Tag Archives: Il-76

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.

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Not Enough Men or Transports

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Another large-scale Russian military “surprise inspection” has concluded, and military commentator Ilya Kramnik has placed it, and other exercises, into perspective for Lenta.ru.

Interpreted as a prologue to war in Europe by some, the Kremlin-directed “surprise inspections” are the logical continuation of a process in recent years.  It is the process of developing strategic mobility through deployment exercises, according to Kramnik.

The latest six-day “surprise inspection” focused on deploying and redeploying forces in Russia’s Arctic regions, but President Vladimir Putin expanded it into a nation-wide exercise.

Kramnik focuses his analysis first on the Kaliningrad exclave.  Russia has practiced its defense of this region since the mid-2000s on an expanding scale. But the first large-scale drill in Kaliningrad, Kramnik says, was Zapad-2009.

Kaliningrad is where the pattern of special attention to troop mobility developed. In “surprise inspections,” military units from almost every armed service and branch were delivered by ground, rail, sea, or air transport to unfamiliar ranges in that region to conduct training missions.

The pattern has repeated in each of Russia’s “strategic directions.” Although Kramnik doesn’t describe it as such, it is, in effect, the establishment of expeditionary forces within the Russian military intended for internal transfer and use on any of Russia’s borders (or beyond them).  

If mobility questions play a key role in Kaliningrad, Kramnik continues, they are dominant when it comes to the Arctic.  All Arctic deployments depend on Navy and Air Forces transport capabilities.  Then he writes:

“It relies first and foremost on reestablishment of infrastructure which supports, if necessary, the redeployment [переброска] of troops by sea and by air and not requiring large numbers of personnel for daily service and security.  13 airfields, radar stations, repaired ports and other facilities allow forces to return quickly ‘in a threatening period.’  And to control the surrounding sea and air space a rather sufficiently compact grouping based here on a permanent basis.”

Kramnik concludes that Russia is confronting its weakness — armed forces not large enough to garrison its immense territory.  This increased attention to strategic maneuver is a means to compensate for an insufficient number of troops.  He takes a comment from Viktor Murakhovskiy:

“Today we don’t have a single self-sufficient grouping on any of our [strategic] directions.  This is the main reason for the great attention the Armed Forces leadership allocates to the potential for redeploying forces.”

Mobility, guaranteed by a developed railroad network, and in distant and isolated TVDs by the world’s second largest inventory of military-transport aviation, should support the potential for Russia, if necessary, to “swing the pendulum” — effectively maneuvering forces between different TVDs, Kramnik writes.  The capacity provided by the civilian airlines and fleet can also add to this.

But besides men, Russia also lacks enough transport aircraft.  

Kramnik writes that while attention has gone to constructing and reconstructing airfields and finding personnel to service them, the VTA’s order-of-battle is in critical condition, especially in terms of light and medium transports.  The average age of the An-26 inventory is nearly 35 years; the An-12 more than 45 years.

Events of the last year in Ukraine ended what were already difficult talks with Kyiv about building the An-70 and restarting production of the An-124.  Meanwhile, much of the Antonov Design Bureau’s competence has degraded, according to CAST Deputy Director Konstantin Makiyenko.

So today, Kramnik says, Russia has at its disposal only one serial VTA aircraft — the modernized Il-76, developed 40 years ago with serious limits on the weight and dimensions of military equipment it can deliver.  It will be supplemented by the Il-112 (light) and Il-214 (medium) transports, and by a “future aviation system transport aviation” or PAK TA.

The very same reported PAK TA that generated hysterical press here, then here, and here by promising to land an entire armored division of new Russian T-14 / Armata tanks overnight, anywhere in the world.  From an aircraft industry at pains to duplicate large but old designs like Antonov’s?  Obviously, a sudden outbreak of irrational Soviet-style giantism.

In the end, Kramnik concludes that VTA needs a high priority or Russia will have trouble moving combat capable groupings to the Arctic and Far East.  New aerial tankers are needed as well.

Renewed Talk of Airborne Laser

Russian Airborne Laser Testbed (photo: testpilot.ru)

Work on the U.S. airborne laser has gotten the Russians talking again. 

On 19 August, an OPK source told Interfaks a laser system mounted on an Il-76 is under development, specifically to counter enemy reconnaissance systems.  It’s supposed to disrupt optoelectronic equipment operating in the infrared range in space, at sea, and on land.  The Interfaks source said this work’s been continuing for some time using a modified Il-76 (A-60), and the laser’s gone through a series of successful tests. 

Vesti.ru picked up the story from here.  It says Russia’s flying airborne laser laboratory took flight in 1981, and fired against an aerial target in April 1984.  However, work ceased in the early 1990s for lack of funds.  But now, Vesti.ru claims financing is going “according to plan.” 

Defense commentator Igor Korotchenko told Vesti.ru he doesn’t see the sense in the airborne laser, and doesn’t think it could be used in practice: 

“From a practical point of view, realization of such a program under conditions of defense budget limitations will look absolutely unwarranted and wasteful for the Russian budget.  Even if Russia gave itself such a task as developing an air-based laser, we have to understand that we’d have to fly this laser into U.S. airspace.  And try to destroy ballistic missiles there in the launch phase when they fire them at us.  It’s completely obvious that all our aircraft would be shot down.” 

Korotchenko goes on to say only the U.S. can afford a program like the airborne laser.  But regarding Russia: 

“. . . theoretically, of course, it’s possible to allow that such a flying laser system could be built, but if it’s senseless in a practical plan of combat employment, why take away resources from really important and necessary programs?” 

While reading Korotchenko, one needs to bear his long and close association with Almaz-Antey in mind.  Perhaps there’s fear lasers might detract from funding for more conventional air defense weapons.

According to Vesti.ru, many specialists think it’s just a matter of Russian prestige in keeping up with the Americans.  CAST’s Ruslan Pukhov doesn’t consider it a waste, however, saying that even the U.S. recognized Russian laser successes, and it would be stupid not to pursue more research.  Still others say it’d be better to spend money protecting Russian missiles from laser strikes during launch and boost phases. 

Newsru.com provided Pukhov’s comment:

“Several types of weapons need to fulfill the same function so that your system is more stable.  If suddenly the enemy found some kind of countermeasure to one type of weapon, or you didn’t manage to employ it for this or that reason, it’s always better to have a substitute.  Therefore, in my view, it’s stupid to renounce those types of weapons and those technologies where even your potential enemy assesses you extremely highly.”

Lenta.ru also added to this story.  According to it, the laser system will be for Russian forces; there’s no talk of exporting yet.  It says Russian Academy of Engineering Sciences official Yuriy Zaytsev first mentioned renewed work on an airborne laser in August 2009.  It provides some background on the Soviet laser weapons program in the 1960s and 1970s, through the A-60’s successful destruction of an aerial target in 1984.  It says, though there was no money in the 1990s, the design bureau continued to work on the laser program on an initiative basis.

No One, Except Us!

VDV Day Revelry

No service (or branch), except the VDV, generates this kind of media attention for its anniversary.

On 2 August, the VDV will celebrate its 80th birthday, and to mark this nice round number, the holiday will actually be a three-day fiesta running from 31 July.

Also marking the occasion, a new documentary film entitled ‘Landmarks of History, 80 Years of the VDV’ has been released, but, surprisingly, it wasn’t picked up by theaters or television. 

According to Rossiyskaya gazeta, the Moscow city government paid for its production.

VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov stars in the documentary, providing lots of the commentary, noting that the VDV are already ‘new profile’ since they are permanently ready, mobile, and physically fit.  Including its generals.  Shamanov told press conference he just recently made two jumps.

A VDV press-service representative told Nezavisimaya gazeta:

“Unfortunately, the VDV anniversary film will hardly be shown to a broad central TV audience at present.  For some reason, the central television channels have no particular desire to reflect this day comprehensively, but of course they will show people in striped tee shirts swimming in fountains.”

Ah, yes, the fountains . . . General-Lieutenant Shamanov told the press mobile groups of VDV and Moscow OMON troops would work together to keep airborne guys from bathing in the capital’s fountains on the branch’s birthday.  Interestingly, he had to admit to ITAR-TASS that he was perplexed by an announcement that the police have permitted dips in fountains for several years, having found that trying to prevent them only led to conflicts.  Police also said they would be on-hand to make sure nothing happens to bathers, according to Nakanune.ru.

While sounding reasonable and accommodating, the Moscow OMON Commander also noted that OMON, the GUVD’s 2nd Operational Regiment, and VV troops were ready to “respond to events.”  He expects 5,000 VDV revelers.  About 1,700 police, including 350 OMON (of whom 109 are former VDV themselves), will be on duty, according to Svpressa.ru.  It claimed former and current VDV officers would also help in keeping order.  The OMON Commander told Vesti.ru, “In recent years we’ve come to mutual understanding largely thanks to VDV veterans who now serve in the Moscow police.”

Of course, it doesn’t do for the regime to have two elite silovik forces square off in the capital.

Beyond announcing that the VDV is already fully subscribed when it comes to the ‘new profile,’ Shamanov also made his obligatory statement / promise that the VDV preserves its independence and  role as the reserve of the VGK to reinforce strategic directions.

He commented to ITAR-TASS on the VDV’s capacity for air drops:

“In realizing the measures in the State Program of Armaments – 2020, the VDV will be capable of landing by parachute an airborne or air assault division.  Now the question hinges on the degree of readiness of the existing fleet of Il-76 military-transport aircraft, but also on how these possibilities will be after the realization of the State Program of Armaments, calculated out to 2020.  A month ago we agreed on the draft GPV.  The modernization of the existing fleet of Il-76 aircraft and an increase in their number is in there.  It also provides for the purchase of Russian-Ukrainian An-70 aircraft, refurbishment of existing An-124 aircraft and the construction of 20 new aircraft of this type.”

He continued:

“. . . we also need to use the American experience in using civil aviation aircraft in the interests of the military.  All this would allow us by 2017 to establish the possibility of landing a full airborne or air assault division.”

“. . . it’s possible to solve it even more quickly by a combination, when the first echelon is approximately 30 percent airborne – landing by parachute, the rest by runway.  We could accomplish this task in three months after receiving the order.”

Answering a question about helicopters and air mobility for the VDV, Shamanov said:

“With the General Staff, we’ve defined a concept for establishing an army aviation brigade in the VDV in the future.”

And on army aviation’s transfer to the Air Forces in 2002:

“It would be the right decision to return army aviation to the Ground Troops, as it’s done throughout the world.”

Shamanov also told RIA Novosti 120 men from 104th Parachute Regiment of the 76th Airborne Division will stay in Kyrgyzstan until parliamentary elections are held.

Shamanov’s Press Conference

General-Lieutenant Shamanov

Ever-loquacious VDV Commander, General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov held a wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday.  The Defense Ministry web site covered it hereITAR-TASS also published a number of short items on it. 

Shamanov detailed the work of five immediate deployment VDV battalions, lobbied again for a helicopter regiment, and discussed training issues and his procurement desires.  He joined the dogpile on top of the Russian OPK although he once seemed to defend it, and he credited Putin alone for the initiative to modernize the military’s arms and equipment.

He described his forces as combat ready, and manned and equipped at 100 percent.

Relative to combat readiness, Shamanov announced that the VDV has dedicated five battalions for immediate deployment which, if necessary, will be its first units sent into combat.  He said:

“By agreement with the General Staff, in the VDV we’ve dedicated five battalions for immediate deployment.  The uniqueness of service in these battalions is such that personnel from each of the battalions goes on leave for 45 days as a complete unit.  Therefore, at a minimum four battalions are always ready for combat deployment.  Today one of the sub-units of such a battalion from the 31st Airborne-Assault Brigade (Ulyanovsk) is fulfilling missions in Kyrgyzia [sic].”

Shamanov also gave voice to his desire, more modestly expressed than in April, for some aviation assets for VDV.  Speaking about the VDV’s future development, he said his troops must become airmobile.  To this end, he’s “given the Genshtab’s Main Operations Directorate [GOU] a request on the issue of forming a helicopter regiment in one of the three airborne-assault divisions [DShD or ДШД].”

Shamanov discussed VDV training at great length.  He started, of course, by speaking about jump training.  The parachute jump training plan was 70 percent fulfilled during the winter training period.  He blamed poor weather, saying troops often jumped in minus 30 degrees Celsius—the lowest acceptable temperature.  The plan for jumps from An-2 aircraft was fulfilled, but only 70 percent fulfilled from Il-76 aircraft.  He noted the VDV conducted its first-ever drop of a BMD-2 with its crew on-board, and said this hasn’t been done in 7 years, and then it was a BMD-1.  Use of the BMD-2 was significant, he said, because the BMD-2 represents 80 percent of VDV’s combat vehicle inventory.

Shamanov talked about large Spetsnaz assault group jump training in guided parachutes.  He said the use of guided parachutes allows reconnaissance troops to complete a horizontal flight of 20 kilometers, and:

“Our goal is to get so that such movements reach 40 kilometers, as they do in the Israeli Army.”

The VDV Commander noted that the multi-component Polet-K command and control system was tested for the first time in winter training.  He said: 

“It still isn’t the full suite envisioned in the future.  We are one-third through its introduction into the forces.  This process won’t happen in a year.”

Also for the first time, an artillery sub-unit of the 98th Airborne-Assault Division used Russian-made ‘Eleron’ UAVs for target designation on the Luga training grounds.  Shamanov said five ‘Eleron’ UAVs were employed in the training, and they conducted supplemental reconnaissance to a range of 10 kilometers in advance of fire missions.  This summer, 12 VDV crews will train on Israeli-made UAVs in Moscow Oblast.  Shamanov said:

“Unfortunately, our representatives did not go to Israel where they produce the ‘Hermes’ UAV which has been bought by Russia.”

Shamanov noted more attention to air defense training in the VDV this winter.  There were 40 firings of manportable ‘Strela-10’ and ‘Igla’ SAMs.

For the summer training period, Shamanov noted the VDV has 9,300 conscripts to get through three jumps in the course of 1.5 months.  The VDV will participate in ‘Vostok-2010’ and the CSTO’s ‘Cooperation-2010.’  There will be a VDV-level CSX (КШУ), as well as a CSX involving the 98th VDD (or ВДД).

Following the lessons of the Georgian war, the VDV is periodically training on the Navy’s large assault ships (BDK or БДК).  Shamanov says:

“In the winter training period we transported the 108th Regiment on large assault ships three times.  The exercises ended with a naval assault landing by a reinforced assault-landing battalion (ДШБ).

Last but not least, Shamanov commented on VDV procurement, and transport aircraft in particular:

“Work on the State Armaments Program for 2011-2020 is being completed.  According to our requests, in it there is the modernization of Il-76 aircraft, renewal of production and modernization of An-124 aircraft, the purchase of 30-40 An-70 aircraft.”

An-70

But the VDV Commander stressed these were his requests, and the final say isn’t his.  Utro.ru quoted him:

“In the development of the state [armaments] program, we gave our proposals, whether they’ll be realized in the confirmed version of the state program, I can’t say yet.”

Gzt.ru and Lenta.ru covered the An-70 and An-124 story in detail.

Shamanov said troop testing of the ‘Shakhin’ thermal sight for infantry weapons is complete.  He said:

“There has to be one approach for weapons—they have to be all-weather.  Not long ago the thermal sight ‘Shakhin’ went through troop testing.  After the testing we returned it to the designers for reworking.  We’ve given the task that our weapons work according to the aviation principle—turn your head and firing systems turn after it.”

He commented on air-dropping the BMD-4M, and added that, “The BMD-4M has every chance in the future, owing to its qualities, to be the forces’ main infantry combat vehicle.”

Although he seemed more like a supporter of Russian-made weapons six months ago, Shamanov now applauds Prime Minister Putin [not President Medvedev?] for searching for good weapons and equipment abroad.  Shamanov said the prospect of foreign competitors has forced “the domestic OPK to move,” as reported by Utro.ru.  He continued:

“Last year when industry was told that we’d look for alternatives abroad, they began to move.  In particular, the atmosphere around Mistral is creating a significant context for the domestic OPK.  When people declare that they’re ready to produce 21st century weapons but their equipment is from the 30s and 40s [of the 20th century], how can you talk about the 21st century?  Therefore, every official supports Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin’s initiative on the requirement to renew our armaments.  As long as this doesn’t happen, we’ll being shifting in place, and this won’t be just a lament of Yaroslav’s daughter [reference to the Prince Igor’s wife in the Lay of the Host of Igor after his defeat by the Turkic Polovtsy in 1185].”

At the same time, Shamanov concluded that GAZ and Izhevsk vehicles perform better for the VDV in the snow that equivalent Italian and Canadian ones.

Shamanov also said it’s essential to decide what to buy without any kind of lobbying, and for his part, he bases his decisions on saving soldiers’ lives and fulfilling missions.

Shamanov Wants Aviation Back

VDV Commander General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov told ITAR-TASS today that the airborne troops need their organic light transport aviation back because its absence is complicating their training.  He says:

“The results of the air-assault training of the VDV in the first quarter of this year show that the transfer of light aviation to the Air Forces is stalling the system.”

As an example of this, Shamanov said light aviation fulfilled only 60 percent of planned jump training at the VDV’s Omsk Training Center.  He said its commander has asked to continue jumps until 7 May.

Shamanov said the VVS ban on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday flights was making the VDV a hostage.  He continues:

“We’ve already had cases.  The VVS command allocated one helicopter each for jumps by our Spetsnaz and communications regiments near Moscow.  However in practice it turned out that the regiment having clear priority, the Spetsnaz regiment, could use the helicopter coming from Levashovo in Leningrad Oblast for jumps in all for only a half day out of five for purely aviation reasons, at the same time as the second, communications regiment, with the other helicopter coming from Ryazan, jumped for a full week.”

“We’ve sent the Genshtab our proposals to create organic sub-units of light aviation in the VDV.  Unfortunately, there’s no hope for them since no answer has been received from the  Genshtab, but we will continue to assert our position.” 

A VDV spokesman said last year, when they still belonged to the VDV, An-2s supported 140,000 jumps in combat training, and the VVS’ Il-76 medium military transport aircraft only 35,000.

The VDV’s light transport force had 7 squadrons of Mi-8 helicopters and An-2 and An-3 aircraft and three airfields until the General Staff Chief’s 1 January directive transferred them to the VVS.

Shamanov also repeated his past calls for each of his three air-assault formations to have its own regiment of 20 combat and 40 transport helicopters.  He said a proposal to this effect is being prepared.  An interlocutor told ITAR-TASS:

“Having organic helicopter regiments in the VDV’s air-assault formations undoubtedly would raise their air-mobility, fire power, responsiveness of command and control in combat conditions, and in the course of combat training.  So the formation commander, who gets a helicopter regiment, could independently, when he considers it necessary, without turning to the VVS command, decide to have air-assault training for personnel including helicopter jumps.”  

Recall the early January Genshtab directive that transferred all aviation units in other services and arms, with the exception of RVSN, to the VVS. 

Shamanov’s complaint and appeal for a change is interesting.  He isn’t one to be afraid to demand special treatment.  He warded off the change from divisions to brigades in 2009.  

Shamanov last publicly lobbied for an upgraded VDV rotary wing component, both attack and transport helicopters, in late 2009.  The Ground Troops would also like army aviation, which they lost to the VVS in 2002, returned to them.  ITAR-TASS noted that former Ground Troops CINC Army General Boldyrev said as much last September.  He wanted helicopter regiments for air-assault brigades that belong to the military districts.

The organic aviation issue will be another place to watch for a possible policy about-face.