Reviving the Russian Air Force

The Russian Air Force appears to have turned a corner on procurement, having received 40 new airplanes and 127 new helicopters in the last year. For the first time, the entire aviation procurement plan appears to have been fulfilled. The winged aircraft include 10 Su-34s, 6 Su-35s, 2 Su-30SMs, and over 20 Yak-130s. There’s no detailed breakdown of helicopters, though the bulk are probably Mi-28N and Ka-52s. This is an improvement on 2011, when 31 fixed-wing aircraft and over 50 helicopters were procured. Given that in 2010, the numbers were 23 and 37, respectively, we are seeing a positive trend in procurement of military aviation. It will probably still be tricky for the aircraft industry to reach the stated State Armament Program goal of delivering 1,120 helicopters and 600 fixed-wing aircraft by 2020, but reaching 70 percent of that target by 2020 seems quite doable, with the rest arriving by 2025 at the latest.

Ilya Kramnik has recently analyzed what the recent success in procurement means for the Russian air force. He notes that with the new aircraft, the Russian air force will have greater range, both because of the characteristics of the aircraft themselves and because they will all have the capacity for in-flight refueling. The new aircraft will also increase the air force’s ability to attack targets on the ground, as they will all be capable of using high precision weapons against ground targets. This capability will be augmented by an increase in the procurement of precision-guided munitions in coming years. Kramnik also notes the modernization of education and training for air force pilots, including the acquisition of modern flight simulators and an increase in average flight time to 100 hours per year.

Kramnik notes some remaining problems, including the need to improve infrastructure at air bases and the modernization of critical capabilities for supporting combat aircraft, including refueling, reconnaissance, AWACS, and electronic warfare aircraft. Without such aircraft, even the most modern combat aircraft cannot function effectively. In conclusion, Kramnik advocates the conversion of existing commercial aircraft (such as Il-62 and Il-86 jets currently in storage) into tankers, a process that could be done more quickly than building a sufficient number of new refueling aircraft and could give the air force 30-40 additional tankers by the end of the current decade. He argues that without this type of conversion program, this quantity of tankers could only be reached by the late 2020s, and even then only at the expense of a number of transport and AWACS aircraft. Such a program would allow each air base to have its own detachment of tankers.

All in all, Russia’s military aviation  industry is in pretty good shape. Russian strike aircraft are already of fairly high quality, with the main problems revolving around the age of the air frames rather than their capabilities. Sukhoi and Irkut have already shown themselves capable of producing new aircraft in a relatively timely manner. There are some questions concerning the feasibility of the development timelines for the T-50 fifth-generation fighter plane and the extent to which the plane will be equipped with true fifth-generation components, but every country that has sought to develop a fifth-generation fighter plane has run into delays. The essential point that the Russian military will have a fifth-generation strike fighter in serial production sometime in the next decade is beyond doubt. There are, however, questions about the future of MiG, which did not provide any new planes for the Russian air force last year or the year before.

As Kramnik highlights, what’s most needed is the revitalization of less glamorous parts of the aviation industry, especially transport and refueling aircraft. These are areas in which the air force has struggled to maintain capabilities in the post-Soviet period. The construction of new production lines for these types of aircraft will go a long way toward the MOD’s stated goals of making the Russian military more mobile and extending the range of its attack aircraft through aerial refueling. The MOD seems to be cognizant of this need and is going forward with projects to build these types of support aircraft.

 

Russian air force procurement plans

Not long ago, the Russian Air Force was in really bad shape. Almost all of its planes were 20-25 years old, outdated, and  in poor condition. It’s therefore not at all surprising that the State Armament Program made procurement of new aircraft a priority, with a total investment of 4 trillion rubles in that sector alone. In this week’s VPK, CAST’s Andrei Frolov and Mikhail Barabanov discuss these plans.

Some of the largest investments are in military transport aircraft. Frolov and Barabanov mention contracts in place to purchase 20 An-124 heavy transport aircraft starting in 2015, 39 Il-476 (aka Il-76MD-90A) heavy transport aircraft starting in 2014, 11 An-140 light transport aircraft (2 of which have already been delivered), and up to 30 Czech L-410UVP light transport aircraft (7 of which have already been delivered). In addition, there are plans to purchase up to 50 Il-214 MTA multi-role transportation aircraft, which are expected to be ready for production by 2016, and up to 20 An-148 passenger transport planes. Finally, 41 Il-76s and 20 An-124s will undergo modernization. Frolov and Barabanov mention the possibility of a tender for up to 100 Il-112 light transport planes, though this seems unlikely to me given that the MOD has previously rejected this plane in favor of the Antonov design.

The military is also planning to buy up to 30 refueling planes that will be based on the Il-476. There are also plans to buy an unspecified number of A-100 AWACS planes, which are currently under development, and 4 Tu-204 reconnaissance planes. These will serve in conjunction with 12 modernized A-50 AWACS planes and 10 modernized MiG-25RB reconnaissance planes.

In terms of strike aircraft, the air force is placing a big bet on the T-50 fifth generation strike fighter. Sixty of these planes are expected to be procured starting in 2016 (originally planned for 2014). While four T-50 prototypes are already being tested by the air force, by all indications new engines and advanced electronic systems (and especially its avionics) are not yet ready. This may lead to another round of delays in serial production.

While waiting for the T-50, the air force is receiving new S-35S “generation 4++” strike aircraft, 48 of which were ordered in 2009 for delivery through 2015. Four have been received to date. Barabanov and Frolov believe that an additional 48 or 72 Su-35′s may be ordered once the current order is complete. The air force is also slated to receive 30 Su-30SM fighters by 2015, with an option for an additional 30 planes. The first two of these have already been received. The Russian military has also received 4 Su-30M2s and 12 Su-27SM3s in the last couple of years, but is not planning to acquire any more planes of either type. Older planes are being modernized, including a total of 120 Su-25s (50 already upgraded) and 120 MiG-31s (at least 25 to be completed by the end of 2012).

In addition to the fighters, the air force has ordered 129 Su-34 fighter-bombers to be delivered by 2020, with an option for at least another 18. Fifteen of these planes have already been delivered. In the meantime, the air force is continuing to modernize its existing stock of Su-24s, with 50 already modernized and 50 to be upgraded before 2020.

In terms of training aircraft, 18 Yak-130s have been delivered as of October 2012, with another 49 on order and an option for another 10. The air force is also purchasing 12 Su-25UBM two-seaters that will likely be used for training.

By comparison, long-range aviation will get very little over the next decade. There are no plans to complete the two or three remaining Tu-160 strategic bombers whose production was started back in the Soviet period. Discussions about designs for a new long range bomber are continuing, but it remains uncertain whether the military will decide one is needed any time soon. In any case, production of new long range bombers would not start until after 2020. The only contracts in this sector are for modernization, including 30 Tu-22M3 bombers, 14-16 Tu-160 bombers, and up to 30 Tu-95MS bombers.

In terms of rotary-wing aircraft, there are contracts in place for 167 Mi-28N (45 already delivered),  180 Ka-52, and 49 Mi-35M (10 already delivered) attack helicopters. Transport helicopter orders include 38 Mi-26 heavy lift helos. Six have already been delivered and another 22 may be ordered in the future. Up to 500 Mi-8s of various types will be purchased. These are currently being produced at a rate of 50 per year. There are also contracts in place for 36 Ka-226 (6 already delivered) and 32 Ansat-U (16 delivered) light transport helicopters. Additional contracts for 38 Ansat-U and up to 100 Ka-62 helicopters may be placed in the near term. There is also discussion of the possibility of purchasing 100-200 Eurocopters for training purposes, though I personally find this unlikely.

To summarize all this, here’s a table that shows Frolov and Barabanov’s view of what the air forces will look like in 2020:

  New Modernized Old
Strategic and long range bombers none 16 Tu-160

36 Tu-95MS

30 Tu-22M3

20 Tu-95MS

70 Tu-22M3

Military transport and refueling aviation 39 Il-476

30 Il-478 (refueling)

60 An-70

50 MTA (Il-214)

30 L-410

20 An-148

10 An-140-100

100 light transport

3 Tu-154M

20 An-124-100

41 Il-76MDM

4 An-124

60 Il-76MD

20 Il-78 (refueling)

5 An-22

at least 20 An-26/30

at least 10 Tu-154B

at least 10 Tu-134UBL

Special purpose aircraft 2 Tu-204ON

2 Tu-204R

at least 5 A-100

at least 10 Il-20

at least 10 Il-22

12 A-50U

None
Tactical aviation 60 T-50

120 Su-35S

60 Su-30SM

4 Su-30M2

12 Su-27SM3

34 MiG-29SMT/UBM

140 Su-34

12 Su-25UBM

80 Yak-130

120 MiG-31BM

55 Su-27SM

120 Su-24M/MR

10 MiG-25RB

150 Su-25SM

150 Su-27

100 MiG-29

50 Su-24M/MR

50 Su-25

100 L-39

Army aviation 167 Mi-28N/NM

180 Ka-52

49 Mi-35M

38 Mi-26T/T2

500 Mi-8MTV/AMTSh

100 Ka-62

70 Ansat-U

36 Ka-226

100 light helos

30 Mi-24PN

20 Mi-VMTKO

20 Mi-26T

10 Ka-50

100 Mi-24V/P

300 Mi-8T/MTV

20 Mi-2

For those who read Cyrillic, here’s the (much prettier) Russian language version from their article.

Тысяча боевых самолетов к 2020 году

I would suggest treating this as the upper bound of what the Air Force could potentially have in 2020. Delays in production are almost certain to lead to reductions on the left side of the table, while inability to keep old aircraft in working condition will most likely decrease the numbers on the right side as well.

One final point — the authors of the VPK article argue that the greatest problem facing the air force by the end of the decade will be not a lack aircraft, but a lack of modern armaments for these aircraft. They argue that the air force will continue to lack air-to-air missiles with active radar guidance, smart bombs, and missiles with satellite guidance systems. They also believe that the Russian military will continue to lag well behind in UAV development.

I am actually expecting the Russian military by 2020 to somewhat decrease the gap in both precision guided munitions and UAVs when compared to Western militaries. Its capabilities won’t be anywhere near those of the United States, but they will be closer to it than they are now. This is because Russian defense industry in these two sectors are actually in pretty good shape and have some good designs that could be put into production fairly quickly.

So my takeway from all this is that in eight years the Russian air force will have lots of new planes, though not quite as many as they hope, and that these planes will be somewhat better armed than they are now.

 

Predictions on future Russian air force procurement

In a post on his blog, Ilya Kramnik today made a set of predictions regarding upcoming procurement plans for the Russian air force. Here’s a translation:

Combat aircraft:

  • a second contract for 48 Su-35s in 2014 or 2015, with deliveries in 2016-20.
  • a second contract for 24-32  Su-30SMs for naval aviation in 2013-2014, with deliveries in 2015-18.
  • accepting the option on 16 more Su-34s, in addition to 124 already ordered, with deliveries through 2020. An additional large contract may be concluded after 2015, so that the air force has a total of 180-200 Su-34s by 2025.
  • a contract for 48-72 MiG-35s in 2014-15, with deliveries through 2020. Without such a contract, MiG may have to be shut down.
  • a second contract for 12-16 MiG-29Ks for naval aviation is also likely.
  • a contract for 32-40 Su-25SM(or TM)/UBMs, with deliveries in 2017-22.
  • two contracts for T-50 fifth-generation fighter jets. First one would be 8-12 aircraft for the Lipetsk combat training center. That contract is likely to be concluded in 2013, with deliveries in 2014-16. A second contract for 40-60 aircraft is likely to be concluded in 2015, with deliveries scheduled for 2016-22.

Transport and special aircraft:

  • Contract for 30-40 Il-76MD-90As in 2013, with deliveries in 2016-20.
  • Contract for 10 An-124-300s in 2015, with deliveries in 2018-22.
  • Contract for 30-40 An-70s in 2015, with deliveries in 2019-25.
  • 25-30 special purpose Tu-204/214s, with deliveries in 2015-25.
  • Contract for 100 multi-functional transport aircraft in 2015, with delivery of the first 30 in 2019-25.
  • Contract for 40 light transport aircraft in 2015, with deliveries in 2019-24. Strong possibility that these will be foreign aircraft, such as the Italian C-27J Spartan, assembled in Russia under license.

Kramnik further notes that the recent discussion of delays in fulfillment of the State Armaments Program will most likely affect the air force least and the navy the most. I tend to agree. The aircraft industry is in much better shape than the shipbuilding industry (or the tank/artillery industries, for that matter). And the Russian military is less likely to scale back its ambitions for the air force than it is for the navy, which has already largely been consigned to the role of a coastal protection force for the foreseeable future. A delay in the development and construction of new destroyers won’t really affect the functioning of the navy too much at this point (given its current set of missions), as long as it can get its corvettes and frigates more or less on time and the Borei strategic submarines still get built.

Aircraft sales do provide the largest part of the Russian defense industry’s export earnings, however. So the question that arises for me is whether the industry will have the capacity to build all these aircraft in the expected time frame. Here we should distinguish between MiG, which (as Kramnik indicates) is desperate for orders in the aftermath of losing the Indian MMRCA tender, and Sukhoi, which has lots of orders for both the Russian military and foreign customers. Will Sukhoi be able to build all those planes at the same time? Possibly, but it will depend to some extent on the company’s success in modernizing its production facilities.

An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 3: joint projects and future prospects)

And here’s the conclusion to the three part series on Russian-Indian defense cooperation, written last summer. New posts return next week.

Joint Projects

In addition to purchases, Indian and Russian defense industries are working on a range of joint projects, some of which have already resulted in very successful products. As India increasingly shifts from importing to domestic manufacture of military hardware, joint production is likely to replace sales as the main driver of Russian-Indian defense cooperation.

The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is considered by some experts to be the fastest and most accurate cruise missile in the world. It has a range of 290km, can be used against ships or land targets, and can be launched from ships or land. Air and submarine launched versions are currently under development, with a design complete for Russia’s Amur diesel submarine. The missile is currently in service on Indian frigates and destroyers, as well as in the Indian army on mobile launchers. The air version will be installed on Indian aircraft by 2012. A faster and more accurate BrahMos II missile will be ready by 2014 and will be installed on the Kolkata class destroyers. It will be capable of speeds up to Mach 6. BrahMos version III, designed to be highly maneuverable and capable of steep dives, is currently under development. The BrahMos is not currently used by the Russian military, though version II may be equipped on the next generation Russian destroyers (project 21956) that are currently being designed. It is available for export, with Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and Malaysia involved in negotiations for a potential purchase.

A project to jointly develop a multi-role transport aircraft is in initial stages, with costs being split evenly among Rosoboronexport, UAC, and HAL. A joint venture was registered in India in December 2010. Developers believe that a prototype aircraft may be built in 6-8 years. It will be modeled on the Il-214, with a range of 2500km and a payload of up to 20 tons. The goal is produce around 200 aircraft, with 30 percent available for export.

India’s HAL is cooperating with Sukhoi on the development of a new fifth-generation fighter aircraft, which is slated to join the Russian and Indian air forces in the second half of this decade. This plane will be highly “stealthy” and highly maneuverable. Its top speed will exceed 2000 km per hour, with a maximum range of up to 5000 km. Its ability to take off and land on short runways make it a potential candidate for the development of a carrier-based naval version. A contract to produce a joint design for a two-seat version of the plane was signed in December 2010. The contract calls for Russia to procure 200 single-seat and 50 twin-seat aircraft, while India purchases 50 single-seat and 200 twin-seaters. HAL is to design the computer and navigation systems and most of the cockpit displays. It will also modify Sukhoi’s single-seat prototype into the twin-seat version. Currently, three single-seat prototypes are undergoing flight tests in Russia and may join the Russian air force as early as 2013. The Indian prototype is expected to be ready by 2015. The total value of the joint project is estimated at over $35 billion.

Future Prospects

Military cooperation between Russia and India is obviously very strong. The partnership has moved beyond arms sales and licensing of Russian designs for production in India to joint ventures that promise to link the two countries’ defense industries into close cooperation for the foreseeable future. At the same time, some recent problems with the relationship may be a harbinger of a long-term decline in Russian arms sales to India. The delays and cost overruns that have plagued the conversion of the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier into the INS Vikramaditya have been the most significant source for Indian complaints in recent years. The problems seem to have been worked out and Indian navy officials have recently stated that they have no complaints at this point.

At the same time, there have been problems with the timely provision of spare parts and resulting difficulties in repairing and servicing Russian-manufactured equipment by the Indian military. For example, half of India’s upgraded MiG-21s, which were modernized between 1996 and 2006, are already in disrepair and the backlog at Russian repair facilities has led the Indian air force to decide to cannibalize some of its existing aircraft rather than having all of them fixed. As a result, the modernized MiG-21s are to be retired by 2018, rather than the originally planned 2025.

The reform of the Russian military has also caused some problems, including the recent and sudden cancellation of the Indra-2011 military exercises that included both naval and ground forces components. It appears that these exercises were canceled because of organizational chaos in the Russian military. In addition, the Russian air force has so far refused to conduct joint exercises with India, possibly because of fears that Indian pilots flying Russian-built aircraft would outperform their Russian counterparts.

India’s desire to maintain a diverse set of suppliers has recently had some negative effects on Russian suppliers. Most significantly, the MiG-35 was not included among the finalists for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft competition. Since this loss leaves MiG with no guaranteed orders for the MiG-35, it is now unclear whether this jet will be built at all. Similarly, India recently decided to purchase six C-130 transport aircraft from the United States, rather than Russian Il-76 planes.

Finally, whereas in the initial stages of its military expansion, India was focused on procuring armaments that were cheap and easy to use, its foreign purchases are now largely limited to the most advanced technology. Simpler weapons and platforms, such as smaller ships and aircraft, are now largely built in India either to domestic designs or under license from foreign designers. As a result, Indian demand for foreign military hardware is likely to shrink over time. If Russia is to remain competitive on this shrinking market, it will have to provide its most advanced equipment and to expand joint design and production. The fact that it has been willing to do so with the Su-30MKI and T-50 fighter jets is a sign that Russia greatly values its partnership with the Indian military. India also values the partnership, since Russia is the only country currently willing to jointly develop military hardware with India. So despite the above-mentioned bumps in the road, it seems likely that Russian-Indian defense cooperation is likely to become stronger over the next decade.

 

An Enduring Partnership: Russian-Indian military cooperation (Part 2: aircraft and ground forces)

Here’s part 2 of the piece on military cooperation with India from last summer. Look for part 3 (on joint projects) next week, as well as an update on recent developments (which include the failure of the Mi-28 in the helicopter tender discussed below).

Aircraft

The vast majority of fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters operated by the Indian air force were purchased from Russia. These include 121 Mig-21 Bison, 69 Mig-29 Fulcrum, and 157 Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, 145 Mig-27UPG ground attack aircraft, 105 An-32 medium transport aircraft and 24 Il-76 heavy transport aircraft. The air force also operates three Il-76 aircraft equipped with Israeli EL/M-2075 Phalcon AWACS systems and 6 Il-78MKI aircraft fitted with Israeli refueling systems. In addition, the air arm of the Indian navy operates 8 Tu-142M and 5 Il-38SD maritime patrol aircraft. The latter aircraft, three of which were originally purchased 30-40 years ago, were modernized over the last 10 years.

In 2008, the two countries signed a contract to upgrade existing Mig-29s, in service since the 1980s, to the Mig-29SMT standard, at a total cost of $964 million. The first four aircraft will be upgraded in Russia, while the other 58 will be overhauled in India with the assistance of Russian experts. During the overhaul, which will be completed by 2013, the planes will be fitted with advanced avionics, new multi-functional Zhuk-ME radars, a new weapon control system, new armaments, and revamped engines. As a result, the lifespan of the aircraft will be extended by 25-40 years.

The Indian navy has ordered a total of 45 MiG-29K carrier-based fighter aircraft, to be used on the Vikramaditya and the indigenously built Vikrant. An initial 16 planes were ordered in 2004 as part of the Admiral Gorshkov/Vikramaditya deal, with delivery initially scheduled for 2011-12. The first five planes were transferred to India in early June 2011. In January 2010, the Indian navy ordered an additional 29 planes for the Vikrant at a cost of $1.5 billion. Together with a future naval variant of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.’s (HAL) Tejas planes, the MiG-29s will thus form the core of India’s naval aviation for the foreseeable future.

India has been purchasing fighter jets from Sukhoi since the mid-1990s. An initial contract for 50 Su-30 jets was signed in 1996. Four years later, HAL signed a $4 billion contract with Sukhoi to assemble from kits 140 Su-30MKI fighter jets. Since then, it has signed two further contracts for an additional 58 aircraft, worth a total of $2.4 billion. Eighteen of these planes were received in 2007 and 2009 in trade for an equal number of older Su-30K and MK aircraft that had been in service since the late 1990s. The other 40 were received in 2008-10 and included 20 finished aircraft and 20 assembly kits. The planes received in the first phase of deliveries are to be modernized, with 40 planes to be upgraded with new radars, avionics, and BrahMos supersonic missiles. The project will begin in 2012 and will be carried out by HAL at a cost of $2.34 billion with assistance from Russian experts.

A contract for another 42 planes at a total cost of $4.3 billion was negotiated in 2010. These planes are to be delivered by 2018. Their high unit cost, compared to previous units, has sparked rumors that these planes would be provided to India’s Strategic Forces Command and would be designed to carry nuclear weapons. These rumors have not been confirmed to date. Thus, by the end of this decade, the Indian air force plans to have a total of 270 Su-30MKI fighters in service at a total cost of around $14 billion, making it the dominant aircraft in its fleet. Furthermore, Mikhail Pogosyan, the head of Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), has stated that India might purchase an additional 200 Su-30s in the foreseeable future.

Other potential future aircraft sales to India include naval reconnaissance planes, where the Russian Be-200 amphibious plane is a finalist along with the Canadian Bombardier Q-400 and the Swedish Saab-2000. The United Aircraft Corporation’s Il-78 is a finalist (together with the EADS A-330) in a tender for refueling planes for the Indian air force.

The Indian military is also one of the largest customers of the Russian Helicopters Corporation. The air force currently operates 260 Russian-made helicopters, including 4 Mi-26 heavy transport helicopters, 68 Mi-8 and 156 Mi-17 utility and transport helicopters, 5 Mi-25U training helicopters, and 7 Mi-25 and 20 Mi-35 helicopter gunships. The navy operates 5 Ka-25 multi-purpose helicopters, 18 Ka-28 ASW helicopters, and 9 Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters. An additional 9 Ka-31s and 8 Ka-28s are under contract for future delivery.

India has been systemically replacing its aging Mi-8s and Mi-17s with upgraded Mi-17s. An initial contract for 80 armed Mi-17-V5s was signed in 2008, 59 Mi-17-1V transport helicopters were purchased in 2010, and a contract for another 80 Mi-17-V5s was signed in June 2011 at Le Bourget. The first four helicopters were delivered in September 2010, with further deliveries anticipated over the next five years. Russian Helicopters Corporation is also hoping to receive a contract to modernize 108 Mi-17s for the Indian army and 15 Ka-28s for the navy.

Russia has made the short list for all four helicopter tenders being conducted by India, which include the following:

1) A $2 billion tender for 197 small utility helicopters for the army, where the competition is between the Ka-226T Sergei and Eurocopter’s AS-550 Fennec;

2) a $600 million tender for 22 attack helicopters, with the Mi-28NE Night Hunter and the AH-64D Apache Longbow still in the running;

3) the Mi-26T2 is competing with the CH-47F Chinook in a $700 million tender for 15 heavy transport helicopters; and

4) a recently announced tender for 50 light multi-purpose naval helicopters.

Decisions on at least some of these tenders are likely to come later this year. If Russian Helicopters is chosen for at least one of these deals, it will increase its credibility for exports to other countries and potentially spur further foreign sales.

Ground Forces Equipment

Several years ago, the Indian army chose the Russian-made T-90 as its main battle tank. An initial party of 310 T-90S tanks had been purchased in 2001 and received by 2006. In 2007, it bought an additional 347 upgraded T-90Ms, which are being assembled in India under license. Another 1000 T-90M tanks will be built locally over the next ten years. The Indian army also operates almost 2000 older T-72 tanks and 1500-2000 Soviet-made BMP-1 and BMP-2 armored vehicles.

A significant percentage of the Indian army’s artillery and missile systems are also Soviet or Russian-made. The most significant items include the Tunguska and Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, Smerch and Grad multiple rocket launchers, as well as a range of tactical surface-to-air missile systems that includes the Strela, Osa, and Klub. The Indian Army also operates the S-200 and S-300 strategic SAM systems. However, India has no plans to make additional purchases for its ground forces from Russia, as it increasingly shifts to domestic military production.

 

The death of Tupolev

To continue the aircraft theme of the last few weeks, I just read a very informative article by Ruslan Pukhov that appeared in last week’s NVO. In this article, Pukhov contrasts the state of Russian aircraft design bureaus that have successfully made the transition to the post-Soviet economic environment, such as Sukhoi and (to a lesser extent) MiG, with those that haven’t, such as Ilyushin and (especially) Tupolev.

One might have expected quite the opposite situation, as MiG and Sukhoi designed aircraft exclusively for the military during the Soviet period, while Ilyushin and Tupolev combined military and commercial aviation. Given the complete lack of government financing for military procurement during the 1990s, one might have thought that a greater diversity of projects and clientele might have helped the latter two companies to come out of the 1990s in better shape than the purely military design bureaus.

Pukhov describes the many false starts made by Tupolev in its efforts to remain competitive in the commercial aircraft industry, including such recent howlers as a proposal for in-flight refueling of passenger aircraft. But the main source of its problems resulted from an inability to launch full serial production of its Tu-204/214 medium-range passenger airliner, which was designed in the late 1980s and has now become somewhat outdated. The situation was made worse by Tupolev’s difficulties in servicing these aircraft. Other potential projects, such as the Tu-334 regional jet and the supersonic Tu-444 business jet have fared even worse. The Tu-334 was recently canceled with only two prototypes built after two decades of effort, while the Tu-444 is unlikely to ever move beyond the concept stage. As a result, Tupolev seems poised to be completely shut out of the commercial airliner market in the very near future

Tupolev’s position in military procurement is not much better. Tupolev’s core military business was in long range and strategic bombers. While there are ongoing plans to modernize existing aircraft, these programs are proceeding very slowly. Pukhov believes that if the military ever decides to develop a new long range bomber, it is unlikely that Tupolev would get the contract for this work. Tupolev’s Soviet-era efforts to develop UAVs is largely useless for the types of missions required of 21st century UAVs. There is no chance that Russian efforts to design UAVs would be based on Tupolev’s experience in this field.

By contrast, Sukhoi in the last decade has not only developed a number of successful new combat aircraft, but has also entered the commercial aircraft market with the SSJ-100. The difference between these manufacturers goes a long way toward explaining the differences in the Russian military’s ability to relatively quickly restore the potential of its combat aircraft, versus the problems it is having in modernizing its transport aviation and developing an indigenous UAV capability. As Pukhov argues in his conclusion, the failure of companies such as Tupolev and Ilyushin to adapt has opened the door for new entrants to take over the commercial and military transport aircraft sectors. In addition to Sukhoi, the leading candidate for this role is Irkut, formerly just a manufacturing concern, which has now entered the design field with a new mid-range commercial airliner currently in developed and expected to enter production in 3-4 years. Tupolev, for its part, is likely to face closure in the next few years as United Aircraft Corporation consolidates its holdings.

 

Air Force procurement plans part 1: fighter aircraft

A long time ago, I promised some folks a report on the air force’s procurement plans for the coming decade. Various other projects pushed that to the back burner, but with MAKS 2011 fast approaching, now seems to be the time to resurrect it. The following is largely based on Anton Lavrov’s excellent chapter in the CAST center’s “Russia’s New Army” report. If you know Russian, I encourage you to go read the original. But if not, here’s my summary, with some additions based on developments since the report went to press.

Long term decay

The Russian Air Force received virtually no new planes or helicopters between 1995 and 2008. This means that by the start of the Medvedev presidency, even the most modern aircraft were 15-20 years old, while many were approaching 30. This means that not only were the planes physically old, but their designs were outdated when compared to Russia’s main military rivals. This means that almost none of them were equipped to use guided weapons. Furthermore, lack of money for maintenance meant that many aircraft were no longer in usable condition. Finally, lack of money for fuel meant that pilots did not receive adequate training to maintain or develop their skills, adding to the air force’s overall state of deterioration. These problems were exposed during the 2008 war in Georgia, when six planes were lost in five days. Furthermore, the air force was assessed to be ineffective in combat operations due to a combination of its lack of guided munitions and the pilots’ limited training.

Fighter and Ground Attack Aircraft

Throughout the post-Soviet period, the Russian air force’s combat forces have consisted primarily of five types of aircraft:

  • Su-24: The venerable Su-24 attack aircraft was introduced into the Soviet air force in 1974. According to warfare.ru, around 320 of these aircraft are in service in the Russian air force.
  • Su-25: close air support plane introduced in 1981. Approximately 200 in service.
  • Su-27:  fourth generation fighter plane introduced in 1984. Approximately 260 in service.
  • MiG-29: fourth generation fighter plane introduced in 1983. Approximately 190 in service.
  • MiG-31: interceptor introduced in 1982. Approximately 140 in service.

These planes will remain the primary combat aircraft in the Russian air force for the next decade. Some types have undergone significant modernization.

Between 2003 and 2008, 55 Su-27s were modernized to the Su-27SM variant, including the installation of new engines, which has substantially extended their expected lifespan. The modernized aircraft are based at the 6987th and 6989th air bases in the Far East. An additional 12 new Su-27SM3 aircraft were ordered from Sukhoi in 2009. Eight of these have already been delivered and the rest will be received by the end of 2011.

Relatively few MiG-31s have been modernized to the MiG-31BM version that includes improved avionics and navigation systems and better armament. Recent reports indicate that the defense ministry is preparing a contract to modernize another 30 MiG-31s to the MiG-31BM level.

Substantial purchases of new combat aircraft began in 2008, after a 15 year gap. Initially, the air force bought 28 MiG-29SMT and 6 MiG-29UBT planes, which had been sold to Algeria but were then rejected by the latter ostensibly due to problems with the planes’ quality. Despite these concerns, some analysts consider these aircraft to be highly capable because they are equipped with the most modern electronics and the best weapon systems of any aircraft in the Russian air force. An additional 26 MiG-29K aircraft are expected to be purchased in the next five years.

They are to be supplanted by the Su-35S fighter planes, 48 of which are to be procured in the next five years together with 4 Su-30M2 two-seater trainers. However, there have been significant delays in the development of the Su-35s. The first plane was made available for flight testing in May 2011, five months behind schedule, and the timetable for subsequent aircraft has likewise been extended. The delays have been caused by limited space for final assembly at the Komsomolsk assembly plant, which is busy assembling Sukhoi Superjets for the civilian market. Analysts expect another 24-48 Su-35s to be purchased in the near future.

Down the road, the T-50 is seen as the future of Russian fighter jets. This heavy fifth generation fighter is being developed jointly by Sukhoi and India’s HAL Corporation. The first test flight was conducted in January 2010. The goal is to procure 60 T-50s in the 2016-2020 time period. It is slated to fully replace the remaining Su-27s in the following decade.

However, there is no obvious replacement for the MiG-29 light fighter jets. The MiG-35‘s failure in the recent Indian MMRCA tender has left it with few prospects in either the domestic or export markets. In any case, it is not a next generation aircraft such as the American F-35, but merely an extension of the MiG-29 line.

The situation is somewhat worse for the modernization of Russia’s fighter-bombers. The air force has repeatedly declared that the Su-24 is to be replaced by the Su-34, which began development in the mid-1990s. After the first two aircraft were ordered in 2006, then defense minister Sergei Ivanov stated that 44 would be in service by 2010 and 200 by 2015, at which time all the Su-24s would be retired. However, only 6 Su-34s have actually been transferred to the air force as of the end of 2010, in addition to 5 prototypes that were built prior to 2006. Sukhoi seems to be on track to build 6-8 planes per year, which would allow the company to fulfill the 2008 contract for 32 planes by 2014, only a year or so behind schedule. The Russian press is reporting that contracts for another 80 Su-34s will be signed in the next few months. However, at the current rate of construction, it will still take 25 years to build all 200. Sukhoi would have to gradually double the rate of construction to get them built by 2025.

Because of the delays with the Su-34s, the air force has decided to modernize the existing Su-24Ms, rather than simply replacing them. An initial 30 planes were modernized to the Su-24M2 level, which features improved navigation and weapons control systems and improved armaments, in 2007-09. Further upgrades may occur in the future.

The air force has also been modernizing its Su-25 close air support planes. Between 2006 and 2010, a total of 40 aircraft were upgraded to the Su-25SM variant, which has improved avionics. Rather than buying or designing new planes, the air force has decided to extend the lifespan of its existing Su-25s to 40 years, allowing them to remain in service through 2030. In the meantime, the air force has ordered 16 Su-25UBM trainer planes, which will be received in the next 2-3 years.

However, the experience of the Georgia war has shown that the Su-25 is highly vulnerable to enemy fire, because it is armed with unguided munitions and therefore has to approach within 600 to 800 meters of targets if it is to have any chance of hitting them.  As a result, three Su-25s were lost and four damaged during the war. These losses should not have come as a surprise to the Russian military, as it sustained similarly high casualty rates on these planes in Afghanistan back in the 1980s. In a recent article, Ilya Kramnik argues that the solution is to restart building Su-25T (aka Su-39) aircraft, which are similar to the Su-25SMs but were designed to use guided munitions in any weather or light conditions. The Russian air force currently operates no more than six such planes, built in the 1980s and early 2000s.

Overall, the situation with fighter aircraft seems to be relatively good for the long term. Sukhoi (and to a much lesser extent MiG) is in fairly good shape and can continue to supply the air force with relatively modern planes as long as it continues to receive funding. The joint venture with India’s HAL Corporation may help in developing better electronic systems for the long term.

Future prospects of the United Aircraft Corporation

In today’s VPK, Ilya Kramnik discusses the prospects of the UAC. Here are some highlights. This is in the context of the removal of Aleksei Fedorov as the company’s director and his replacement by Mikhail Pogosian, the general director of the company’s Sukhoi and MiG divisions.

Military Aircraft

Kramnik notes that the prospects of the Sukhoi division are much better than those of MiG. Sukhoi’s strength is based on the success of its Su-27 fighter plane, which has not only become the mainstay of the Russian air force, but has been exported to 17 countries. These planes are used by countries as diverse as Angola, Eritrea, China, and Indonesia, as well as several former Soviet states. Kramnik argues that delays in the production of NATO’s F-35 will ensure continued exports for the Su-27 in the coming decade.

Sukhoi’s future success in the domestic market lies in the 4++ generation Su-35 fighters and Su-34 bombers, as well as orders of Su-30MKI fighters, which were previously manufactured exclusively for export. Down the road, Sukhoi will be building the fifth generation fighter aircraft (known variously as the PAK FA or T-50), both for the domestic market and for export to India. In addition to the construction of new aircraft, Sukhoi will be busy modernizing existing Russian air force planes, including the Su-25 close air support planes, Su-24 bombers, and the older Su-27 fighters. After modernization, these planes may be expected to serve another 15-20 years.

Compared to Sukhoi, MiG is in fairly poor shape. Few of its MiG-29 fighters have been sold abroad in the post-Soviet period, while the Russian air force has focused on modernizing Su-27s rather than its MiG-29s. The crashes of two MiG-29s in 2008, which led to an investigation that revealed serious corrosion in the tail sections of 80 percent of existing MiG-29s, was a further blow to the aircraft’s reputation.

MiG is now betting on two projects. The MiG-29K is the naval version of the MiG-29, and will be used on the Indian Vikramaditya carrier and most likely on the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov. The MiG-35 is a 4++ generation fighter aircraft that is in the running in the Indian Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft competition. Prospects for victory in the tender seem somewhat poor, given rumors that MiG-35 was not on a list of finalists. Without a victory in this tender, its prospects are unclear, given that the Russian air force is focused primarily on procuring Su-35 and PAK FA fighters. Unless the MiG-35 wins the MMRCA tender, UAC may well fold the Mikoyan division into Sukhoi.

Passenger Aircraft

Kramnik argues that UAC’s prospects in building commercial aircraft are relatively poor. UAC no longer builds long range commercial aircraft, while the construction of the Tu-204 mid-range aircraft was recently in crisis with the possibility of a construction freeze under discussion until recently because of production problems and a lack of orders. A recent order by a Russian airline for 44 Tu-204SM aircraft has revived this plane’s prospects. Its production is scheduled to end in 2014 in favor of the MS-21 aircraft currently in design, though there is little confidence that the new plane will be ready by then.

The joint Russian-Ukrainian An-148 regional jet has achieved significant popularity, with 237 planes ordered by companies and governments in nine countries. However, only eight planes have been delivered since the An-148 first went on the market in 2009 and slow production continues to be a problem.

The An-148 may be displaced by the SSJ regional jet, which is being built by a joint venture between Sukhoi and an Italian company. This plane is currently undergoing certification but may be ready for operations sometime in the next year. Over 180 planes of this type have been ordered by airlines from seven countries.

Despite the relatively high number of orders for UAC’s regional jets, production delays and the lack of a viable long range commercial airliner products has clouded the prospects for UAC’s commercial aviation division.

Cargo Aircraft

Existing Russian cargo aircraft are getting old. Most of the fleet are Antonov planes, built in Ukraine. The largest and most modern of these are the An-124, which have been in the fleet since the 1980s. An-12, An-22, and An-26 aircraft are much older, with many dating from the 1960s.

UAC’s Ilyushin division will fill the bulk of the Russian air force’s cargo plane needs in the coming decade. The Il-76, built by UAC, is the mainstay of the Russian air force and common in civilian use as well. The average age of these planes, however, is 30 years, so they are rapidly approaching the end of their useful lives. The air force is planning to modernize about 100 of its Il-76s, including the installation of new engines, which would allow them to last another 20-30 years. Kramnik believes that it’s possible that some could be used for as long as a total of 80-100 years, with suitable maintenance and occasional engine replacements.

In addition, UAC is planning to build a modernized version of the Il-76, labeled the Il-476, with digital flight controls, new avionics and new engines. 30-40 of these will be purchased by the Russian air force beginning in 2014.

UAC will also build smaller cargo planes, including the light Il-112 and medium Il-214, though neither is expected to enter serial production before 2015.  Some experts believe that neither of these planes will be built because of excessive cost increases. If these planes are canceled, the air force will have to order planes from abroad. Kramnik suggests that the Ukrainian An-178 could be a substitute for the Il-112, while the Italian C-27J Spartan might be bought instead of the Il-214.

Seaplanes

UAC’s Beriev division builds Be-200 special purpose amphibious aircraft designed for search and rescue operations, maritime patrol, and fire fighting. Several Be-200 planes are operated by the Russian and Azerbaijani Ministries for Emergency Situations, with another 10 on the way for the Russian MES.

Assessment

Though the situation in the Russian aircraft industry is better now than it was a few years ago, many problems remain. Most importantly, the average pay of workers and engineers at Russia’s main aircraft plants is lower than of sales people in Moscow and St. Petersburg, while the technical education system is much worse at preparing new workers for this field than in the Soviet period. Furthermore, most of the main plants have not been substantially modernized. As a result of these problems, we are likely to see continued production delays for most of the aircraft described above.

PAK FA: An initial success for the Russian military

Today, Russia’s fifth generation fighter plane had its first test flight. Sukhoi’s T-50, also known as the PAK FA (which stands for “perspective aviation complex for frontal aviation,” I kid you not). The test flight was originally supposed to occur yesterday, but problems with the steering and brake systems caused the flight to be delayed by a day. Todays flight lasted 47 minutes and went off without a hitch (see the video below).

This plane is supposed to be comparable to the American F-22 fighter plane, which entered service in 2005, though somewhat lighter (therefore sharing some characteristics with the newer F-35 joint strike fighter, which is currently in final in-flight testing). Design of the T-50 began in 2002, with the first prototype being built in 2007. While the plane is obviously capable of flight, it is not clear which of its systems are ready, as journalists were not allowed to approach the plane closely. Initial reports stated that the fifth generation engines are not yet ready, so the prototype flew with a modernized Saturn-117S engine, similar to those used on the Su-35BM. Subsequently, Saturn, the manufacturer of the engine, put out a press releasestating that the prototype flew with an entirely new engine that was not based on the 117S. The same information was reported by RIA-Novosti. At the same time, no information was provided on the readiness of the plane’s radar and weapons systems.

The T-50 is expected to reach a maximum speed of 2000km/hour, have a range of over 5000 kilometers (with refueling) and have superior maneuverability and stealth characteristics. It is also expected to have the other characteristics of fifth generation fighter planes, such as integrated multifunctional radioelectronic systems and new advanced weaponry. It is being designed in cooperation with the Indian Air Force.

The air force plans to procure 150-200 T-50s by 2030, with India procuring at least another 200-250. There are also plans to sell the aircraft to countries that would like to purchase a fifth generation fighter plane, but do not want to or are restricted from purchasing American or Chinese models. The cost of the plane’s design is assessed at around $12-14 billion. Each plane is expected to cost $100 million, which compares favorably to the $175 million cost of each F-22, but is more expensive than the much lighter F-35.

Plans call for the plane to enter serial production in the next 3-5 years, with the air force receiving the first planes in 2015. However, Ruslan Pukhov, the director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, believes that because of expected budget cuts, it is more likely to enter active service sometime in 2018-20. If this is the case, it will mean that Russia will be about 12-15 years behind the US in fighter aircraft design, but about on par with China. Not a bad result given that pretty much all development was suspended in the 1990s due to a lack of financing.

The test flight is a big psychological boost for the Russian defense industry, which has been criticized by top government officials in recent months for its inability to build high tech weaponry. As Vitaly Shlykov noted, it may lead to an increase in exports for a variety of Russian weapons, showing buyers that Russia’s arms manufacturers are capable of producing the most modern weapons systems.

Russian military planners expect to use the fighter to counter potential threats from “neighboring states that are conducting a demonstratively russophobic foreign policy” and may come to possess F-35s in the next 15-20 years. It is also expected to be used to counter potential threats from China and its fifth generation fighters, which are currently in development. How real these threats might actually be is another matter, but as journalists and military planners like to point out, the plane is designed for a 40-50 year lifespan, and no one knows what the world will be like in 2040 or 2050.