Tag Archives: Su-27

22 + 35 > 57

While the Pentagon frets over its chances against China or Russia, Vzglyad’s Mikhail Bolshakov writes about why the Russian air forces would lose a battle with the United States.

Russia’s purported fifth-generation Su-57 fighter — yet to enter series production — might (as the VKS and OKB Sukhoy insist) be superior to American F-22 and F-35 fighters, but Bolshakov says the U.S. would still win.

F-35

Sukhoy chief designer Mikhail Strelets claims the Su-57 combines and surpasses the capabilities of the F-22 and F-35 in one fighter. The choice of the index 57 — sum of 22 and 35, he says, was a coincidence but still indicative. 

However, Bolshakov points out, the U.S. has 187 F-22 and 320 F-35 aircraft in its operational inventory at present. Russia has no Su-57 fighters in line units.

Su-57

The F-22 is 28 years old, and the F-35 at 18 is still suffering growing pains. And Russia, Bolshakov concludes, has clearly not lost its ability to design and produce modern combat aircraft. It built a competitive fighter in a short period of time.

Lacking U.S. levels of funding and with few rubles for weapons development, Russia adopted a “small step” approach. First and foremost, Sukhoy modernized existing fourth-generation fighter designs, developing “transitional” so-called generation 4++ aircraft on the base of the successful Soviet Su-27. This led to multirole Su-30 and Su-35 fighters and the Su-34 fighter-bomber. Rival MiG was not as successful updating its MiG-29 and that’s why the MiG-35 light fighter still hasn’t been produced.

Since 1991, Sukhoy has produced 118 Su-34, 630 Su-30, and 84 Su-35 aircraft. The problem is most of them were for export and didn’t go to Russia’s air forces. According to Bolshakov, Russia has 108 Su-34, 194 Su-30, and 70 Su-35. It’s not well-known how many of these aircraft are combat ready. So, even accounting for Moscow’s fourth-generation fighters, Russia’s air forces are significantly inferior in numbers to those of the U.S., and especially of NATO, he concludes.

Compounding the problem of low numbers is a tendency to spread new aircraft over the entire force, creating headaches in pilot training, parts supply, and maintenance and repair. Regiments have to plan for retraining pilots when they don’t know when they will actually get new planes. Meanwhile, they have to be ready for combat missions in the old ones.

In contrast to current practice of doling out new aircraft by the teaspoon, Soviet air regiments and divisions used to get dozens and hundreds, so in two or three years, units would be combat capable in new planes. Bolshakov writes:

“Today with bravado they announce supplies of two, three, four new aircraft to this or that regiment — not even squadrons! Of the entire regiment, in all several pilots learn the new equipment, the rest have to suffice with old, worn-out equipment.”

To top things off, most Russian air regiments since the mid-1990s have operated with two squadrons, not three as in Soviet times.

Bolshakov sums up saying the real equation is 187 + 320 = 0, and Russia’s task is to turn that zero into 50, 100, or 200 through consistent, well-planned efforts. The country needs to reequip its fighter aviation without “small steps,” “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” or “temporary solutions” that somehow become permanent.

The Russian MOD certainly doesn’t like to hear the state of affairs aired this way. But a journalistic smack-in-the-face is more realistic and useful than an entire collection of propagandistic Mil.ru, RIAN, or TASS reports on systems entering the forces today. Maybe the issue is political. The Kremlin doesn’t want the press saying that rearmament may not be going so smoothly.

Bolshakov wasn’t focused on the U.S., so leavening is required if we want some “net assessment” of air power. The quickest glance at the Western press shows the USAF has its hands full with keeping 50 percent of its F-22s  flying at a moment’s notice. The F-35, more computer than plane,  presents its own maintenance and readiness challenges.

Aircraft inventory is important, yes. But so are operational readiness, flying time, tactical training, and especially employment scenarios. The USAF is inherently expeditionary. It will fight in someone else’s backyard. Every battle will be an away game. Russia’s air forces will usually be right next door to any conflict involving them. And Russia’s tradition is more air defense and homeland protection.

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The Next China Deal

IA Regnum military observer Leonid Nersisyan recently took a stab at preparing Russian public opinion for the eventual sale of S-400 SAMs and Su-35S fighters to China.  A major arms deal with China should be expected, especially given Moscow’s turn further east in the wake of Western sanctions.

Nersisyan aims to refute usual complaints about exporting Russia’s most advanced weaponry to China, i.e. that Beijing will quickly copy and sell it more cheaply.  He dials back to the early 1990s.

The sale of S-300 SAMs began in 1993, amounting to something between 24 and 40 battalions of three variants.  Along the way, China developed a copy, the HQ-9, similar but less capable than the original in many performance parameters.  If it had been a really good knock off, Nersisyan argues, the HQ-9 would be found in many of the world’s armies, but it isn’t.

China's S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

China’s S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

The S-300 has grown old, and the money earned from China went into S-400 development and saved Almaz-Antey from bankruptcy at a time of little, if any, Russian military procurement.  Nersisyan concludes that:

“. . . the deal was successful — the system was copied (with deficiencies) only two decades after the first deliveries, when it had already grown old, and Russia had more modern analogues.”

Nersisyan points also to the Su-27 sale.  First Russia sold Beijing 24, then 200 kits for assembly in China.  But the Chinese stopped the transfer at 100, and began producing a copy, the J-11B.  However, its engine proved unreliable in comparison with Russia’s AL-31F, which the Chinese opted to buy for their domestic fighters.  Similarly, China bought nearly 100 Su-30 variants beginning in 2000 before producing a copy, the J-16, which also lacks a reliable engine. China’s difficulty, according to various reports, is manufacturing turbine blades and plates.

Neither the J-11B nor the J-16 is being produced in volume, and Russian aircraft remain the foundation of Chinese fighter aviation.

So, concludes Nersisyan, it will take China 20 years to copy the more complex S-400, while Russia is deploying the S-500.  Copying the generation 4++ Su-35S will be complicated by its more advanced thrust-vectored AL-41F1S engine, and Russia will be fielding the PAK FA / T-50 in the meantime.

Nersisyan writes that becoming a real competitor in the global arms market requires original RDT&E, not copying.  He sums up in three maxims:

  • Modern technologies don’t lend themselves to quick copying.
  • Copiers always lag behind.
  • The copy is often worse than the original.

What do others say about the threat of Chinese copying?

CAST’s Vasiliy Kashin agrees that fears are exaggerated because people don’t understand the obstacles to successful copying or that China’s military modernization is directed against the U.S. (something that, he adds, benefits Moscow).  He also blames much of the copying of Russian fighters on Ukrainian technical cooperation with China.

Vasiliy Sychev has written that S-400 and Su-35S sales to China will be straight sales without any technical or production licenses.  Moscow typically wants to sell more, and Beijing buy less, but the sides have worked toward the middle.  A new deal (or deals) will be for 2-4 SAM battalions and 24 fighters ($1.5 billion, or $60 million per).

Nor does Viktor Murakhovskiy see anything critical because Russian capabilities will be ahead of what China gets.

More Sinophobic, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says there’s an active and effective pro-China lobby in Moscow’s power ministries and OPK, and he believes Russia needs to understand it faces a grave threat from China.

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.

VVS Taking VMF’s Land-Based Fighters and Bombers

Vesti.ru has rebroadcast Interfaks information from a Main Navy Staff source who says, on 1 April, Naval Aviation (VMA) will begin transferring its land-based fighter and bomber aircraft to the Air Forces (VVS).

By year’s end, the VVS will get the Navy’s remaining Su-27 fighters, MiG-31 fighter-interceptors, long-range Tu-22 [sic] supersonic bombers, and also part of the VMA’s transport aircraft.

Russian Naval Aviation Tu-22M3

The Interfaks report will probably get garbled into all aircraft, or all land-based aircraft, going to VVS, which is not the case, as it makes its way into other Russian and English language news stories.

VMA will retain control of its Il-38, Tu-142, and Be-12 ASW aircraft, and its deck-based aircraft, the Su-33 fighter and Ka-27 helicopters, according to the Interfaks source. 

According to the Vesti.ru article, missile-carrying naval aviation has deteriorated since the Soviet collapse, and only the Northern and Pacific Fleets have long-range ASW aircraft which, it claims, amount to only 25 Il-38 and 15 Tu-142.  It says the Baltic Fleet has no ASW aircraft, and the Black Sea Fleet only four old Be-12 likely to be completely worn out by 2015.

The article notes that the Su-33, Su-25UTG trainer, multipurpose Ka-27 and Ka-29 combat-transport helicopters will remain in the air wing of heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Fleet Admiral of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.  There are reported plans to procure 26 MiG-29K fighters for Kuznetsov.

Here’s a nicely done, data-filled Russian language Wiki article on Russian Naval Aviation.

VMA lost something else recently.  A BMW-X5 used by VMA Chief, General-Colonel Igor Khozhin was stolen in Moscow on Friday, according to Interfaks.

ITAR-TASS also reported Friday that more than 80 RVSN aircraft — An-72, An-26, and Mi-8 helicopters — will also be going over to the VVS starting on 1 April.

Air Forces News

A couple Air Forces items of interest today . . . .

A major live-fire exercise is taking place in the Far East today and tomorrow.  According to RIA Novosti, about 20 aircraft from the Far East Air Forces and Air Defense Army will fire more than 30 air-to-air missiles over the ‘Endurance Bay’ range on Sakhalin Island. 

A Defense Ministry spokesman said the aircraft are Dzemgi-based Su-27 fighters, and they’ll perform both day and night firings.  He emphasized that junior pilots will participate in the exercise.

There’s no readily available indication of the last time the Russian Air Forces conducted live-fire air-to-air training on this scale, so one presumes it’s been a while. 

Visiting Voronezh today, Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Zelin said the city’s air base — soon to be one of Russia’s largest — will get four Su-34 bombers by year’s end.  The air base will be a first rank one, with 100 or more aircraft.

RIA Novosti reports the base’s expansion isn’t making nearby residents happy.  Those who object to it say its noise exceeds permissible levels, and causes headaches and sleeplessness.

On the Su-34s, Zelin said:

“I was recently at Novosibirsk aircraft plant.  One aircraft was already in flight test status.  The remainder are already in final assembly.”

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.