Category Archives: Aerospace Forces

Taking Stock of Russian Acquisition

Novyye izvestiya interviewed Ruslan Pukhov last week.  He has some perspectives on Russian military procurement we’ve heard before, and some we haven’t.

NI asked the CAST director if the U.S. Tomahawk strike on Shayrat would hurt Russia’s exports of air defense systems.  He said no, for all the obvious reasons.

More interestingly, Pukhov said air defense equipment typically represents 10-20 percent of Russia’s annual arms exports.  This could rise in coming years, he stated, due to future sales of the S-400 to “China and other countries.”

Ruslan Pukhov

Ruslan Pukhov

Asked how Russian weapons have performed in Syria, Pukhov responded:

“The Syrian campaign has made a good advertisement for Russian arms, particularly for new types of Russian combat aircraft (Su-30SM, Su-35 and especially Su-34) and helicopters (Mi-28N and Ka-52), but also for precision munitions — cruise missiles and aircraft ordnance.  Therefore it’s possible to expect growing interest from foreign buyers and growing sales in these segments.  The negative side one can draw from the actions of the Russian grouping in Syria is, first and foremost, the insufficient capability of its technical reconnaissance systems, including unmanned aerial vehicles and space systems.  The quantity of precision weapons is still insufficient.  The precision arms themselves in a number of cases require additional development.  There is still a lot of work ahead, but the main thing is that the Syrian campaign has allowed for revealing these deficiencies and partially eliminating them.  Meanwhile the cost of acquiring this priceless experience has been relatively low.”

Of course, the cost is only low if you’re not in the crossfire in Syria.

NI asked Pukhov if Russian weapons are better today or are they still based on old Soviet ones.  He answered:

“There is progress, but a large part of equipment, including what is being produced and bought now, still depends precisely on the Soviet legacy.  The weapons systems of a really new generation (the T-50 fighter, ‘Armata’ tank, new generation armor) remain in development and still haven’t gotten to the serial production stage.  But we have to understand that the creation of new generation armaments in any case involves many years – the cycle is 10-15-20 years from the start of R&D to the real achievement of combat capability in series models in troop units.  Considering that in Russia significant financing of defense and the OPK began only after 2005, and on a really large-scale only after 2010, then you really can’t expect any other result.  If there’s success in financing at the necessary level, then after 2020 the arrival of platforms and systems of a really new generation will begin.”

And how have economic problems and sanctions affected the OPK?

“The crisis still doesn’t directly affect the OPK.  Even with a sharp contraction in federal budget revenue and eight years of economic stagnation, state defense order financing has been preserved at a high level, and it will begin to drop only from 2017.  But not because of economic difficulties, but in connection with saturating the troops with new and modern equipment.  From another side, sometimes the conditions of GOZ price formation turn out so severe for enterprises that it sometimes leads to GOZ contracts being fulfilled at the limit of profitability.”

“The full action of sanctions began to be felt from 2015.  Because the non-supply of a number of components from Ukraine and Western countries already caused a shift in the completion of a number of programs, the most well-known instances are connected with the construction of project 11356 and 22350 frigates, but also project 20385 corvettes, on which Ukrainian gas turbines and German diesels, in turn, were replaced.  In addition, sanctions complicated the purchase of Western-produced equipment by Russian enterprises, and, most importantly, its licensed maintenance. And as practice has shown, analogues from China and other countries don’t always meet the quality standards we need.  By 2018, the import substitution program will allow for covering 80-90% of imported items, and finally, imports will be replaced by 2020.”

More Mobile Strategic Air Defense

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo TASS Valeriy Sharifulin)

Pantsir-S unit on the march (photo: TASS / Valeriy Sharifulin)

Izvestiya reports the Russian MOD plans to increase the mobility of its strategic air defenses.  The newly-established 24th Air Defense Brigade is the model. Formed in late 2016, this Abakan-based brigade just completed its first live firings of the S-300PS on the range in Astrakhan.

The brigade deployed 100 pieces of equipment over 4,500 km for practice in repulsing a “surprise mass air attack” by the notional enemy.

According to Izvestiya, new air defense brigades are supposed to be “highly mobile formations, capable of deploying hundreds of kilometers and establishing an insurmountable barrier against aircraft, cruise missiles, and UAVs in a matter of hours.” They will be equipped with S-400 and S-300 SAMs, Pantsir-S gun-missile systems, and Nebo-M radars.  The mobile brigades will reportedly protect more territory while saving money.

Russia’s independent air defense regiments have traditionally been dedicated to particular facilities or regions.  They employ tactical maneuverability but only within the confines of a larger positional defense.

Izvestiya quotes former SAM troops commander, General-Lieutenant Aleksandr Gorkov:

“The appearance of the S-300 and S-400 seriously changed the situation.  These SAMs gave air defense high mobility.  New brigades could be deployed on a threat axis not just by their own means of transport, but also by ships or by VTA aircraft.”

Not to mention by rail too.

Gorkov claims the idea for more mobile strategic defense dates to the early 1990s when the S-300 was widely deployed.  He states that the 14th Mobile Air Defense Division, based in Ruza to the west of Moscow, deployed as far as Rzhev, Pskov, Smolensk, and Novgorod before it disbanded.

Abakan is capital of Khakasiya in Western Siberia.  Pretty remote as possible theaters of war go.  Its closest neighbors are Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia.  It’s not even on the Transsib, but it connects via Tayshet. 

A VKS Main Staff source says the next mobile air defense brigade will be Tiksi in Russia’s Far North.  Road and rail are, of course, not good options for Tiksi.

A push for more mobile air defenses is logical given the Russian military’s increased emphasis on strategic reinforcement in recent years.

Abakan may be off the beaten track, but it makes some sense because the Central MD is Moscow’s reserve for potential conflicts in the east, west, and south.

The State of VTA

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

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.

Postscript on PAK FA

As if on cue, Russian Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Yuriy Borisov told journalists on February 2 that production of Russia’s T-50 / PAK FA fifth generation fighter may not begin until after 2018.

“Most likely,” he said, “this will be the next state armaments program, that is 2018-2025,” TASS reported.

Borisov added that the Defense Ministry is not in a hurry.  He said, as long as existing analogues satisfy the armed forces’ requirements, there is no need to spend money to buy expensive new equipment, according to TASS.

“We’ll use it on a trial basis, we’ve bought limited quantities, we’ll see how they work in practice, identify all deficiencies, put in place all changes so when the time comes to buy the models have been developed in practice,” Borisov noted.

What satisfies the requirements at this point is the procurement of 12 MiG-29SMT, two Su-30M2, 17 Su-30SM, and 12 Su-35S fighters, or 43 fighters in all, in 2016.  But, after peaking in 2014, Moscow’s acquisition of combat aircraft declined some in 2015 and then fell more sharply in 2016, according to bmpd.

Cold Water on PAK FA

ODK General Director Aleksandr Artyukhov has dampened the prospects for Russia’s developmental fifth generation fighter aircraft, the T-50 or PAK FA.  Friday in Lukhovitsy at the presentation of the MiG-35, Artyukhov told RIA Novosti that R&D on PAK FA’s “second phase” engine won’t be complete until 2020.

t-50-pak-fa-photo-ria-novosti-aleksandr-vilf

T-50 / PAK FA (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksandr Vilf)

This contrasts with the more hopeful announcement late last year from Sukhoy aircraft plant KnAAZ when the “second phase” engine or “item 30” commenced stand tests.

ODK’s Artyukhov told the media that the plan is to begin flight tests of the “second phase” engine this year.

Existing prototypes fly with the first phase or “item 117S” engine (AL-41F1S). However, “item 30” advertises reduced infrared signature, increased thrust, supercruise, improved fuel efficiency, and lower life-cycle costs.

Artyukhov’s predecessor said more than two years ago that a PAK FA with a “second phase” engine would not fly until 2017.  ODK once hoped this would happen in 2015, but OAK’s former chief Mikhail Pogosyan said possibly not even before 2019.

But even with a tested “item 30” engine, it will be a challenge to integrate and test it fully this year.  So the first PAK FA fighters to reach the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) will probably have “item 117S” engines.

As the PAK FA’s engine has slipped, so has the aircraft itself.

The VKS officially hopes to accept its newest fighter in 2017, and take delivery of five in late 2017 or 2018.  It looks toward a total buy of 55 PAK FA.

However, in mid-2015, Deputy Defense Minister Yuriy Borisov said the military would procure one squadron of 12 PAK FA.  He didn’t commit to more.  Borisov said Russia would buy fewer PAK FA than planned because the 4++ generation Su-35 is superior to new foreign fighters in many respects.

Il-112V Light Transport in Next Armaments Program

The Voronezh Aircraft Plant is assembling the first prototype of the Il-112V light transport aircraft, according to the Ilyushin design bureau.  Russian Deputy Defence Minister and procurement tsar Yuriy Borisov has indicated that the Russian military will buy 48 of them in the state armaments program for 2018-2025, expected to be approved by mid-2017.

first-il-112v-fuselage-assembled-photo-www-ilyushin-org

First Il-112V Fuselage Assembled (photo: http://www.ilyushin.org)

The first Il-112V airframe should be complete by the end of January when ground testing is to begin.  Flight tests could start this summer followed soon thereafter by state acceptance testing, Borisov told Gazeta.ru’s Mikhail Khodarenok.  The Voronezh plant has also begun assembly of a second Il-112V.

The new transport will take the place of aging Antonov An-26 / Curl aircraft.  The Russian military still operates about 100 of the venerable transports.  More than 1,100 were produced between 1969 and 1986.

Series production of the Il-112V is supposed to start in 2019 with a rate of 12 aircraft per year.  The production run has been pared back to 48 from the original target of 62 transports.

Funding for Il-112V development was cut in 2010 when former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov opted to buy modified An-140 transports from Ukraine.  But the Russian light transport program was revived in 2013.  It received special impetus after Kyiv halted military-technical cooperation with Moscow in early 2014.

The Il-112V depends on successful production of TV7-117ST turbofan engines by Russian manufacturer Klimov.  The first two are scheduled for delivery and installation on the prototype airframe in February.  The Klimov engines will substitute for ones that Moscow used to import from Ukraine’s Motor Sich. However, they are not equal to Ukrainian engines in several respects including horsepower, service ceiling, and reliability, according to Khodarenok’s aviation sector sources.

The new Russian transport is designed for a takeoff weight of 21 tons with a maximum useful load of five tons.  It will carry 3.5 tons to a range of 2,400 km.

artists-concept-of-il-112v

Artist’s Concept of Il-112V

According to a recent report in Izvestiya, the Central Aerodynamic Institute (TsAGI or ЦАГИ) has raised the prospect of developing a different Russian light transport that could be rapidly converted between passenger and cargo variants.

Outside Russia, there are some 600 An-26 transports still operating, but they are at the end of the service lives and need replacement.  This provides a ready market for Ilyushin’s new light transport, but it already faces stiff competition from established products like the Airbus CASA C-295 and Alenia C-27J Spartan.

The Il-112V is an increasingly critical requirement given the obsolescence of Russia’s existing light transport inventory.  The urgency of the program is further underscored by Russia’s apparent difficulties in producing components to assemble the Ukrainian-designed An-140.

S-500 in 2016?

Predictions of the imminent appearance of the new anti-air, anti-missile S-500 system come with regularity.  Last week’s press reports aren’t novel in this respect.

Deputy Aerospace Forces (VKS) CINC and Chief of Air and Missile Defense General-Lieutenant Viktor Gumennyy [Goo-MYO-knee] says Almaz-Antey is completing development work on the S-500, and the VKS will receive it “soon.” Hard to argue. We know it’s in development, and he doesn’t say what “soon” means.

TASS and RIA Novosti covered Gumennyy’s comments on Rossiya 24 television.

The prevailing forecast is that the S-500 will complete development, and appear with operational units on an “experimental” basis in 2017.

As recently as early 2015, Deputy Defense Minister and procurement chief Yuriy Borisov predicted the S-500 wouldn’t complete development until 2017.

However, TASS reminds that VKS CINC General-Colonel Viktor Bondarev has said deliveries will start in 2016.  He’s an inveterate optimist; in 2012, he said 2013.

In any event, it’s a chance to review what’s claimed to date about the S-500.

The typical advertisement for the S-500 calls it a new generation, long-range surface-to-air missile with increased capability for high altitude (200 km) intercepts against ballistic missiles and RVs.  It can reportedly engage ten ballistic missiles simultaneously at a range of 600 km.  The S-500 is supposed to be superior to both the S-400 Triumf and U.S. Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3).

The system is supposed have 40N6M (possibly a longer-range mod of the S-400’s 400-km missile?) missiles as well as hypersonic 77N6-N and 77N6-N1 missile interceptors.  TASS reported that these anti-missile missiles were successfully tested in mid-2014.

According to Interfaks, GPV 2011-2020 calls for procurement of ten battalions (or five “regimental sets”) of the S-500.  Almaz-Antey’s original contract called for initial deliveries in 2015.

Noted by the regime or not, this is “GOZ breaking.” Some producers get in trouble for it; important ones sometimes don’t.

General-Lieutenant Gumennyy also reported that testing of the S-350 Vityaz SAM continues, and initial launches confirmed the system’s performance.  The S-350 will replace older Russian S-300PS SAMs.

Gumennyy said the share of “modern” SAMs and radars in Russia’s inventory is 45 percent.  Last December, the MOD indicated that 52 percent of all VKS weapons and equipment was “modern.”

P.S. President Vladimir Putin’s assistant for military-technical cooperation confirmed for Izvestiya today that Russia is negotiating sales of the S-400 system to China and India.