Tag Archives: An-124-100

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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Zelin’s Update (Part II)

General-Colonel Zelin

In his recent NVO interview, VVS CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin wasn’t as specific about transport aircraft and helicopter acquisition as about fighters.

He mentioned “reestablishing” An-124-100 and An-124-300 production, and said the Il-76MD-90A will fly in July.  The An-70 is moving forward with Ukraine, he says.

The VVS has settled on the An-140-100 as a light transport.  Russia will work jointly with India on a light MTA (multirole transport aircraft?), and Moscow may buy up to 100, according to Zelin.

Zelin concludes VTA must have not less than 300 aircraft.  That might actually be about what it already has.

The CINC says the General Staff wants VTA to be capable of lifting a “light” brigade anywhere in the country or abroad if necessary.

On helicopters, General-Colonel Zelin reemphasized the goal of 1,000 new ones by 2020.

He mentions getting about 100 Mi-26, or Mi-26T, heavy lift helos, as well as the Mi-8AMTSh, Mi-8MTV5, and Mi-38 (another Mi-8 variant). 

Zelin says little about the Mi-28N and Ka-52 except they’re complementary.  He sees no need to choose between them, but the former will be the military’s line combat helicopter.

Kachalkin on VTA Prospects

General-Lieutenant Viktor Kachalkin

This week marked Military-Transport Aviation’s 80th anniversary, and VTA (or ВТА) Commander, General-Lieutenant Viktor Kachalkin made a variety of comments regarding the branch’s future.

Now relatively little’s been said about this subject.  VVS CINC, General-Colonel Zelin insists VTA’s a priority, but hasn’t ventured numbers or dates for new aircraft.  His deputy, General-Lieutenant Sadofyev’s alluded vaguely to modernization of existing aircraft and acquisition of 50 percent new aircraft.  But nothing more specific.  If VTA is the red-haired stepchild of the Air Forces, at least the VDV loves VTA – loves to hate it, that is.  General-Lieutenant Shamanov and other VDV officers never tire of saying that shortfalls and shortcomings in air transport are turning their branch into no more than elite ground troops.

At any rate, on to what Kachalkin said . . . he hopes new An-70 and deeply modernized Il-76MD90A transport aircraft will enter the VTA inventory starting in 2014.  The latter is an updated Il-76MD with new PS-90A-76 engines.  It also goes by the name Il-476.  In the more distant future, VTA looks toward buying a new An-124-300 variant.  The VTA commander believes all this will translate into “dozens” of new aircraft by 2020.

Kachalkin also plans on the “deep modernization” of existing transports into Il-76MDM and An-124-100 variants.

In a Krasnaya zvezda interview, he sums it up this way:

“If the volumes of new aircraft and deep modernization of the existing aircraft inventory announced in the program [GPV-2020] are assessed, then the growth in VTA capabilities is obvious.”

Later he adds:

“Despite the fact that the service life of the greater part of the current VTA aviation inventory is figured at 2020-2030s, the percentage share of new aircraft will grow steadily.  In this context, the mobility of the Armed Forces will increase overall.”

In his KZ interview, Kachalkin mentioned the impact of the “new profile” on his base structure.  VTA now has only one first rank air base at Tver, which is home to multiple aviation groups using basing locations at Pskov, Orenburg, and Taganrog.  As recently as late 2009, the VTA commander spoke of first rank bases at Tver and Orenburg, and second rank ones at Pskov and Taganrog.

Kachalkin indicated an aviation group of not less than 15-20 VTA aircraft will take part in the upcoming Tsentr-2011 operational-strategic exercise.

A couple contradictory points worth noting were also made this week . . .

Deputy Air Forces CINC, General-Major Viktor Bondarev predicted An-70 purchases in 2012-2013, according to RIA Novosti.  The wire service also reminded readers that Defense Minister Serdyukov has said not before 2015-2016.  One guesses Kachalkin split the difference with 2014.