Category Archives: Defense Industry

22 + 35 > 57

While the Pentagon frets over its chances against China or Russia, Vzglyad’s Mikhail Bolshakov writes about why the Russian air forces would lose a battle with the United States.

Russia’s purported fifth-generation Su-57 fighter — yet to enter series production — might (as the VKS and OKB Sukhoy insist) be superior to American F-22 and F-35 fighters, but Bolshakov says the U.S. would still win.

F-35

Sukhoy chief designer Mikhail Strelets claims the Su-57 combines and surpasses the capabilities of the F-22 and F-35 in one fighter. The choice of the index 57 — sum of 22 and 35, he says, was a coincidence but still indicative. 

However, Bolshakov points out, the U.S. has 187 F-22 and 320 F-35 aircraft in its operational inventory at present. Russia has no Su-57 fighters in line units.

Su-57

The F-22 is 28 years old, and the F-35 at 18 is still suffering growing pains. And Russia, Bolshakov concludes, has clearly not lost its ability to design and produce modern combat aircraft. It built a competitive fighter in a short period of time.

Lacking U.S. levels of funding and with few rubles for weapons development, Russia adopted a “small step” approach. First and foremost, Sukhoy modernized existing fourth-generation fighter designs, developing “transitional” so-called generation 4++ aircraft on the base of the successful Soviet Su-27. This led to multirole Su-30 and Su-35 fighters and the Su-34 fighter-bomber. Rival MiG was not as successful updating its MiG-29 and that’s why the MiG-35 light fighter still hasn’t been produced.

Since 1991, Sukhoy has produced 118 Su-34, 630 Su-30, and 84 Su-35 aircraft. The problem is most of them were for export and didn’t go to Russia’s air forces. According to Bolshakov, Russia has 108 Su-34, 194 Su-30, and 70 Su-35. It’s not well-known how many of these aircraft are combat ready. So, even accounting for Moscow’s fourth-generation fighters, Russia’s air forces are significantly inferior in numbers to those of the U.S., and especially of NATO, he concludes.

Compounding the problem of low numbers is a tendency to spread new aircraft over the entire force, creating headaches in pilot training, parts supply, and maintenance and repair. Regiments have to plan for retraining pilots when they don’t know when they will actually get new planes. Meanwhile, they have to be ready for combat missions in the old ones.

In contrast to current practice of doling out new aircraft by the teaspoon, Soviet air regiments and divisions used to get dozens and hundreds, so in two or three years, units would be combat capable in new planes. Bolshakov writes:

“Today with bravado they announce supplies of two, three, four new aircraft to this or that regiment — not even squadrons! Of the entire regiment, in all several pilots learn the new equipment, the rest have to suffice with old, worn-out equipment.”

To top things off, most Russian air regiments since the mid-1990s have operated with two squadrons, not three as in Soviet times.

Bolshakov sums up saying the real equation is 187 + 320 = 0, and Russia’s task is to turn that zero into 50, 100, or 200 through consistent, well-planned efforts. The country needs to reequip its fighter aviation without “small steps,” “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” or “temporary solutions” that somehow become permanent.

The Russian MOD certainly doesn’t like to hear the state of affairs aired this way. But a journalistic smack-in-the-face is more realistic and useful than an entire collection of propagandistic Mil.ru, RIAN, or TASS reports on systems entering the forces today. Maybe the issue is political. The Kremlin doesn’t want the press saying that rearmament may not be going so smoothly.

Bolshakov wasn’t focused on the U.S., so leavening is required if we want some “net assessment” of air power. The quickest glance at the Western press shows the USAF has its hands full with keeping 50 percent of its F-22s  flying at a moment’s notice. The F-35, more computer than plane,  presents its own maintenance and readiness challenges.

Aircraft inventory is important, yes. But so are operational readiness, flying time, tactical training, and especially employment scenarios. The USAF is inherently expeditionary. It will fight in someone else’s backyard. Every battle will be an away game. Russia’s air forces will usually be right next door to any conflict involving them. And Russia’s tradition is more air defense and homeland protection.

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Nuclear Subs Starving the Fleet (Part II)

Some comments on Klimov’s VPK article . . . .

In his short opinion piece, Klimov doesn’t systematically address the cost-benefit of Russia’s nuclear-powered submarine forces. But he has an opinion: their price outweighs their usefulness.

He’s not happy with what little he’s seen from the Borey and Bulava programs, but he seems to favor keeping a naval component in Russia’s strategic nuclear triad.

He’s not persuaded when it comes to SSNs.

Klimov states flatly that Moscow’s effort to modernize its third-generation attack boats has failed and it has turned instead to project 885/885M. But these fourth-generation subs are too expensive and too few in number. Producing them as an effective means of non-nuclear deterrence, Klimov writes, is beyond Russia’s economic capabilities.

While the 885/885M design might approach U.S. levels of stealthiness, they aren’t rolling out of Sevmash like sausages. Not even commissioned, Kazan will make two. Yes, two.

The U.S. Navy has had three Seawolf-class SSNs since 2005. It has 16 Virginia-class subs in service. Another is ready for commissioning. Nine, yes, nine are under construction. Ten Block V boats could be built in the 2020s. And the U.S. Navy also maintains a capable force of more than 30 Los Angeles-class boats. It has to. It confronts larger, more complex strategic challenges than its Russian counterpart.

From outside, we can only guess whether USN airborne ASW is as successful as Klimov claims. One would expect the FSB to inquire about his sources for this part of his story. Mind you, he was talking about P-3 Orion surveillance, not more modern and capable P-8 Poseidon aircraft.

That older combat systems have been used on the 885/885M, as he asserts, seems likely from past Soviet/Russian evolutionary practice.

Klimov’s recommendations, however, are more difficult to swallow. Redistributing resources from SSNs, which are becoming dolgostroi, to ground forces, surface ships, and naval aviation would be strange.

Spending less on subs in favor of the army could be a legitimate decision for Moscow to make, especially because the navy made out so well in GPV 2011-2020. But it also sounds like something green-uniformed guys in the General Staff might propose. It makes one wonder whether Klimov’s article was commissioned (by someone wearing green).

Proposing that money saved go to surface ships and aviation is puzzling. Sending more rubles down the surface ship “rabbit hole” is unlikely to produce better results. The Russian Navy has always been a submarine navy, and probably always will be (if it gets new submarines). Submarines suit Russia’s strategic situation and requirement to defend against seaborne threats to its continental theaters.

Klimov makes the valid point that Russia will need new weapons and systems for a true fifth-generation submarine. To put older ones into a new hull is to “lay down a growing lag” in the fleet, as he says.

But, from Moscow’s perspective, curtailing sub production risks falling out of the business altogether. Its industrial base for submarines isn’t doing well enough to take time off.

But Klimov’s article is Russian military journalism rarely seen over the past five years or so. He has dared draw conclusions (e.g. the failure of efforts to modernize aging third-generation boats) we haven’t heard from others.

Admiral Nakhimov Slipping

Capture

Admiral Nakhimov at Sevmash

It’s been so widely reported it doesn’t bear much. But the sinking of SRZ-82’s PD-50 at Roslyakovo when Admiral Kuznetsov floated out seems incredible. Though it’s entirely believable given the problems afflicting Russia’s naval shipbuilding sector. In fact, it’s emblematic.

PD-50 in better days

PD-50 in better days

This has to be the “final straw” sending OSK chief Rakhmanov into retirement. Not that a new boss will be sufficient to turn this situation around.

But on to Admiral Nakhimov . . . the slipping has begun.

The TASS story from August 22 was effectively ignored in English media. That day the news agency reported the Russian Navy will not receive its renovated CGN Admiral Nakhimov until 2022.

TASS quoted Sevmash General Director Mikhail Budnichenko:

“According to the contract with OSK, the heavy nuclear-powered missile cruiser Admiral Nakhimov must be delivered to the fleet in 2022, but there are some questions with financing. I hope, and am even sure, that they will be resolved soon.”

He is more sanguine than most perhaps.

Let’s start at the beginning.

In 1988, Admiral Nakhimov was commissioned into the Soviet Navy — the third of four Kirov-class nuclear-powered guided missile cruisers. The Russian Navy sent it to the Sevmash dock for repairs in 1999 where it languished for 14 years.

Finally, in mid-2013, the MOD gave Sevmash a contract for Nakhimov’s repair and modernization. It was supposed to return to the fleet in 2018. But work on the ship didn’t commence until October 2014. About this time it was expected to rejoin the navy by 2020.

Last year, Sevmash was saying not later than 2021. Early this year, it said 2021-2022.

In August, OSK chief Rakhmanov said customer changes to the plan for Nakhimov’s modernization will take longer to complete.

Now at fully four years into its reconstruction, Admiral Nakhimov has a ways to go. In 2017, spaces were cleared for new missile (Kalibr, Tsirkon) and air defense (Poliment-Redut) systems. But no installation work had begun. Integrating these weapons into new C2 systems won’t be easy although Nakhimov may benefit some from the sore experience of outfitting proyekt 22350 frigate Admiral Gorshkov.

The repair and modernization of Petr Velikiy will obviously be put off until Nakhimov is done. Interestingly, Sevmash’s Budnichenko said the former will be renovated either at Sevmash-affiliate Zvezdochka or Baltic Shipyard, but not Sevmash itself.

All the foregoing is mainly about keeping stock. The return of Nakhimov in 2018 has now become 2022. We’ll see how it actually ends up.

Parlous State of VTA (Revisited)

A reader’s query for more on VTA elicited this response from yours truly. It goes beyond transport aircraft and might be worth sharing.

The An-124 was devised at a time when Moscow wanted to compete with Washington throughout the Third World. The Il-76 was more generally useful. Built to service the VDV but good for lots of uses. Just limited in what it could carry. Falichev had surprisingly little to say about the Il-76MD-90A or Il-76MDM — programs that may be struggling. As if there weren’t way too much on the plate already, VTA also has to think about a new medium transport possibly the Il-114 or Il-214 (Il-276). And lots of Il-112V to replace An-12s and An-26s.

With all the attention on S-400s, Kinzhals, and 100-megaton nuclear torpedoes, it’s easy to overlook basics of military power that can be used — things like transport aircraft. Fact is Russia having trouble coming up with the money and industrial capability to produce nuclear subs, new tanks, the Su-57, transports, etc. At least on any reasonable timetable. Hence all the media focus on wonder weapons to deter the U.S. Today’s Kremlin may very well find itself headed for the same dead end as in the 1980s — unable to find the resources for full-spectrum superpower arms racing.

This isn’t to say Russia can’t be a smart effective competitor. It definitely can, witness Syria and Ukraine. But as it continues the greater the danger its reach will exceed its grasp. Have you seen the transport ships it has used on the “Syrian express?” It’s nothing short of miraculous that an An-124 or Il-76 hasn’t crashed. But one will.

But there has to be some net assessment here — we ain’t in no great shape ourselves.

Nevertheless, Russia defense industry seems to have hit a wall in many respects. How many times can you modify the same old anti-tank gun from 1984? Each mod is only marginally more effective in combat. But it supports an illusion of progress.

Saying the Russians can’t do everything isn’t sexy but it is a necessary tonic. They can do plenty but there isn’t much focus on their problems and limitations because they themselves don’t speak about them (at least out loud and to us).

Parlous State of VTA

Oleg Falichev wrote recently for Voyenno-promyshlennyy kuryer on the parlous state of Russia’s VTA — Military-Transport Aviation. The one-time Krasnaya zvezda correspondent laid out a less-than-convincing “infomercial” supporting renewed production of the Soviet-era An-124 heavy transport by Ilyushin.

An Endangered Species the An-124

Endangered species?

That said, Falichev made points worthy of attention. Still some of his numbers are irreconcilable. But the thrust of his report is significant and grim for the VTA.

The current condition of the VTA inventory isn’t up to its missions, according to Falichev. Those missions include transferring troops between theaters, delivering large-diameter equipment, medical evacuation, other logistical support, and, most importantly, carrying the VDV to the battlefield.

VTA workhorses — the An-124 and Il-76 — are in dire need of replacement and/or modernization. The issue, Falichev says, is what needs to be done to keep them flying.

The majority of Russian transport aircraft were made in Soviet times or the 1990s, and the service life of most is expiring. Falichev reports that Moscow has only four An-124, 46 Il-76, and one An-22 heavy transports in a combat ready state. He says Russia has 26 An-124, but only four in a serviceable, flyable condition.

Other sources report a nominal (not necessarily operational) inventory of nine An-124, 89 Il-76, and five An-22 aircraft.

In NVO recently, Aleksandr Khramchikhin concluded VTA has about 15 An-124 and An-22 and about 90 Il-76 transports along with some 160 medium transports (mainly An-12 and An-26).

DIA’s recent Russian Military Power pub said virtually nothing about VTA as a power projection resource (probably wise), but it wrote that Russia has “122 heavy transports” which pushes the outer limit of reality.

The USAF has 45 C-5, 222 C-17, and probably 350 C-130 transports in various configurations.

Khramchikhin puts this in context:

“The enormous size of American transport aviation is explained by the global missions standing before the U.S. Armed Forces, especially since all these missions have to be carried out beyond North America. We have no such scope although, as events in Syria show, it fully well may appear sooner or later. But the scale of our own country in conjunction with the configuration of Russian territory (strongly stretched in a latitudinal direction in distinction from the almost square U.S.) and the difficulty of accessing most of it requires a very large VTA. We can have 6-7 thousand km between point A and point B inside our own country and point B can be in such a place where literally ‘it’s only possible to go by plane.’ So 250 transport planes (of which the larger half are medium and light) is little for us since the majority of them (all An-12 and An-22, a signficant part of Il-76 and An-26) have gotten very outdated. In addition, our VTA is very strangely deployed on the country’s territory — in gigantic Siberia and the Far East, which are almost entirely inaccessible regions, there is only the 257th Transport Regiment with 12 aged An-12 and 5 An-26 medium planes located in the very extreme south-east ‘corner’ of this super-region! The largest VDV in the world also require a much larger quantity of more modern transport aircraft.”

But back to Falichev . . . .

Falichev concludes that even optimal production of the Il-76MD-90A (Il-476) won’t replace the existing Il-76 inventory in the new future. There is, he claims, a replacement for the An-124 contained in GPV 2018-2027. Nevertheless, there remains a “real risk of a sharp decline” in the numbers of Russian VTA aircraft. And in combat readiness also. Syria and other contingencies, he continues, demonstrate the is high demand for the capabilities of a transport like the An-124.

News photo purportedly showing offload of S-300P TEL from An-124 in Syria

News photo purportedly showing offload of S-300P TEL from An-124 in Syria

With due respect to Messrs. Falichev and Khramchikhin, Moscow might live without new VTA aircraft. It’s not able to acquire everything to modernize its armed forces. Trade-offs are inevitable. VTA might be one. Russia’s rail network provides good internal lines-of-communication. Russia is more likely to fight regional conflicts along its periphery than far-flung wars. That its military could operate without new VTA is a debatable proposition, but one that should be, and likely is being, debated in Moscow.

Supposedly the PAK TA will be able to transport Russia’s new generation armor — Armata, Kurganets-25, etc. It might be ready for series production in 2027 in an optimistic scenario. In a realistic one, there are lots of obstacles.

Former Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar, now Deputy PM and arms tsar, Yuriy Borisov has not only rained on renewed An-124 production, but also said R&D for PAK TA wont even begin until 2025. Its PD-35 engines won’t be ready before 2027. He has said modernized An-124s could fly until almost 2040.

So Falichev and others are left largely in the same place — modernizing the existing inventory of transports.

Here are some of his more squirrelly figures. He says the VTA maintains the fitness of the inventory at 56 percent — more than 131 of 200 aircraft are serviceable, 41 percent of Il-76s, 36 percent of An-124s, 17 percent of An-22s. None of these numbers track with the foregoing. Suffice it to say that readiness, serviceability, and OOB figures are notoriously spongy. It’s hard to say who’s counting and what they’re counting.

Falichev writes that Russian transports are simply being overworked. In 2016, the Il-76 force reached its annual flight hours target of about 24,000 in June and went on to get 150 percent of the goal for the year. This tracks with lots of past reports indicating that VTA pilots have no problem getting their flight hours.

VTA isn’t getting nearly enough maintenance money in the state defense order. In 2016, it paid for only 9 percent of the necessary parts and components. Less than that was actually received, according to Falichev. That amount was reduced in 2017 when there were plans to refurbish only nine transports.

The production and repair of D-30KP-2 engines for Il-76s is insufficient. Falichev says the annual requirement is 120 of them. He claims there’s a plan to acquire more than 500 of them by 2024.

Falichev claims Russia’s An-124s get only two percent of the financing needed to service them. Their D-18T engines are a problem since they’re now a foreign product (Motor Sich in Ukraine). And AO UZGA in Yekaterinburg hasn’t mastered their repair. Perhaps because they aren’t getting paid to do it? Obviously an import-substitute is needed here.

So he sums it up:

“As we see, the problems are serious enough that they can’t be solved with a wave of the hand. It’s no wonder in Rus they say: the peasant doesn’t cross himself until it thunders.”

In other words, Moscow may have put off action on VTA until it’s too late.

To remedy VTA’s woes, Falichev calls for GOZ financing sufficient to maintain transport aircraft, their engines, and components at an acceptable level. He advocates funding to repair 12 D-18T, 8 NK-12MA (for An-22), and 112 D-30KP-2 engines. He says the quality of Il-76 maintenance at Novgorod’s AO 123 ARZ needs to improve. His entire “to-do” list is longer.

Falichev concludes:

“These are only the most essential measures. The state needs a long-term, systematic aviation development program, not just for military but also civilian aviation. Without it, Russia will stop calling itself an aviation power and will continue flying in ‘Boeings’ and ‘Airbuses.'”

And this is really the crux. Moscow doesn’t seem to have a priority on fixing VTA, but it won’t give up on it either because that would imply giving up on its larger aviation industry to some degree.

Will Rosneft Boost Russian Naval Construction?

Russian state-controlled oil giant Rosneft is turning Shipbuilding Complex (SSK) Zvezda into the country’s first large tonnage shipyard. TASS recently published a backgrounder that detailed what’s been happening there.

Located in Bolshoy Kamen near Vladivostok, SSK Zvezda is supposed to produce the ships and equipment Rosneft needs to explore and exploit offshore oil and gas. However, it also has potential to boost Russia’s naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East.

Rosneft took over Zvezda in late 2015 in consortium with government holding company Rosneftegaz and Gazprombank. The effort to expand its civilian shipbuilding capacity began in 2009 as a partnership between state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (OSK) and South Korea’s Daewoo. The latter quit the project in 2012.

Having displaced OSK, Rosneft became principal holder of Far East Plant (DVZ) Zvezda and some small affiliated shipyards. DVZ Zvezda is the only Russian shipyard in the Far East capable of repairing and modernizing nuclear-powered submarines and ships up to 13,500 tons displacement. It began modernizing two project 949A Oscar II-class nuclear-powered guided missile submarines in 2013.

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

Zvezda complex in Bolshoy Kamen

This image shows the naval shipyard at top with its grayish roof, launch basin in front, and a submarine in drydock alongside if you look carefully. The SSK Zvezda facility is pretty much everything else — the reddish roof of the monstrous production building and the whitish buildingway with its yellow cranes visible.

SSK Zvezda will produce a range of medium and large tonnage vessels, up to 350,000-tons displacement, and other sea-going equipment to support offshore hydrocarbon development in the Pacific and Arctic Oceans. It includes LNG carriers, tankers, drilling platforms, and transport, supply, and seismic survey ships.

The shipyard currently has one 1,200-ton gantry crane made in China, two 320-ton gantry cranes, and four 100-ton tower cranes on its open buildingway. In July, the shipyard took delivery of a 40,000-ton transport-transfer dock built by the Qingdao Beihai Shipbuilding Heavy Industry Company. Rosneft expects SSK Zvezda’s development to cost $2.4 billion.

Capture

It reportedly will begin construction of medium-sized ships in 2019 with a workforce of 1,500 employees. By 2024, it expects to have a large-ship drydock and full-cycle fabrication facilities in operation with 7,500 workers. The shipyard’s order book already includes ten 80,000- to 120,000-ton tankers, ten shuttle tankers, and supply vessels. Leveraging DVZ Zvezda’s nuclear expertise, SSK Zvezda will also build three Lider-class nuclear-powered icebreakers, according to a September 14 announcement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov.

President Vladimir Putin visited the shipyard on September 10 to lay the keel of a tanker. In 2017, he inaugurated the buildingway and transfer dock for medium-sized ships and participated in the keel-laying for four multipurpose ice-class supply ships. The Russian president personally commissioned a module production building in 2016.

The development of SSK Zvezda may increase Russia’s capabilities for naval ship and submarine construction and repair in the Far East. DVZ Zvezda has struggled for years without modernization funding. However, it may be able to leverage the flow of Rosneft investment and Chinese shipbuilding technology, equipment, and experience into SSK Zvezda to improve its own production capabilities. A steady stream of large civilian projects next door may increase of quantity and quality of personnel available to DVZ Zvezda, and moderate the boom or bust cycle of shipbuilding that makes it difficult for Russian workers to stay in the Far East.

Military Acceptance Day

According to Krasnaya zvezda, April 19 was “military acceptance day” for the first quarter of 2018. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu presided over a NTsUO session while arms tsar Yuriy Borisov and others reported on military procurement over the past three months.

Shoygu in the NTsUO

Shoygu himself opened the proceedings stating that, so far in 2018, the military has acquired:

  • 23 BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles;
  • One Elbrus logistics ship (project 23120);
  • Two roadstead rescue boats (project 23040);
  • 10 aircraft; and
  • Seven (Mi-8AMTSh) helicopters (another seven are due in 2018).

This roadstead rescue boat serves in the Caspian Flotilla

This roadstead rescue boat serves in the Caspian Flotilla

Deputy Defense Minister Borisov described new or repaired equipment the Ground Troops and VDV have received including:

  • 25 new and 96 repaired armored vehicles (23 BTR-D armored vehicles of 30 to be overhauled this year);
  • 125 vehicles of other types;
  • 50 comms systems;
  • 16 SAMs;
  • 4,000 parachute systems; and
  • 155 UAVs;

NTsUO video screens

From Miass, the managing director of Ural said a shipment of 30 Motovoz-1 trucks is almost ready to go to the armed forces.

Borisov said the Aerospace Forces have gotten:

  • 20 new and four repaired aircraft;
  • 30 new helicopters with 3 undergoing repair;
  • Three radars; and
  • 4,000 air-dropped munitions.

The director of the Novosibirsk Aircraft Plant said two Su-34 fighter-bombers were delivered in February. Ten more are due in 2018. The Irkutsk factory indicated four Su-30SM have passed “technical acceptance.” Similarly, ten more will be delivered before the end of this year.

The Space Troops successfully orbited three satellites this quarter, according to Borisov.

The Navy got Delta IV-class SSBN Tula back after a two-year repair. It also received three ships and auxiliaries, two helos, and 46 new Kalibr long-range cruise missiles.

Kazan-based UAV developer Eniks reported that two new T-28 Eleron-3 UAVs have gone to the customer, and the rest of the order of 30 are ready to be delivered.

St. Petersburg’s STTs commented on shipments of Orlan-10s for the armed forces. It indicated 152 were delivered so far in 2018 — 16 Torn-8PMK, 80 Orlan-10, 40 Leyer-3, and 16 others.

The session also covered testing of specialized Arctic vehicles for the military, preparations for this year’s Victory Day parade, and military construction activities.