Category Archives: VDV

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).

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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.

More Airborne

The Russian MOD has announced that the Eastern MD’s 83rd Independent Air-Assault Brigade will conduct the first large-scale parachute drop in its history on October 18.

Recall the 83rd transferred from Ground Troops to VDV control almost exactly four years ago. It apparently spent the interval preparing and training to be more airborne than air mobile.

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

Colonel Sergey Maksimov takes command in November 2016

According to the MOD, the Ussuriysk-based brigade will drop combat equipment and personnel. It will proceed to a standard scenario involving seizure of a notional enemy airfield. About 2,000 troops and 400 pieces of equipment will be deployed.

Ussuriysk

Ussuriysk

In the evolution’s second phase, the brigade’s airborne and air-assault battalions will conduct a march with a pontoon bridge crossing and combat firings in a mobile defense.

The MOD didn’t indicate how many troops will parachute into the exercise. But the 83rd likely now has a parachute battalion to air-drop from Il-76 transports. VDV air-assault brigades traditionally also have two air mobile battalions. When the 83rd arrived from the army in 2013, it likely had three air-assault battalions.

The ex-army 56th ODShBr in the Southern MD may also have a parachute battalion already, but it seems less likely that the 11th in Buryatia has one.

VDV Commander Injured

Russia’s Airborne Troops Commander — General-Colonel Andrey Serdyukov — was hurt in a September 15 car crash, but the extent of his injuries is not exactly clear. Russian news media reported the accident, but the MOD has not.

General-Colonel Serdyukov

General-Colonel Serdyukov

The accident occurred near Pechenga in Murmansk Oblast. The video shows Serdyukov’s motorcade speeding up the middle of a two-lane highway led by a police escort before his van gets clipped by a car headed in the opposite direction. The driver of that vehicle reportedly died.

According to most accounts, Serdyukov was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and reported to be in satisfactory condition.

One of Serdyukov’s deputies, General-Major Vladimir Kochetkov, was a passenger in his van along with two other VDV servicemen.

Lenta.ru reports that Serdyukov suffered serious head injuries and fractured vertebrae. It says Kochetkov has multiple fractures. 

Recall that former VDV commander Vladimir Shamanov was injured in a serious late 2010 crash, and spent several months recovering before returning to duty. The retired Shamanov chairs the State Duma’s Defense Committee.

The 55-year-old Serdyukov took over command of the VDV in October 2016. The fast-burning career airborne officer held important field commands in the VDV and Ground Troops before serving as chief of staff and first deputy commander of the Southern MD between 2013 and 2016. He is apparently no relation to disgraced former defense minister Anatoliy Serdyukov.

More on the Conscription Campaign

The Russian military press has published relatively little on this spring’s draft which is set to end in just a few days.  There are, however, data points worth examining against what was written here.

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with their paperwork in hand

Northern Fleet draftees lined up with paperwork in hand

On June 21, Mil.ru noted that Russia’s Western MD is getting 48,000 of this spring’s conscripts.  That’s a pretty enormous 34 percent of all draftees.

Mil.ru also reported the Black Sea Fleet has gotten 1,700 of 2,600 new men it’s expecting.

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

Russian Orthodox priest blesses Black Sea Fleet draftees

We already heard that the Baltic and Northern Fleets were getting 5,000 and 2,500 conscripts respectively, putting the Navy over 10,000 without counting the Pacific Fleet’s share.  If we guess the latter gets 3,000, this puts the Navy at 13,000 for the spring campaign.  That would be nine percent of all draftees, not the predicted six percent.  A similar number from last fall would make 26,000, and conscription would account for perhaps 19 percent of Navy manpower.  

On May 21, the Russian military indicated that 8,000 draftees were going to the RVSN.  That’s six percent of the spring cohort rather than the estimated eight.  About 26 percent of RVSN personnel might be conscripts.

The MOD website reported on May 7 that the VDV will take more than 6,000 draftees.  That gives the Russian airborne four percent of the current allocation of conscripts, about as predicted.  A roughly similar number in the fall would mean the VDV are 30 percent conscript-manned.

Mil.ru added:

“Few conscripts are fortunate enough to get to serve in VDV sub-units.  The competition for those wishing to serve in the VDV in some military commissariats reaches 30 men per spot.”

The VDV get to pick the best available young men:

“The main selection criteria for the VDV are excellent health and physical preparedness, a high level of neuropsychological stability, [and] positive social and moral characteristics.”

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.

Shamanov’s Replacement?

Izvestiya reports today that General-Lieutenant Andrey Serdyukov is set to replace General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov as commander of the Russian Airborne Troops (VDV).

Shamanov, who will turn 60 in February, has commanded the VDV since early 2009.  But he could continue to serve beyond 60 at the president’s discretion under Russian law.

general-lieutenant-andrey-serdyukov

General-Lieutenant Andrey Serdyukov

The 53-year-old General-Lieutenant Serdyukov has been serving as first deputy commander and chief of staff in the Southern MD.  He reportedly played a key part in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.

A presidential decree on the personnel change has not been issued, but Kremlin press-secretary Dmitriy Peskov did not deny plans to elevate Serdyukov when asked by Izvestiya.

Russian media sources have reported that Shamanov’s retirement post will be a seat in the new State Duma and chairmanship of its Defense Committee.  Readers will recall that Shamanov is a member of the president’s United Russia party and served as governor of Ulyanovsk Oblast.