The State of the State Armaments Program

From the “better late than never” file…

On January 11, Aleksey Nikolskiy published an article on the next GPV for Vedomosti.  He laid out the state of the battle over state armaments program 2018-2025.

What Will They Spend?

According to Nikolskiy, the new GPV will be only half of what Russia’s Defense Ministry wants, if the Finance Ministry gets its way.

The GPV covers ten years, but the Russian government adopts one every five years. So the new program was due to be adopted and implemented last year.

The next GPV was being prepared in 2014-2015.  But with the poor economic forecast, Western sanctions, and the need for import substitution, the Kremlin elected to delay launching the new arms program until the first half of 2017, a former MOD official told Nikolskiy.

The new arms program is also late because industry’s initial promises on import substitution for Western as well as for Ukrainian products turned out to be too rosy, CAST director Ruslan Pukhov tells Nikolskiy.  But, he adds, it’s impossible to drag this out longer because industry needs to know the fiscal parameters of its work in the long-term.

The current program for 2011-2020 was approved in late 2010.  It contained 19.1 trillion rubles for the MOD.  That was more than $630 billion at the exchange rate of the day.  But, according to Nikolskiy, not more than 40 percent of this amount had been spent by the start of 2017.

Forty percent is 7.6 trillion, or roughly 1.3 trillion per year for the first six years of a ten-year program.  Leaving so much backloaded implies that Russian defense industry was unable to absorb and use more money, at least without massive graft and waste. So the new arms program might continue a similar annual rate of investment in acquisition.

Nikolskiy notes that every arms program the Defense Ministry requests is several times more than the Finance Ministry believes it can allocate.  In 2015, the former reportedly reduced its initial request for 2018-2025 from 55 to 30 trillion rubles while the latter was ready to agree to an amount not greater than 12 trillion.

Kommersant’s Ivan Safronov reported that Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Finance Minister Anton Siluanov spoke in “elevated tones” during a September 9 Kremlin meeting on the GPV.  With President Vladimir Putin chairing the session, the ministers reportedly argued over the necessity and feasibility of 22 vs. 12 trillion rubles for arms procurement.

This is the customary kabuki.  In 2010, the MOD came in similarly high — 36 trillion. The Finance Ministry responded with 13 trillion. Ultimately, they compromised at a figure closer to the latter’s preference — 19.1 trillion rubles.  In retrospect, it wasn’t surprising given that even Putin expressed his qualms at spending so much. 

What Will They Buy?

According to a defense industry manager who spoke with Nikolskiy, armaments tsar Deputy Defense Minister Borisov already announced the emphasis in the near term will be placed to a greater degree on the purchase of well-assimilated systems – for example, Su-30SM fighters or Improved Kilo-class (proyekt 636) submarines – and on modernized equipment which is significantly cheaper than new.

Meanwhile, the acceptance of fundamentally new types of armaments is passing into the more distant future.  They include important platforms like the T-14 / Armata tank and T-50 / PAK FA fighter, and even some strategic weapons, writes Nikolskiy.

This would represent some retrenchment from Moscow’s ambitions in comparison with what it originally wanted from the current arms program.

Additional Perspective

U.S. defense acquisition is still probably three times the $50 billion or less Russia might spend on an annual basis.  Russian procurement of arms attracts more attention and causes more concern than its volume alone warrants.

What Russia actually receives for the money it spends makes an interesting comparison with China.  Beijing clearly lags Moscow in high-tech weapons, but it seems to get greater industrial bang for its buck when bending metal.

For example, Chinese shipbuilding.  In ten years, China put 22 Type 054A frigates to sea. The Russian Navy received three or four frigates during the same years.  China is set to build its third aircraft carrier.  Russia’s lone Kuznetsov carrier will soon enter the shipyard to begin a three-year (probably longer) modernization effort.

Perhaps China hands will tell us if naval construction is a happy aberration for Beijing or if it enjoys the same kind of productivity in ground and air systems.

Conclusion

Rearmament is something that has gone Moscow’s way in recent years.  It has restored Russia’s image as a formidable power.  Rearming — even over-arming — has created and fueled a siege mentality at home.  That mentality keeps the Russian Federation distant from the Western community of nations, and its people remote from the kinds of socioeconomic demands Westerners place on their political leaders.  So the arms program has been part of Putin’s strategy for that reason if no other.

Moscow will want to maintain the momentum rearmament has generated since 2011.  Too much of a break in funding would slow defense industry, which had difficulty finding traction.

But Russia’s economic situation is harder now than 2010.

Best Guess:  GPV 2018-2025 will be announced with a nominal budget between 15 and 17 trillion rubles.

The Ministry of Finance will still groan at this amount, but will be secretly pleased at having kept arms spending at a reasonable level.

What money is actually disbursed, as we’ve seen, will be less than the full amount as the years go by.

The State of VTA [Addendum]

As if on cue, an anonymous aviation industry source has spilled to Interfaks-AVN on developments in the Il-76MD-90A transport program.  Remarkable timing.  Can you say reflexive control?  But one mustn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.  The author is grateful for all info.

The source says Aviastar-SP plans to complete three of the new transports this year.  It has already finished five, according to him.

Two Il-76MD-90A aircraft have gone to the MOD (the VKS presumably).  Two have gone to Beriev in Taganrog for “reequipping into special designation aircraft.”  AWACS and aerial tankers presumably.  The fifth is with Ilyushin for development and testing.

Interfaks-AVN’s source reports that the 2012 contract for 39 Il-76MD-90A transports is still in effect.

By 2025, Aviastar-SP intends to produce 170 aircraft in the Il-76MD-90A family.  By 2021, it aims to make 18 per year and 21 each year after 2021.  It is hoping for 65 export orders.

If you’re still reading in Ulyanovsk or Moscow, we’d all love to hear anything about plans to replace or produce more An-124 transports.

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.

Killed in Syria

the-funeral-of-aleksandr-prokhorenko

The funeral of Aleksandr Prokhorenko

Sadly for their loved ones, four Russian military advisers died on February 16 when a radio-controlled IED destroyed their vehicle.

This week TASS published a backgrounder on Russians killed in action since Moscow joined the Syrian conflict in September 2015.

Twenty-seven Russians have died in Syria, and Russian forces have lost two Mi-8 and one Mi-28N helicopters, and one Su-24 fighter-bomber.

Click here for the essential details of the news agency’s report.  Some names and info not given by TASS are provided.

The first death was a non-combat casualty.  TASS didn’t mention the 64 members of the MOD’s Aleksandrov Ensemble who perished in a plane crash en route to Syria on December 25.  They didn’t die in Syria, but might not have died if Russian troops weren’t in Syria.

First Glance at Defenders’ Day List

Yesterday President Vladimir Putin signed out a promotion list with the names of 33 MOD general and flag officers.

Three officers, including Mikhail Mizintsev and Sergey Rudskoy, became three-star general-colonels.  Mizintsev heads the NTsUO.  Rudskoy is Chief of the General Staff’s Main Operations Directorate who briefs frequently on Russian operations in Syria.

Aleksey Zavizon became a two-star general-lieutenant; he commanded Russian troops and militia near Donetsk in eastern Ukraine, according to various reports.

New LRA Commander Sergey Kobylash also made two-star.

Denis Lyamin became a one-star general-major.  He now commands the Central MD’s resurrected 90th Tank Division.

Plenty of other names to look at.

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.