Category Archives: Defense Industry

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.

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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.

Engine Trouble

The Russian media report more trouble for project 11711 LST Ivan Gren (BDK 135). During state trials, the new tank landing ship has been unable to run astern (reverse engines and go backwards). [Did Yantar shipyard really not discover this issue during its factory underway testing?] This comes atop Gren’s earlier degaussing problem which kept the Russian Navy from accepting the ship before the end of 2017.

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Ivan Gren (BDK 135)

Yantar announced on February 20 that it might launch unit two, Petr Morgunov, in the second half of May. It’s also sticking to its promise, however unlikely, to deliver the completed LST to the Russian Navy before the end of 2018.

Yantar indicated the second unit’s port and starboard 16ChN26/26 (aka 10D49) diesel engines will be swapped to see if this remedies the astern running problems Gren experienced. But the work on Morgunov has to be done by late April to keep to its launch schedule.

If the swap works, the same [actually, perhaps even more] difficult process will be performed on Gren. But it will apparently be accepted into the fleet in May before its engine trouble is fixed.

Flotprom.ru reports the engine swap will alter the turning of ship’s propellers and eliminate the astern running problem. Any naval engineers out there are invited to explain how this could work to the rest of us! The shipbuilding industry site indicates trading engine places is complex and can consume several months.

The media also report that Gren now lacks good seakeeping qualities due to the many design changes made during its protracted construction. They even claim that the Russian Navy will forego further ships in this class, basically a modification of the Soviet-era project 1171 Alligator-class LST. How Moscow would fill the gaps in its small and rapidly aging landing ship force is anyone’s guess. 

Gren and Morgunov are 5,000 tons displacement and 120 meters long, and can cruise at 18 knots. They have a 100-man crew, and can carry 13 tanks or 36 armored vehicles and 300 troops. They are outfitted with AK-630 30-mm gun systems and a landing deck for a Ka-27 or Ka-29 helo.

OSK Cries Poor on Knyaz Oleg

A Borey-class SSBN (photo Sevmash Press-Service)

A Borey-class SSBN (photo: Sevmash Press-Service)

Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC or OSK) is reportedly experiencing a shortage of funding for Borey-class SSBN Knyaz Oleg. OSK President Aleksey Rakhmanov told RIA Novosti on November 16, “Everything depends on issues of the shortage of financing which has somehow formed for us. We hope that [the launch of Knyaz Oleg] will be on schedule.”

Rakhmanov reportedly told the official news agency that the schedule for launching Knyaz Oleg has been pushed back several times.

Knyaz Oleg is the fifth Borey SSBN overall, and the second Borey-A boat. Like the first three Borey ballistic missile submarines, the Borey-A is expected to carry 16 Bulava SLBMs.

First-of-class Yuriy Dolgorukiy is assigned to the Northern Fleet. Aleksandr Nevskiy and Vladimir Monomakh are part of the Pacific Fleet.

Like Knyaz Oleg, unit four — Knyaz Vladimir — the first Borey-A is also destined to reinforce the Russian Pacific Fleet’s strategic nuclear force.

Rakhmanov’s public cry for more money is somewhat unusual and harks back to 2011 when OSK railed at the MOD for adequate financing to produce modern nuclear submarines.

Russia planned to have eight Borey boats in its order-of-battle by 2020. But with Sevmash taking six, seven, or eight years to lay down, launch, and commission them, Knyaz Oleg might be the last to reach the navy this decade. And Rakhmanov pretty clearly linked money to sticking to his SSBN production schedule.

Military Acceptance Day

On July 26, Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu presided over the latest “unified day of acceptance of military production.” The review (mostly) covered the second quarter of 2017. According to Krasnaya zvezda, the Ministry of Defense received 600 new and 300 repaired weapons systems and other equipment.

Defense Minister Shoygu

Defense Minister Shoygu

The Ground Troops acquired 35 new and 155 repaired tanks and armored combat vehicles, 4 new artillery reconnaissance systems, 10 self-propelled howitzers, a brigade set of Iskander-M, 38 new and 68 repaired communications systems, 500 new and 273 repaired vehicles, and 9,000 munitions of various types.

Three Khrizantema-S ATGM launchers were accepted. They are reported to have a new domestic optical sight replacing one previously supplied by Ukraine.

The air forces got nine new and 45 repaired and modernized aircraft, as well as six new Mi-8MTV-5-1 helos and 11 repaired and modernized helos, 9 new and 10 repaired and modernized radars, one Pantsir-S gun-missile system, four repaired SAMs, and four Vitebsk EW systems. The VKS also received nine R-441-LM SATCOM systems and one mobile R-423-PM troposcatter comms station.

For the Navy, the just-commissioned proyekt 20380 Sovershennyy frigate was mentioned first, even though it’s a third quarter acquisition not second. Repairs to three submarines, two roadstead boats, a “large anti-sabotage boat,” and a floating pier for Borey-class SSBNs were also cited. Naval air obtained two Su-30SM fighters.

The Defense Minister said the Navy received 60 Kalibr missiles, presumably reloads to replace those expended on targets in Syria. It also got 42 torpedo systems including some Fizik-1 weapons. The Black Sea Fleet is supposed to get 20 Fizik-1 torpedoes before the end of July.

Titan-Barrikady reportedly delivered nine launchers for the Yars-S ICBM. That’s a full regiment’s worth.

KZ’s report also included a new graphic giving more detail on MOD procurement in the second quarter.

Second quarter 2017 procurement

Second quarter 2017 procurement

It’s not easy to read, but it may be worth trying.

Not Necessarily New

Rossiyskaya gazeta reports the first Russian Tu-160M2 airframe has reached final assembly at Tupolev’s Kazan Aircraft Plant (KAZ). But it may not necessarily be new or significantly different from the last Tu-160 / Blackjack produced at KAZ.

RG picked up the story of the first Tu-160M2 from Kazan-based news service Biznes Online which follows plant newspaper Vpered.

The fourth series Tu-160 Valentin Bliznyuk (photo PAO Tupolev)

The fourth Tu-160 Valentin Bliznyuk (photo: PAO Tupolev)

Assembly of bombers at KAZ ended in 1992 with four airframes “in reserve” in various stages of production. Two were completed in 2000 and 2008 with two left unfinished at the factory.

The “Reserve”

For many years, Russian defense industries depended on their Soviet “reserve” [задел]. The “reserve” could be anything from materials to parts to money to technical know-how that helps an enterprise survive lean times. In many instances, they were wartime mobilization supplies. The “reserve” grew out of the Soviet command economy in which a factory would hoard extra resources to use against future production plans. But, over the years, defense industries steadily depleted whatever Soviet-era “reserve” they had. Another classic case of the “reserve” is Sevmash using unfinished Akula-class SSN hull sections to build the first three Borey-class SSBNs.

KAZ management readily admits the bomber bearing factory number 804 is not a full-blooded Tu-160M2. It’s a chance for the factory and its personnel to prove they can renew production of what is surely one of the most complex Russian weapons systems.

The plant has reestablished its vacuum annealing and electron beam welding processes to fabricate Tu-160 airframes. But the Tu-160M2 will depend on many subsystems, components, and parts from a large number of suppliers.

New avionics, navigation, weapons control, and electronic warfare systems aren’t due until series production. The bomber’s principal weapon, a new long-range, high-speed “smart” cruise missile known as Kh-BD, remains in development.

Production of updated NK-32-02 turbofan engines, which has only just begun at PAO Kuznetsov in Samara, could be the most difficult task. In early 2016, Biznes wrote that the company needed to make five engines that year, and 22 per year starting this year. However, it reported that Kuznetsov is “not in very good condition.”

For these reasons, KAZ workers themselves are skeptical about successfully resurrecting bomber production, according to Biznes.

RG indicated Trade and Industry Minister Denis Manturov stated in early 2017 the initial Tu-160M2 would come from the factory’s “reserve” and be ready for flight testing in 2018. Deputy Defense Minister and arms tsar Yuriy Borisov has also said early 2018. According to Interfaks-AVN, Tupolev announced an “experimental” Tu-160M2 would fly in 2019.

Biznes indicated completely new Tu-160M2 bombers — not Soviet legacy airframes — might not appear until 2020, reaching a rate of three per year by 2023. 

Interviewed by Krasnaya zvezda while visiting KAZ in early May, Borisov fully reiterated Russia’s plans for its strategic bombers: all existing Tu-160, Tu-95MS, and Tu-22M3 will be modernized, 50 Tu-160M2 will be produced, and the prospective PAK DA will fly in 2025-2026 and enter production in 2028-2029.

For its part, in its recent “Russia [sic] Military Power” publication, U.S. military intelligence notes:

“. . . all existing Tu-160s will be upgraded to Tu-160M1 or M2. Russia has announced that it will resume production of Tu-160M2 bombers and complete development of a new generation bomber (Russian designation: PAK-DA) within a decade . . . .”

The report allows that “timelines for both programs may slip if financial difficulties arise.”

But such troubles arose two or three years ago and Moscow’s economic woes make ambitious, if not grandiose, strategic bomber programs unaffordable. The burden of upgrading every existing bomber while developing a new one like the B-2 will be incompatible with declining defense budgets.

Yet strategic nuclear forces are an undeniable priority for the Kremlin and bombers figure as something of a hedge against U.S. missile defense systems.

Russian President Vladimir Putin loves the impression bombers make. In 2007, he restarted regular strategic bomber patrols along NATO borders to signal Russian intent to become more assertive abroad.

Well-worn shot of Putin before his 2005 flight in a Tu-160 (photo Kremlin.ru)

Well-worn shot of Putin before his 2005 flight in a Tu-160 (photo: Kremlin.ru)

He has also sent Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela and Nicaragua in a show-the-flag campaign. The Tu-160 flew its first combat mission over Syria in 2015.