Tag Archives: MiG-29

Death of Mikoyan

On October 21, the labor union of the Engineering Center of the Experimental-Design Bureau (OKB) named for A. I. Mikoyan went public with its claim that  well-known aircraft maker RSK MiG is in a catastrophic state.  Metronews.ru published part of the union’s open appeal as well as MiG’s official reaction.  The union’s letter is addressed to the president, prime minister, and heads of political parties, and dated October 11.

Union chairman Yuriy Malakhov says:

“The situation taking shape in our engineering center forced me to write this letter.  We’ve always been the brain of the company, it’s right here that new aircraft models were developed.  For a long time, we’ve had no new orders.  In the past five years, six general directors have been replaced, they all come from the Sukhoy company, and the impression’s created that they are strangling us, they want to close our company.  All the best orders go there [Sukhoy].  For example, we aren’t even allowed to participate in developing unmanned aerial vehicles.  Sukhoy is working on them, but this aircraft company doesn’t have our experience.  They focused on heavy fighters.  The pay of our colleagues is lower than in the trolleybus yard next door.  Lead engineers get 8-10 thousand rubles [per month].  Sometimes with occasional bonuses they get 30 thousand.  Talented young specialists leave for other firms, for example, Boeing, where they get two-three times more.  Now 10 percent of orders come from Russia, the rest from abroad.  In the course of several years we tried to get a response from our leadership, but no one wanted to start negotiations with us.  And the engineering center’s director decided to meet with employees only after this letter.  We are very much hoping for this meeting.  We expect new orders and increased wages.”

 MiG’s press-secretary offered this response:

“The absence of the Gosoboronzakaz in the 1990s was a serious blow to the country’s defense industry, including to RSK MiG.  Only those companies that had large export contracts could develop successfully, for example in that period the Sukhoy company managed to conclude contracts with India and China.  At that moment, MiG had only a contract with Malaysia.  In recent years, RSK MiG’s been headed by directors from Sukhoy corporation – Nikitin, Fedorov, Pogosyan, Korotkov.  From outside this could look like a raider’s seizure of MiG.  But who needs to seize debts and problems?  A positive dynamic began precisely with the arrival of these people – large foreign contracts were signed, the contract with the Defense Ministry to supply MiG-SMT.  Aircraft were supplied against this contract and they’re being successfully employed in the RF VVS.  Presently, a contract with the Defense Ministry to supply the MiG-29K is being discussed.”

“Today RSK MiG’s order portfolio is more than $4 billion, serial production of new aircraft is unfolding. There is a positive dynamic, maybe it’s not as quick and wages not as high as all of us would like.  Some young specialists come and stay, some leave.  But on the whole the company has good prospects.”

A couple points on these claims.  We know raiders take and sell what’s good, and leave “debts and problems” behind.  The Defense Ministry’s acceptance of the Algerian MiG-SMTs was more a financial bailout for the company and face-saving maneuver for Russia writ large than a real contract.  Not mentioned is Aleksandr Sukhorukov’s October 11 statement that MiG-29K procurement won’t come until 2013-2015.

The text of the union’s letter says MiG is simply dying.  It cites many problems and complaints, including a 48-billion-ruble debt, losses and delays in contracts, moving engineers to Zhukovskiy, closing MAPO, etc.  It says crucial pay bonuses can’t always be paid, and MiG is just supplying skilled people to Sukhoy and Irkut.  The letter calls OAK an incomprehensible middle layer blocking competition, but allowing personal lobbying.  Finally, it blames Mikhail Pogosyan for closing MiG’s promising future projects.

Scanning other recent MiG headlines – the Indian tender wasn’t the only blow to the MiG-35, its chances with the Russian Air Forces didn’t look too rosy anyway, and the early September MiG-31 crash indicated again what dire straits that old airframe is in.

Izvestiya’s Ilya Kramnik published recently on the MiG-29’s fate.  He wrote that (unlike the Su-27 or Su-24) the Defense Ministry doesn’t plan to modernize the MiG-29.  His military source says replacement of these worn-out aircraft in the future is deemed more cost-effective.

Kramnik’s source describes production of the generation “4+++” (?!) MiG-35 as an unavoidable but not yet decided step.  He sees the MiG-29 variant line ending since it’s outclassed by updated Su-27s.

Kramnik’s OPK source sees 20 or 24 MiG-35s being produced each year, for about 25 billion, to replace 150 or 160 MiG-29s in Russia’s inventory.

He cites Konstantin Makiyenko who sees the MiG-35 as important not just as a MiG-29 replacement, but also to keep Russia in the light- to medium-, $60-million-range fighter export market and not leave this industry segment to China and its J-10.

But Konstantin Bogdanov tells Kramnik he thinks the MiG-35’s loss in the Indian tender hurt its chances at home because it raises questions about MiG’s ability to support a production program for the Russian Air Forces.

One also wonders how much MiG-35 and MiG-29 will be needed with T-50 / PAK FA, with Su-35, and with Su-27 upgrades out there.

It’s hard to see the MiG story as anything but another chapter in the painful and necessary process of post-Cold War industrial downsizing and restructuring.  After all, the U.S. is down basically to Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  In MiG’s case, one can question whether the selection is really natural and the fittest are truly surviving.  The answer is probably yes.  However they managed it, Sukhoy and Irkut played their post-Soviet hand better, and it shows today.  The Russian aviation sector will be better off with further consolidation.  Still it doesn’t need Sukhoy to be a monopolist.  Managing that outcome will be tricky.

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LRA Command-Staff Exercise

Today Russian Long-Range Aviation (LRA or ДА) began a large three-day command-staff exercise (CSX or КШУ) under Air Forces CINC General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin’s direction.  The CSX involves units from Siberia, the Far East, but also Lipetsk, and 40 aircraft including the Tu-160, Tu-22M3, Tu-95MS, Il-78, A-50, MiG-29, MiG-31, and Su-27SM.  They will operate both from their home and temporary bases, and fly over central Russia, the Far East, and extreme northern parts of the Russian Federation.  A-50 crews will control the airspace for the exercise.  Il-78 tankers will conduct mid-air refueling, and ranges at Pemboy near Vorkuta and at Nogotay in Irkutsk Oblast will be used for missile launches and other weapons training.

Is Alarm About Aerospace Defense Warranted?

In today’s Nezavisimaya gazeta, Viktor Litovkin tries to reconcile Kornukov’s and Sitnov’s extremely pessimistic views on the state and future of Russian aerospace defense with the optimistic ones of Colonel Sigalov, whom Ekho Moskvy interviewed on Saturday.  He’s commander of the 5th VKO Brigade based in Moscow Oblast, responsible for defending the capital.

Litovkin notes the retired generals’ roles as defense industry lobbyists, their defense of business interests, and efforts to acquire new orders.  And for his part, the colonel could never imagine or admit a chance that his troops won’t be able to carry out their missions.  What kind of commander would he be?

But the situation in the realm of air defense, and even more in anti-missile defense, is very complicated.  Yes, the troops of Sigalov’s brigade are ready to open fire on air-breathing enemy forces with 10 minutes warning.  But repulsing strikes from space is much more complex.  The troops simply lack the weapons systems to do it.  And this threat doesn’t exist yet.

So is there a contradiction or not?  Litovkin reminds that military men judge not just the current potential of probable enemies, but their ‘technical-technological possibilities’ as well.  And these are alarming.  According to Litovkin, many leading countries are working on ‘the problems of space weapons’ (although he mentions just China’s ASAT capability and the U.S. X-37B orbiter). 

And Russia has no response yet beyond the much talked about S-500 system, which, says Litovkin, lives now on paper only, and two (and maybe six more by some time in 2011) S-400 battalions around Moscow.  Litovkin claims the Defense Ministry will not order more S-400s after that.  Recall Almaz-Antey chief Ashurbeyli complaining on 30 April that the Defense Ministry has not signed contracts for S-400 production in 2012.

Litovkin says this might have caused genuine alarm in the two retired generals.  He speculates there could be more delays in producing missiles for the S-400 as well as for the S-500, which will need to operate against targets in near space.  Finally, he notes that, although the military doctrine contains an understanding of VKO, there’s still no Defense Ministry organization responsible for it.

On balance, it sounds like Litovkin believes Kornukov’s and Sitnov’s concerns are genuine, rather than commercially motivated.

Yuriy Gavrilov, writing in Rossiyskaya gazeta, concludes that recent talk about VKO means that Russia has to take immediate measures, or allow the distance between itself and the U.S. to increase each year.  He gives a little useful history.  Yeltsin’s 1993 decree said to create VKO, but the establishment of OSK VKO and VKO brigades amounted to little beyond changing the names of existing units, without changing their command, control, subordination, or weapons systems. 

Kornukov mentioned VKO relies on S-300s, MiG-29s, and Su-27s, and the few deployed S-400s, which still need work and rely on a single suitable missile.  All of which means, while waiting for the S-500, Russia has no real system for intercepting medium- and short-range ballistic missiles at an altitude up to 200 kilometers, or hypersonic cruise missiles.

Gavrilov quotes Sitnov:

“To develop modern systems that cover air and space, to develop new satellites for reconnaissance, and comms relay, missile attack warning, a super-modern component base, new materials, powders, new developments in the area of command and control are required.”

But that’s not all.  Gavrilov says VKO also needs one master, but aviation and PVO belong to the Air Forces, while anti-missile defense, missile attack warning systems, and control of Russia’s orbital grouping belong to the Space Troops.  Kornukov and Sitnov argue for giving it all to the VVS.

And Gavrilov says time is short.  By 2030, hypersonic and air-space vehicles, sixth generation UAVs, as well as weapons ‘based on new physical principles’ will already be in foreign inventories.

Aerospace Defense in Disarray

Retired Army General Kornukov

While Russian air and aerospace defenders were meeting in Tver last week, former Air Forces (VVS) CINC, Army General Anatoliy Kornukov gave Interfaks his opinions in a Moscow news conference.  

Kornukov is a member of a group calling themselves the ‘Extradepartmental Expert Council on the Problems of RF Aerospace Defense.’  He also advises the General Director of Almaz-Antey. 

He called aerospace threats the greatest danger for Russia’s security.  He said: 

“An attack from space decides everything now, strikes from space can be delivered to any point on Earth.” 

Kornukov thinks Russia’s aerospace defense (VKO or ВКО) concept’s been thought over long enough, and: 

“Unfortunately, there are still few practical decisions and concrete results.  New air defense systems are being developed very slowly.” 

“We, unfortunately, created a time lag of 20-30 years behind our possible enemy.” 

The ex-CINC says, although the VKO concept was approved in 2006, little has changed: 

“Years pass, but everything stays the same.  And to say that we’re ready for something now would be an exaggeration.  We can now resist an air attack from the standpoint of remaining S-300 systems.  As well as with those residual Su-27 and MiG-29 aircraft, the majority of which lack engines and spare parts.  The picture is simply terrible.” 

He also noted that new systems are progressing slowly, and are entering the armed forces’ inventory even more slowly.  He believes the Operational-Strategic Command of Aerospace Defense (OSK VKO or ОСК ВКО–the old Moscow Air and Air Defense District) can only destroy 1 in 5 targets: 

“If the reliability earlier was 96 or 98 percent, then now the effectiveness [of systems in the inventory] is in the range of 15-20 percent.  What’s meant is how many aircraft of 100 could get through without being countered.  Now about 80.” 

Kornukov recommends establishing VKO under the VVS, and under PVO specifically.  For example, he’d like the Moscow-based OSK VKO to control its own missile-space defense (RKO or РКО) formations and units.  He says: 

“Once all missile-space defense was in one set of hands–the PVO CINC.  He answered for PVO and for RKO.  Now the thinking is inexplicable:  each is dying by itself.  There’s not a person defined as responsible even for air defense.” 

“I think the correct decision would be for everything  to be located in one set of hands, and one person answering for the condition, training, employment [of PVO means]. 

He reminded the audience that, once the province of PVO, control of anti-missile defense went first to the RVSN, and now resides with the Space Troops.  Olga Bozhyeva reported that Kornukov wants RKO, specifically the 3rd Missile Attack Warning System Army to come to the Air Forces, and the latter should change its name to reflect its aerospace orientation.  He doesn’t like the idea of creating a new armed service called aerospace troops that would control PVO.  

Asked about Russia’s ability to defend against potential missile attacks from North Korea or Iran, Kornukov called the country’s capability to counter these threats ‘limited.’  He said, although the S-400 can cope with air-breathing threats, Moscow has no means for countering ‘operational’ (i.e. intermediate-range) missiles. 

Other members of the ‘Extradepartmental Expert Council’ had their say as well.  Former chief of PVO’s equipment ordering directorate General-Major Kolganov said: 

“. . . the VKO concept developed several years ago is not supported today organizationally or financially.  There is no targeted program for its realization.” 

Former Armaments Chief General-Colonel Anatoliy Sitnov says: 

“. . . in Russia they remembered about VKO only after the U.S. began to test the X-37 orbital glider.   . . . everyone’s occupied with a general assimilation of budget resources, and not at all with the development of new strategic technologies for modern space systems, reconnaissance, [and] missile attack warning satellites . . . .  This can’t come from a private businessman.  He comes to grab some budget money and sell what’s been made for scrap.” 

“We lost 300 super-technologies, primarily in aviation and air defense.  In particular, in the production of supergraphite, which is used in nose cones for missiles . . . .” 

Sitnov also criticizes poor organization for VKO: 

“There is no one to be in command, no one to command and control forces and means, no one to commission new air defense systems.” 

“It is time to move from words to deeds, to take purposeful directions and targeted programs for developing new aerospace defense systems.” 

“But we are waiting for someone to come and help us.  No one will.” 

Kornukov is an old PVO guy–albeit an Air Defense Aviation pilot; he was the first CINC of the VVS after it subsumed PVO.  Maybe he, and the others, are just shilling for Almaz-Antey to get even more from the State Defense Order.  Or perhaps their assessments are sincere.

Defense Industry’s Last Warning

Popovkin in a Suit

Last Friday’s NVO printed an interesting editorial that discussed arms exporter irritation with Deputy Defense Minister, Armaments Chief [former Commander of Space Troops and ex-General-Colonel] Vladimir Popovkin for publicly admitting the Defense Ministry’s dissatisfaction with many of the OPK’s products.  The exporters are obviously upset that Popovkin’s comments have, and will, cost them sales abroad.  But NVO concludes a greater danger would be trying to silence anyone–high-ranking defense official or independent defense analyst–who dares point out the OPK’s problems in the hope of remedying them.

NVO’s sub-title for the article is “The OPK’s systemic crisis threatens a breakdown in the supply of combat equipment to the Russian Army and a lack of export contracts.”

The Greeks have apparently called off a purchase of 420 BMP-3s for $1.5 billion (let’s call it $3.6 million per vehicle).  The deal had been 2 years in the making, and it wasn’t the state of the Greek economy that caused the halt.  According to NVO, the money was already in the defense budget.  Rather it was Popovkin’s specific criticism of the BMP-3 that folded the deal.

Popovkin is quoted:

“We very much need to protect our soldiers.  Today everyone rides on top of the BMP because no one wants to ride in this ‘coffin.’  We need to make a different vehicle.”

Greek journalists published his remarks, and opposition politicians turned them into a scandal:  how can you buy unsuitable equipment that even the country that makes it won’t buy?

Popovkin also complained about the T-90 that the Indians are buying, the tank support combat vehicle (BMPT) that Rosoboroneksport recently demonstrated at an arms show in Kuala Lumpur, and other equipment which the army won’t buy for one reason or another, but which is put forth for export and actively advertised there.

According to NVO, the arms exporters are terribly offended because the [ex-] general cost them several lucrative contracts.  But, in NVO’s estimation, his speech is very necessary.  It says:

“. . . the truth about the condition of the Russian defense-industrial complex, about those processes occurring there, about the systemic crisis in it and the inability of its various directors, including even the government’s Military-Industrial Commission [VPK], to correct the existing situation, is not a secret at all.  It’s been talked about more than once.  On the most varied levels.  Including even presidential.”

NVO says this truth is very important; it could help the powers-that-be uncover the problem areas, fix them, and produce the modern equipment needed for the defense of the country’s interests.  Without an honest discussion, the deficiencies can’t be fixed.  But the Kremlin, government, the legislature, executive organs, or the regions won’t undertake any serious measures against negligent managers.  Despite constant talk of state arms programs, federal programs of technical reequipping of defense enterprises, in reality, with the exception of aviation and air defense firms, nothing is really happening.  It’s moving at a snail’s pace.  Or is it?

Foreign buyers send in 33 warranty claims for every 100 Russian weapons systems exported.  And the scandal with the Algerian MiGs didn’t teach the OPK anything.

It would be possible to silence critics and protect military-technical cooperation with foreign countries and keep the profits coming to the budget and the manufacturers.  But won’t the low quality of these systems, their inability to meet the demands of modern war, really be a negative advertisement?  Does someone really think if they quiet the generals, together with the Moscow media, military analysts and experts then they can sell some kind of half-finished military goods to a serious buyer?  Naive views worked out for illiterate dilettantes.

NVO figures there are two ways out:  either give up, lose export orders, and accept the situation or sharply improve the quality and effectiveness of Russian weapons, reduce prices and defects, and strive to be on the leading edge of technology.  In other words, saving defense industry is in the hands of defense industry itself.  And no one else.  

When it comes to combat vehicles, sniper rifles, UAVs, assault ships, night sights, and armor, the international division of labor in defense industry isn’t such a bad thing after all.  It brings Russia closer to the ‘probable enemies’ of the recent past.  But when it comes to nuclear-powered submarines and strategic missiles we still don’t know how to do them ourselves and no one’s going to sell us those.  And [unless Russia remembers how and gets its OPK in order] it will remember national security the same way it remembers the long forgotten past. 

This is NVO’s way of telling the Putin-Medvedev regime it would be foolish to shut down this feedback channel that tells it what needs fixing in the OPK.