepted in December 2019.

Krivoruchko also told the media Knyaz Oleg, Yasen-M SSNs Kazan and Novosibirsk, and former project 949A Oscar II SSGN Belgorod — now project 09852 and reported Poseydon “doomsday torpedo” carrier — will be received in 2020.

He also noted that contracts for two more Borey-A (making ten Borey boats overall including seven Borey-A units) and two more Yasen-M (nine Yasen overall including eight Yasen-M) have been signed.

If Kazan arrives in 2020, Novosibirsk seems more likely in 2021. Knyaz Oleg might reach the fleet in 2021.

Krasnoyarsk possibly in 2022, and Arkhangelsk in 2023. Generalissimus Suvorov could be delivered in 2023 or 2024. Perm perhaps in 2024.

The first of the last two Borey-A SSBNs currently on the books — Imperator Aleksandr III — might make the 2024 deadline. But almost certainly not the other — Knyaz Pozharskiy.

So ten new nuclear submarines in Russia’s order-of-battle by the end of 2024 is certainly conceivable, but is it likely? Here are some difficulties:

  • Russia is still taking an inordinate amount of time to build boats. Nine, ten, even 11 years. It hasn’t delivered a new nuclear submarine in five years. Saying it can cut the time to seven or eight years could be specious.
  • 2020 is the big year. If Russian builders don’t deliver the five submarines Krivoruchko promised in 2020, his plan for 2024 becomes impossible. All other boats will be pushed back accordingly.
  • The backlog in the hall at Sevmash will be hard to unwind. Instead of cutting to 7-8 years, build time could stay at 9-10-11 years.
  • Five years is a long time. Political, economic, technological, and military changes could impact Krivoruchko’s schedule decisively.

Perhaps Krivoruchko’s message is just the MOD’s latest effort to hurry Sevmash along.

The extra two 955A SSBNs Krivoruchko mentioned, if built, would give Moscow a force of ten modern boats to split evenly between its Northern and Pacific Fleets.

Submarine Class Delivery Laydown to Delivery (Years)
Yuriy Dolgorukiy Borey 2013 16
Aleksandr Nevskiy Borey 2013 10
Vladimir Monomakh Borey 2014 9
Severodvinsk Yasen 2014 20
Knyaz Vladimir Borey-A 2019-2020 (?) 7-8 (?)
Kazan Yasen-M 2020 (?) 11 (?)
Belgorod ex-Oscar II 2020 (?) 28 (?)
Novosibirsk Yasen-M 2021 (?) 8 (?)
Knyaz Oleg Borey-A 2021 (?) 7 (?)
Krasnoyarsk Yasen-M 2022 (?) 8 (?)
Arkhangelsk Yasen-M 2023 (?) 8 (?)
Generalissimus Suvorov Borey-A 2023-2024 (?) 8-9 (?)
Perm Yasen-M 2024 (?) 8 (?)
Imperator Aleksandr III Borey-A 2024-2025 (?) 8-9 (?)
Knyaz Pozharskiy Borey-A 2025-2026 (?) 8-9 (?)
??? Yasen-M
??? Yasen-M
??? Borey-A
??? Borey-A

Keep the Outhouse

Many things kept me from the keyboard in recent months. I’m trying to reboot.

Topwar.ru ran an interesting item on September 5. The RF Education Ministry is considering ending the training of lathe operators, fitters, and machinists in Russia’s post-secondary vocational and technical colleges.

The ministry proposes to stop accepting students for these “obsolete” skills starting in 2021. It will end courses for nine professions and 23 specialties in all.

The old skills don’t correspond to the demands of today’s labor market, according to the ministry. They will be replaced by training for the top 50 future professions and specialties as determined by the Ministries of Labor and Education.

If the Education Ministry has identified the new jobs, Topwar didn’t relay them.

Reader comments were interesting. Some readers pointed to artificial intelligence, computer programming, and even the Fedor robot working aboard the ISS. Others focused on economics. Many young people don’t want to work for 30,000 rubles ($450) a month out in the hinterland (closer to Moscow machinists make more).

It’s likely the RF Ministry of Education has the picture below in mind.

It shows a Swiss CNC vertical milling machine in some Russian business. Perhaps this is what the ministry wants future workers to learn.

But many Russian industries and crucial defense enterprises don’t look like this. And the Russian OPK advertises every day to fill openings for qualified machinists.

Maybe enterprises will get these workers from other sources. Maybe the Education Ministry’s proposal won’t even take effect.

Or maybe the OPK hasn’t focused what the ministry is suggesting. It could have a negative impact on Russian defense production.

As our dedy are fond of saying:

Не срывай сортир до того как унитаз хорошо работает!

Promotion List

The promotion list contains names of 552 generals and admirals against 730 the MOD says it has.

This link goes to a larger file with more data.

The newest promotees were announced on June 11, 2019.