Not long ago, NVO’s Viktor Myasnikov visited and wrote about Kubinka’s 121st ARZ, where Russia’s Su-25s receive major repairs and overhauls. That story was a tad boring.
He’s doing a series on the military aviation industry.
This article on Su-34 production was more interesting and useful. Full of facts and figures.
According to Myasnikov, the Su-34 was the first post-Soviet military aircraft formally accepted into the inventory by the government on 20 March 2014. The contract for what was initially the Su-27IB was signed in 1989.
A pre-series airframe flew for the first time on 18 December 1993. It flew as the Su-32FN at the Paris Air Show in 1995.
In 2003, the MOD decided to put the Su-34 into experimental use. The year 2006 brought a contract for five Su-34 to be delivered in 2007-2009.
However, Myasnikov notes that the Novosibirsk Aviation Production Association (NAPO) named for V. P. Chkalov was in a pathetic state at the time:
“The state hadn’t ordered new aircraft, assembly shops were empty. The company survived on account of consumer goods, making instruments, steel doors, etc. Suffice it to say that now in the final assembly shop of 250 workers only 5 are veterans still having Soviet experience.”
Literally on its knees, he says, the factory re-trained workers and assembled one aircraft per year.
Then, in 2008, came the contract for 32 Su-34s by 2013, and a follow-on for 92 by 2020. The plan for this year is 16 aircraft, possibly 2 more.
The Su-34, Myasnikov says, has 57,000 parts joined by tens of thousands of rivets and bolts. About 200 other enterprises contribute products and components worth 75 percent of the aircraft’s cost.
Per unit, the Su-34’s price in the initial contract was 1.3 billion rubles (roughly $37 million). The price in the second contract is only 1.05 billion ($30 million).
Factory director Sergey Smirnov added that production of one aircraft initially took 460,000 labor hours; now only 170,000. Call that about 230 manyears down to 85 manyears per plane.
Myasnikov writes that NAPO now uses more modern machinery, much of it imported, to reduce the number of work shifts required to make certain parts. The two-man cockpit is made of 17-mm titanium sheets weighing only 380 kg. The final assembly shop works round-the-clock in three shifts.
The average age of workers is 35, and gets younger by a year with each passing year. The parents (and even grandparents) of many also worked at NAPO.
In all, NAPO has 6,700 employees. Many work on components for Sukhoy’s civilian Superjet 100. Their average age is younger than 35.
The typical wage at NAPO runs 32,000-34,000 rubles per month. Some 800 workers are waiting for apartments, and the factory helps with securing mortgages for them.
NAPO expects to begin overhauling the first Su-34s in 5-6 years, and wants to put out 20 new ones each year.
Myasnikov sums up NAPO’s success story this way:
“Now it’s hard for even old workers to imagine that just several years ago the factory was in a pathetic state, and made consumer good instead of modern combat aircraft. Thanks to people who knew how to preserve Russia’s aviation industry, who, despite difficulties, underfinancing, wage debts, didn’t allow the production and technological base to be destroyed. Once the state undertook to reestablish the combat potential of the Armed Forces, and found money for the long-term rearmament program, aircraft plants revived and began working at full power. The creation of a full-scale integrated structure — the ‘United Aircraft Corporation’ — also helped in this.”
When do they expect to start modernizing the Su-34s?
Myasnikov didn’t say. The Air Forces will likely operate them for a couple years before knowing if they need particular upgraded capabilities. A variant could appear almost any time starting a couple years after IOC, or it might be a decade or two. Really no way to know except to follow their operational record.