Tag Archives: Su-30

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.

Su-34 Completes State Testing

Su-34

This week an aviation industry source told Interfaks-AVN that the Su-34 fighter-bomber completed state joint testing, and Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Zelin signed off recommending state acceptance of the aircraft.  The Russian government is preparing the paperwork to this effect for release in 2012.

AVN also said the Su-34 will undergo additional special testing “conducted with the goal of broadening the Su-34’s combat potential.”  The report noted, in testing thus far, the aircraft employed 20 different weapons – including practically all Russian laser-, television-, and satellite-guided precision munitions.

One wonders if this “broadening combat potential” relates to outfitting the Su-34 with cruise missiles.  Lenta.ru’s Vasiliy Sychev recalled General-Colonel Zelin’s words:

“In its maneuver capabilities and missions it can conduct, it is close to Long-Range Aviation’s aircraft inventory.  If it carries a cruise missile, it belongs in a different class.”

According to Izvestiya’s Ilya Kramnik, there are 16 Su-34s in the inventory at present.  They first arrived in 2006.  The VVS are supposed to add six in 2011, get 12 in 2012, and reach 70 in 2015 and 120 by 2020, according to Zelin’s announcement at MAKS in August. 

Let’s recall a couple past promises . . . when Sergey Ivanov was Defense Minister, there were supposed to be 50 Su-34s by 2010, and 200 by 2015.

Kramnik writes that 120 Su-34s will be 70 percent of the fighter-bomber inventory, and some 50 modernized Su-24s will make up the balance.  Right now, there are about 160 Su-24M and 40 Su-24M2 in the force with their average ages in the 25-27 year range.  It sounds like about 10 of these aircraft can be modernized each year.

Lenta reviewed a little Su-34 history.  Conceived in the 1980s as a generation 4+ modification of the Su-27, it had its first prototype flight in 1990 as the T-10V-1.  It’s survived to this day, and been through many convolutions.

Henceforth the Su-34 will have a modernized AL-31F engine, the AL-31FM1 or AL-31F-M1.  See Aviaport.ru on it.  The Su-34 will carry new air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles on its 12 hardpoints.  It has new electronics, a Sh141 phased array radar, aerial refueling capability, and an updated L-150 “Pastel” radar warning system.  It also features an auxiliary power unit so it can use airfields without ground support equipment.

Lenta says the factory in Novosibirsk (NAPO) is modernizing its production lines to the tune of 2 billion rubles with some of the money reportedly coming from the state program of OPK modernization, about which we’ve heard little.  Putin talked about 3 trillion rubles for this over 2011-2020 back in April.

NAPO will give half its capacity to the Su-34, and will allegedly be capable of assembling 20 of them simultaneously, while cutting the time for repairs on other aircraft in half.

The news outlet lauds the Su-34 (rather obviously) as a new aircraft rather than a modernization of an aged one.  But then again one could argue it’s not completely new given that it’s been around, in one form or another, since the 1980s.

Kramnik, citing Konstantin Makiyenko, writes that a multirole fighter like the  Su-30 could perform the Su-34’s missions, but there’s some desire to send NAPO orders.  And the VVS, for their part, will take everything new that the aviation industry can give them.