Category Archives: Aerospace Forces

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.

What’s It Cost? (Part III)

48N6E2

48N6E2

We might never be done with this topic, and that’s OK.

On 17 March, TASS reported that Russia will sell China two “regimental sets” of S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missiles in a deal reportedly worth $3 billion.

The first will be delivered in December 2017-January 2018 and the second in May-June 2019, according to the news agency’s “military-diplomatic source.”

Moscow and Beijing signed the S-400 contract in September 2014.

Each “set” has two battalions of four S-400 launchers.  Or a total of 16 launch vehicles.  Or 64 missiles and an unreported number of reloads.

Recall that previous reports claimed China was after no less than six S-400 battalions for that same $3 billion price.

The September 2014 deal includes training for Chinese personnel beginning in the last quarter of 2017, according to TASS.

Its source also stated that the first “regiment” will have the same missiles as the S-300PMU-2 SAM systems China already has.  The 48N6E2 with its 200-km range.

The second will have missiles “with improved characteristics.”  Presumably, the newer 400-km 40N6E.

But it’s not clear that the 40N6 (or export-version 40N6E) missile is fully out of testing, if some press reporting is accurate.

China is, of course, the first foreign customer, but India will apparently be the second.  According to RIA Novosti, India is negotiating for five S-400 battalions for a reported $5.8 billion.

However, it seems unlikely New Delhi would pay that kind of premium for a fifth battalion, even with all 40N6E missiles.

Tupolevs Over Tajikistan

Tu-95 MS Bear (photo TVZvezda)

Tu-95MS / Bear (photo: TVZvezda)

Moscow integrated Tu-95MS / Bear and Tu-22M3 / Backfire bombers into a “large-scale” exercise with Tajikistan this week.

Bears and Backfires (and Tu-160 / Blackjacks) participated in strikes on Syrian targets last November, and we’re accustomed to Russian bombers probing U.S. and NATO air defenses.  But this might be the first time the Russians have deployed strategic bombers for training over a former Soviet / CIS Collective Security Treaty Organization partner.

If not, it is uncommon.

This somewhat dubious distinction might indicate that Kremlin concern about Tajikistan’s security (and its impact on Russia’s) is a notch above worries about other allies right now.

The Bears flew from their base at Engels in Saratov Oblast by way of Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan to get to Tajikistan.  The TVZvezda video below shows one hooked up to a tanker aircraft.

The Backfires operated from Tajik airfields along with 30 Russian Su-24M and Su-25SM aircraft and combat helicopters, according to TVZvezda.

The “anti-terrorism” exercise began on 14 March, and involved roughly 2,000 troops from the two sides, news agency TASS reported.

The combined force, including troops from Russia’s 201st Military Base in Tajikistan, VDV, and VDV Spetsnaz, blocked and destroyed a large notional motorized insurgent group that violated the country’s border.  The VDV conducted tactical airborne and air assault operations against the notional enemy along the Tajik-Afghan border.

Central MD commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy and Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Mirzo observed the exercise.

So why the bombers?  First, it’s good to get flight familiarization over terrain where one might fly a real combat mission one day.  Second and more important, bombers armed with cruise missiles make a more immediate and tangible impression than equally threatening submarines cruising in the Black Sea or Med.  It’s almost the inverse of Syria where subs got the first action but LRA also had the chance to conduct real-world operations.

What of Tajikistan, the ostensible reason for the entire military display?

For Jamestown.org, Paul Goble has written about its vulnerability to Islamic State or Taliban forces.  But, he says, Turkmenistan might actually be a more vulnerable and more attractive target.  It has natural gas for the taking and it lacks a fairly strong and proactive ally like Russia.

Also writing for Jamestown, Steve Blank speculated that Tajikistan could become a “fourth front” for Russia, along with Ukraine, Syria, and the North Caucasus. Tajikistan is a key part of Moscow’s “domino theory.”  If Dushanbe falls into hostile hands, the rest of Central Asia and Russia itself become more vulnerable.

Come what may, an exercise involving strategic aviation just beyond Russia’s periphery is an interesting and rather unnoticed event that we could see again.

More S-400s

On 2 September, TASS reported Almaz-Antey delivered its ninth “regimental set” of S-400 / Triumf SAMs “ahead of schedule.”  The agency cited General Director Jan Novikov who claimed his company will send two more “sets” to the military before next year.  They will be numbers ten and eleven.

But those late year deliveries have a way of sliding to the right.

S-400s on Display (photo: ITAR-TASS / Sergey Bobylev)

S-400s on Display (photo: ITAR-TASS / Sergey Bobylev)

Novikov said the most recent “set” wasn’t due until November under the delivery plan.  He indicated the S-400s and associated equipment were sent to the “test range” — Kapustin Yar — where all “delivery-handover tests” were conducted successfully.

Writing for RG, Yuriy Gavrilov reports that, to meet the demand for the S-400 and S-500, Almaz-Antey has a robotic microelectronics production line for SAMs in Omsk.  This week the firm is also supposed to open a robotic lathe and milling line at the same facility.  Novikov reportedly said it will increase productivity in priority areas by a factor of 12.

Gavrilov writes that the new “set” is bound for Moscow.  It will make a fifth red pin in a blob of four currently around the capital.  Twelve “sets” are supposed to defend the skies of the “central administrative and industrial region” by 2020.

Russia's S-400 Deployments

Russia’s S-400 Deployments

That count of nine S-400 “regimental sets” is intriguing.  

By last year’s information, this should be ten, with the delivery to Kamchatka being the ninth.  But apparently not.  So which of the nine red pins is wrong (if any)?  It might be Novocherkassk, but some recent sources place this “regimental set” at Novorossiysk. Which begs its own question:  will the Defense Ministry shift them to Sevastopol eventually?

Also, there’s no indication yet of where “sets” ten and eleven (or eleven and twelve?) could go.

How do the overall numbers look?  If the fifth “set” for Moscow is actually the ninth overall, we’d expect a total of 19 regimental sets (based on General-Major Demin’s September 2014 statement that 12 more would be deployed).  If it’s actually the tenth, then a total of 20.

Both possibilities get close to the 56 S-400 battalions projected under the GPV. If all “sets” after Kamchatka have three battalions, they might get between 50 and 52 battalions.