News on the Il-76MD-90A program provides an opportunity to look at the state of Russia’s VTA, or Military-Transport Aviation.
Il-76MD-90A prototype prepares for takeoff
The Il-76MD-90A is a new aircraft, an updated version of the venerable Il-76 transport produced by the Soviets in large numbers during the 1970s and 1980s.
According to most sources, the VTA is supposed to acquire 39 Il-76MD-90A transports by 2020 [or 2021?]. This may have been slashed to 30, others say. Manufacturer Aviastar-SP reports it has ten of the aircraft in various stages of assembly.
The new transport was at TsAGI in Moscow recently for static structural testing. Prior to that, it conducted flight tests from the Aviastar-SP production facility at Ulyanovsk-Vostochnyy.
Besides new PS-90 engines, the Il-76MD-90A has an all-glass digital cockpit, new flight controls, navigation, and communication systems. The airframe and landing gear have been reinforced. It lifts 60 tons while reportedly consuming less fuel.
The original Il-76 had slightly greater cargo capacity than the U.S. C-141. It’s critical to the mobility of Russia’s Airborne Troops (VDV) and their air-droppable equipment. Civilian versions of the Il-76 remain in use worldwide.
At present, VTA may operate about 100 Il-76M or Il-76MD, and perhaps ten An-124 transports. But the number of operational aircraft could be as low as 60 Il-76 variants and a handful of An-124.
At the outset of the current GPV in 2011, the air forces hoped to procure 100 or more new and updated heavy transport aircraft. The current inventory needs complete replacement in the 2020s and early 2030s. But they have relatively little to show well into 2017.
Together with 39 (or 30?) Il-76MD-90A transports, VTA plans to acquire 30 Il-76MDM aircraft. It’s a renovated Il-76MD with its original engines but the glass cockpit and other updates from the Il-76MD-90A.
Cooperation with the Antonov design bureau and its production facilities is off the table now that military-industrial ties with Ukraine have been severed. Observers once looked for Russia’s VTA to buy 30-50 An-70 transports and the same number of Il-76MD variants and updates.
They also anticipated that Moscow would buy 20 new An-124 aircraft and modernize quite a few existing ones. No alternative for replacing the super-heavy transport has been proffered.
The PAK TA (future aircraft system — transport aviation) remains a mirage. Moscow could mobilize Aviastar-SP to renew production of the An-124, but it would require a lot of resources and time, plus the facility will already have its hands full with the Il-76MD-90A, etc.
There is also the question of VTA’s smaller transports which are ancient and in dire need of replacement. The MOD has settled on procurement of 48 turboprop Il-112V aircraft in GPV 2018-2025 to replace some of its aged An-26 fleet. This decision came after it abandoned efforts to get Antonov’s An-140. The Russians reportedly will continue to develop the turbojet Il-214 medium transport despite India’s decision to bow out of the once joint effort. But there’s little tangible in this program to date.