Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ashurbeyli Interviewed (Part II)

The rest of former Almaz-Antey chief Igor Ashurbeyli’s interview with RIA Novosti . . .

Asked about the future of PVO, PRO, and VKO, Ashurbeyli says he sees the role of ground-based systems declining, and future “fire means” — after the S-500 — will be air-based.  Part of them, he claims, are already in RDT&E.

Returning more to the present, the former Almaz-Antey head says the Defense Ministry asks the impossible of weapons developers.  They have to sign contracts they know they can’t complete in the stipulated time frames, otherwise they’d have no work.

Ashurbeyli goes on to explain Almaz-Antey’s current production quandary.  The S-300 has been made only for export over the last 15 years.  One foreign order has just been filled, and only one remains.  So Ashurbeyli sees a gap between S-300 and S-400 production, and he predicts a decline in the factory’s operations in 2013 or even late 2012.

The lead-time for producing S-400 components is 24 months.  So, without budget advances today, there won’t be anything to produce in 2013.  In 2011, Ashurbeyli says, not a single supplementary S-400 production contract has been signed.

Ashurbeyli sounds a lot like former MIT head and solid-fuel ICBM maker Yuriy Solomonov who announced in early July that the 2011 state defense order is already broken.  Is it a coincidence both men were unseated from their general director and chief designer duties?

Ashurbeyli says:

“At the same time, the load on the plant today is far from full and the absence of contracts doesn’t allow for further renewing equipment and technology.  We have to understand that the S-400 is made on the very same equipment as the S-300.”

In response to another question, Ashurbeyli makes his case for consolidating the structure of aerospace defense industries.  He calls for a unified industrial corporation, a Concern VKO, to execute the Defense Ministry’s orders, and it’s needed, he continues, when a unified VKO is established [before 2012].  Organized like OAK or OSK, Concern VKO would bring in VKO-related weapons developers who aren’t part of Concern PVO Almaz-Antey. 

Ashurbeyli says this fall he’ll propose his view on how to integrate these enterprises and how to build the future VKO system to the country’s leadership.

So, where does this leave us?  If Ashurbeyli’s description is realistic, there’s no shortage of Almaz-Antey production capacity and no real need for new plants.  The problem is the lack of orders from the Defense Ministry.  For all the hype about increased defense spending and 20-trillion-ruble GPV 2011-2020, the absence of orders could be due to the military’s lack of cash or its difficulty arranging bank financing.  Or, despite Defense Minister Serdyukov’s talk about streamlining the GOZ, it could be that bureaucratic sclerosis (or corruption) is hindering the issuance of new contracts.

T-50 at MAKS-2011

A little Russia Today video of the T-50’s public debut on Wednesday at MAKS that someone was kind enough to upload . . .

 

The demonstration flight was made with Prime Minister Putin and other officials in attendance.  Novyye izvestiya said RIA Novosti reported the T-50 prototype wouldn’t perform the most complex maneuvers since it’s still in flight testing.

The press indicated one of the two prototypes will make a daily 15-minute flight at MAKS, but the aircraft isn’t on ground display.

RIA Novosti reported Sukhoy’s information that the two T-50, or PAK FA, prototypes have completed 84 flights.  Two more prototypes will join testing this year.

ITAR-TASS said air frame testing will finish in late 2012, and in 2013, ten T-50s will go to the Lipetsk Center for Combat Employment and Flight Crew Retraining.  VVS CINC Aleksandr Zelin noted only that his service will receive its first model for testing in 2013. 

Press reports say serial production is scheduled to begin in 2014-2015, with the Defense Ministry buying more than 50, 60, or even 150 of the fifth generation fighter in all.  ITAR-TASS noted that the plane’s state acceptance is planned for 2016.

General Director and Designer of Tactical Missile Weapons Corporation, Boris Obnosov told Interfaks his company is working on a new 200-km interceptor [air-to-air] missile for the PAK FA.  Test missiles reportedly will come this year, and series production next.  This Aviaport.ru article talks a little about weapons being designed for PAK FA.

Ashurbeyli Interviewed (Part I)

Igor Ashurbeyli (photo: RIA Novosti / Sergey Pyatakov)

Former Almaz-Antey General Director Igor Ashurbeyli gave RIA Novosti a long interview published on Monday.  Ashurbeyli was replaced at Almaz-Antey in early 2011, and he’s now a co-chair of the “Extradepartmental Expert Council on Aerospace Defense.”

He’s an accessible figure, having had extended sessions with the media in 2010 and 2009.  And his view of things has been pretty consistent.

This most recent Ashurbeyli interview spawned a number of sound bites saying that the former lead designer (among other things): 

  • called for establishing an overarching VKO industrial concern; 
  • offered the S-500 for European missile defense; and
  • said S-300 production has ended.

He actually had a lot more to say that might be worth a look.

Asked about Moscow’s anti-missile defense, Ashurbeyli replied that the service life of some Russian strategic interceptor missiles expired, while others [53T6 or Gazelle missiles] had their nuclear warheads removed per the decision of former President Yeltsin. 

Then Ashurbeyli gets to his point — the need for a new anti-missile defense (PRO) led to work on the mobile S-500 system.  Under the contract, it’s supposed to be accepted into the arsenal in 2015.  A schematic draft is complete, and technical design is being conducted.

On air defense, he says the S-300 and S-400 cover Moscow, but the service life of S-300PS systems will expire in the next year or two, and the new Vityaz system won’t be ready to take its place in the PVO network.

Ashurbeyli adds that Vityaz is expected in 2014-2015, but delays are possible due to problems with the new missile.

But, insists the former Almaz-Antey chief, there have never been any technical problem with the long-range missile for the S-400.  He says the problems have involved financing, preparing prototypes, and targets.  More targets and an updated target complex were needed.  And he foresees possibly the same problems with Vityaz testing.

Ashurbeyli tells his interviewer Vityaz, unlike the S-400, has just one base missile.  It will cover the same missions as the S-300PS and S-300PM.  The latter were last manufactured in 1994, and several dozen of the “freshest” will still have life for the next 7-10 years.  Most were updated to the Favorit (S-300PMU2) level but they aren’t new.  So, Ashurbeyli concludes, Russia needs to produce enough Vityaz to replace fully its S-300PS and S-300PM inventory.

The interviewer says relatively less has been written about Morfey.  Ashurbeyli obliges.  Morfey, he says, is a super short-range system and part of Russia’s echeloned defense.  While Vityaz is a medium-range system, and Pantsir and Tor are short-range weapons, Morfey is super short-range.  If developed as envisioned, Morfey will be unique.  It will have an omnidirectional cupola-type radar instead of a rotating one.

In sum, Ashurbeyli believes Morfey, Vityaz, S-400, and S-500 will be sufficient for the ground-based component of VKO for 20-25 years.  The tasks for Morfey and Vityaz were set in 2007 when the VPK decided to develop a single fifth generation surface-to-air PVO-PRO system.  The more complex S-500, he notes, will be longer in development.

More later.

Air Forces Prospects

With MAKS-2011 underway, this is something of a moving target.  Before getting to the main topic, a little news from Zhukovskiy . . . some of today’s headlines. 

OAK President Mikhail Pogosyan told the press two more T-50 prototypes will join the development and testing program this year.  He expects more than 100 military transport aircraft to be bought under GPV 2011-2020.  Il-112, Il-476, and Il-76MD will come first, then ten An-124 in 2014-2015, and later a larger number of An-70s.  Pogosyan said, starting from 2011, OAK will deliver more than 20 combat aircraft each year.

VVS CINC, General-Colonel Zelin told the media he foresees five squadrons of Su-34 (possibly as many as 120 aircraft).  The VVS will have six by the end of 2011 and will get 12 next year under the current contract for 32 aircraft.

For Air Forces Day, RIA Novosti had military commentator Konstantin Bogdanov describe how he sees things developing for this armed service.  How he puts the Air Forces’ future picture together is worth a look.

Bogdanov says he sees, for the first time since the Soviet collapse, movement, a turnaround in procurement financing, and real deliveries of aircraft in 2011. 

Interestingly, he begins with the Su-35S.  Forty-eight of these “transitional” 4++ generation fighters will be procured, but there could be more if there is any delay in the 5th generation T-50.  Bogdanov suggests, even without a  delay, the pragmatic Defense Ministry leadership could decide to blend 4th and 5th generation technology and equipment in one aircraft.

Bogdanov maintains one Su-34 flew missions in the 5-day war with Georgia [has anyone seen this elsewhere?], then got its serial production go-ahead, and contract for 32 aircraft in fall 2008.  Modernizing the aged Su-24 is a backup plan for the Su-34.  Bogdanov claims VVS CINC Zelin has hinted that ALCM-armed Su-34s could go to LRA.

Some old Su-27s have been updated to Su-27SM, and even a few new Su-27SM3 — unsold to China — have been obtained.

RSK MiG’s future, according to Bogdanov, looks less certain.  Russia had to buy the defective Algerian MiG-29SMTs.  It’s unclear if the Defense Ministry will have any requirement for the MiG-35.  And this leaves MiG with the possibility of providing MiG-29Ks to replace the Navy’s Su-33 fighters on the Kuznetsov’s deck.

Bogdanov then mentions how Irkut has parleyed its export success into more domestic sales.  He says the firm has redeveloped its Indian Su-30MKI into the Su-30SM, and it may sell as many as 40 to the Defense Ministry.  Twelve might go to replace Naval Aviation’s Su-24s at Gvardeyskoye in the Black Sea Fleet [apparently these aircraft weren’t swept up by the VVS earlier this year].  Similarly, says Bogdanov, KnAAPO last fall sold the VVS four Su-30M2s, domestic versions of its Su-30MK2 export.

Turning to rotary-wing aircraft, Bogdanov sees stable order books for Russian helicopter makers.  The order books are balanced in terms of military and civilian, and internal and external buyers, and all sales sectors are growing.

He says by 2010 the military’s contract for Mi-28N helicopters reached 100 units and serial production of its main competitor, the Ka-52, continued.  Mi-8s have been bought by the dozens.  And the hangars and flight decks of Mistral helicopter carriers will have to be filled in the future.

Bogdanov concludes more than 100 helicopters of all types may be procured before the end of 2011.  He repeats the familiar goal of 1,000 new helicopters by 2020, and says the near-term future for this sector looks good.

Bogdanov sees more clouds in military transport development and production.  Il-476 production at Ulyanovsk still needs to stand up, and Zelin’s already announced that a new A-100 AWACS will be based on it.  Restarting An-124 production and buying the An-70 from Ukraine are possibilities with details to be worked out.

Focused on platforms, Bogdanov gives short shrift to organizational and human aspects of VVS development.  He notes the Air Forces are completing the change from mission-oriented air armies and divisions to territorial composite or mixed formations (air bases), and he briefly mentions scandals over the handling of “order 400” premium pay.  But he concludes:

“In coming years we’ll see more than a few painful symptoms in the VVS, both strictly aviation-related and internal, and those connected to the general background of difficult transformations of the country’s armed forces.  Let there be pains, but let them be growing pains.”

News on New Almaz-Antey Plants

According to TsAMTO, the press-service of OAO Concern PVO ‘Almaz-Antey’ says the firm will sell supplemental stock this month, and some of the extra working capital will be used to finance construction of two new surface-to-air missile assembly plants.  Hat tip to VPK.name for highlighting the story.

Specifically, Almaz-Antey intends to spend more than 3.5 billion rubles to finance the new factories.  Four and a half billion rubles in federal budget money was already allocated to this effort in 2010 in exchange for additional government shares in the company.  And Almaz-Antey is also using government-backed credit in the expansion. 

The assembly facilities will be in Nizhniy Novgorod and Kirov.  They are supposed to be complete in 2015.

Bulava Plans

Plans for Bulava SLBM testing may be shifting.  When last we checked, Navy CINC Vysotskiy said look for four more tests with a salvo launch this year or next, but an OPK source said expect a salvo test in late August or fall.  The latter sounds more like what we are reading today.  In sum, it seems someone’s in a hurry to give Bulava final approval.

This morning ITAR-TASS reported Borey-class SSBN Yuriy Dolgorukiy will conduct a maximum of two Bulava SLBM test launches, including a salvo launch, before the end of this year.  The news agency’s interlocutor said:

“It’s still planned to conduct the next, the 16th, flight test of one missile in the last ten days of August, and then – in fall or even in December – a salvo launch of two ‘Bulava’ missiles.  But another possibility isn’t ruled out – conducting a salvo launch of two missiles right off in August, omitting a single missile test.  Next week it will be known which possibility was finally selected.”   

The state commission told ITAR-TASS:

“Whatever the testing variant, in the event of a successful ‘Bulava’ salvo launch, a decision on accepting this missile system into our Navy’s arsenal will follow.”

ITAR-TASS also reported Borey number two Aleksandr Nevskiy has begun factory testing, and number three Vladimir Monomakh is 50 percent complete.

Another Bet on Space Troops

The press continues picking up tidbits on the formation of Aerospace Defense (VKO).  In contrast to some recent information, Kommersant said yesterday General-Lieutenant Oleg Ostapenko and his Space Troops (KV) have the upper hand in carrying out President Medvedev’s number one task from last year’s Federal Assembly address.

Meanwhile unofficial Air Forces (VVS) representatives are still confident VKO will be subsumed in the VVS (in Air Defense or PVO specifically). 

But normally well-informed military journalists have consistently maintained KV will get the mission and organization.  And General-Lieutenant Ostapenko has publicly stated he already has it. 

We can’t forget that General Staff Chief Nikolay Makarov at one point suggested the Genshtab might take KV and PVO and establish VKO under its own control.

Kommersant’s most recent information says coordination of a candidate for chief of VKO has begun, and KV Commander Ostapenko is the frontrunner.  VKO will be established on the foundation of KV, according to the business daily.

Three VKO command and control posts will be established – in the VVS Glavkomat in Zarya (Balashikha, long PVO’s headquarters), in Krasnoznamensk (space monitoring’s headquarters), and in KV’s Moscow headquarters.

Kommersant’s information suggests VVS Commander, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin’s future hasn’t been decided and he could retire (or be retired).

Krasnaya zvezda reported that, in his recent press-conference, Zelin indicated OSK VKO (the old Moscow Air Defense District) will join a VKO Command including both KV and the VVS’ PVO and PRO Command on December 1.

The path seems pretty clear for KV to take charge of Russia’s VKO, but the bureaucratic struggle for it probably isn’t over.  There’s still time for surprises before the December 1 deadline.

Zelin’s Press Availability

Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin made a variety of remarks to the media this morning.  It’s not clear where yet, but it might have been a press-conference at ITAR-TASS.  It’s the season for such things with Air Forces Day and MAKS-2011 just ahead.

At any rate, Zelin had a lot of information on the status of different VVS programs and plans:

  • Army aviation will expand by more than 1,000 helicopters by 2020.  The number of army aviation bases will grow from 8 to 14 during that time.  He mentioned reestablishing production of Mi-26 transports in a POL supply variant.  Zelin doesn’t sound like he’s willing to surrender the VVS’ hold on army aviation.
  • Zelin mentioned getting 8 or 6 new Su-34 this year.  ITAR-TASS gave both numbers, but we’ve seen six elsewhere.
  • The VVS CINC criticized work on the Su-35, saying it has a number of problems.  PAK FA / T-50 is going on schedule, but he wouldn’t say when he expects it to enter the inventory.
  • On UAVs, some drones will go to the Ground Troops per a Genshtab decision, but Zelin says operational-tactical unmanned aircraft will stay at air bases under the control of military district commanders.
  • Without mentioning S-500 development, Zelin talked about new Morfey and Vityaz SAMs.  Morfey is a short-range system mentioned before as part of S-500.  Zelin described Vityaz in greater detail, calling it an improvement on the S-300 with greater capabilities and 16 missiles per launcher.  See ITAR-TASS for this.
  • Zelin said there will be four S-400 regiments by the end of 2011.  He said the second one, the 210th Air Defense Regiment, went on combat duty with it last week, so two more are expected.  The CINC said the manufacturer’s had problems with the system’s long-range missile, but there is an understanding on how to resolve them.  The Air Forces, he says, still want Almaz-Antey to build another production plant.  Interfaks posted on this.
  • The next 6 Pantsir-S gun-missile air defense systems will go to the OSK VKO around Moscow.  Zelin said the first 4 went to the 4th Air Forces and Air Defense Command at Novorossiysk.
  • Another flight demonstration group will be formed using Yak-130 trainers.
  • Zelin expects to get a new A-100 AWACS aircraft, based on the Il-476, by 2016.  He says it will have both air and ground surveillance missions.  The plan has Genshtab and financial support, according to Zelin.

Possible Mikhalkov Replacement

Aleksey Nemov

Interfaks reports 35-year-old former Olympic gymnastic champion, Aleksey Nemov is the frontrunner to chair the Defense Ministry’s Public Council.  The agency cites Valentina Melnikova, head of the Committee of Soldiers’ Mothers of Russia and herself a member of Public Council’s presidium.

Nemov’s possible appointment first surfaced on July 23.  He’s reportedly a United Russia member.  Melnikova said the Defense Ministry proposed Nemov to the presidium, but the Council is also considering other candidates.  She said a final decision on a new chairman will come at the Council’s September meeting, according to Obshchaya gazeta.  She considers Nemov a sufficiently well-known and worthy candidate for the job.

Nemov would replace flamboyant and outspoken film director Nikita Mikhalkov who resigned abruptly in May when the Defense Ministry took back his migalka – the flashing light and siren enabling officials, the wealthy, and the well-connected to drive through and around Moscow’s monstrous traffic jams.

Mikhalkov claimed he quit to protest the way in which the last two Victory Day parades were conducted (participation by NATO troops, president and prime minister seated while observing, etc.), changes in military education and training, and his self-professed inability to influence the situation in the army.

Forum.msk concludes, if Nemov becomes the next head of the Defense Ministry’s Public Council, he’s appropriately named.  His surname comes from немой (mute, silent, or dumb).

For the Public Council’s current composition, see this Krasnaya zvezda from last December.  For its original, early 2007 makeup, see Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye.

Some Cracks in Air Forces’ Stonewall (Part II)

Returning to the latest on Igor Sulim . . . in a late July Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye article, Oleg Vladykin summarized the GVP’s various recent press releases about rising crime in the Armed Forces.  He provided insight into how senior officers view Sulim and premium pay extortion at Lipetsk.

A colonel, a deputy formation commander speaking anonymously told Vladykin:

“Almost the entire service of many senior officers came to twenty years in which they constantly humiliated, deprived the army whenever possible, and generally kept it in a miserable state.  But at the same time they used it regularly.  Senior officers carried all this gloom on their shoulders.  And here now, as if in gratitude, they promise to raise their pay three times!  Colonels will receive the same as junior managers in some public company, whose peaceful labor the army successfully defended in spite of everything.  Many have only a year or two left to serve, then dismissal in connection with reaching the age limit.  And what then?  And then also an increased, but still laughable pension.  It will be two times less than a lieutenant’s pay.  Therefore, senior comrades confidently tell younger officers:  ‘Boys, you still have everything ahead of you.  Somehow, you’ll manage to make a more or less decent living.  We here won’t…’  You know the majority understand this.  And those like Senior Lieutenant Sulim from the Lipetsk Center are the exceptions.  I’m not judging them, no, but I’m sure that after 1 January the prosecutors won’t easily locate those who’ll agree to talk about their contributions to their senior colleagues.”

Vladykin says he can’t agree with this argument, but it’s impossible not to note some logic in it.  He concludes:

“The psychology of men in shoulderboards has changed very powerfully in the course of recent Armed Forces transformations.”

In his Moskovskiy komsomolets blog Friday, Sulim highlighted an article posted on Lipetsk’s Gorod48.ru.  The article reviewed the shady, semi-criminal past of Hero of the Russian Federation, General-Major Aleksandr Kharchevskiy.

Then Sulim asks (rhetorically) how Kharchevskiy can be silent, and how could he not know about the criminal activities of his deputy, of his cousin, or of his subordinates who extorted money from their subordinates.  He sums it up:

“It’s shameful and disgusting that in the space of twenty years they’ve turned an elite flying unit into an elite business for stuffing pockets, hiding all this under a mask of love for the Motherland and swearing on officer’s honor.”

Perhaps there’s some kind of behind-the-scenes three-way struggle between the Defense Ministry, Air Forces, and military prosecutors over premium pay extortion.  Or maybe it’s a negotiation to agree on how, and how far, to pursue the Lipetsk case and ones like it.

But the Defense Ministry seems paralyzed.  The unit checks ordered by Serdyukov rather improbably failed to turn up similar crimes in services or branches besides the Air Forces.  As the colonel quoted above says, the Defense Ministry may believe the scandal will die down after the new, higher military pay system goes into effect.

The cracks in the Air Forces’ stonewall on the Sulim case are only tiny fissures.  Those immediately involved in extorting money and pressuring officers at Lipetsk are finally in trouble with the law, but no one above that immediate level.  As an institution, the VVS appears unworried for now.

The prosecutors apparently can’t even name the officers they “hold accountable” in the VVS Glavkomat.  This isn’t to belittle Sergey Fridinskiy, his organization, and their efforts.  He and his prosecutors sometimes seem to be the only people looking honestly at the state of the Russian military.  There are clearly only so many battles they can fight. 

And preoccupied as they are with their own positions, skirmishes, and the fast-approaching election season, Russia’s political and government leaders aren’t likely to devote more time or attention to untangling what’s happened at Lipetsk.