Leader in Combat Aviation?

Videoconference on help to the aviation industry

On May 13, RF President Vladimir Putin conducted a videoconference from his “bunker” in Novo-Ogarevo on support to Russia’s aviation industry in the pandemic and economic crisis. He directed his ministers to shift civilian, and possibly some military, aircraft production “to the left” to give work to struggling enterprises.

In the process, he said:

Domestic aircraft compete on equal terms with foreign analogues, with world market leaders in many of their characteristics, and by the way, in some [characteristics] — in combat aviation — is considerably superior to them.

Putin’s assessment of Russia’s place as the (or a) leader in military aviation spurred Militaryparitet.com to editorialize. The comments are worth a few moments.

Deputy PM Yuriy Borisov used the occasion, Militaryparitet writes, to ask once again for Putin to erase defense industry’s chronic debts. And nothing in Borisov’s plea smells like the competitiveness Putin claims.

The site continues:

This announcement [about Russia’s lead in military aviation] is highly interesting, but it has been repeated like a mantra for two decades already. So where is Russia outpacing its competitors in combat and military aviation?

First, Russia still hasn’t gotten its fifth-generation fighter, the Su-57, into the force. The U.S. long ago jumped ahead with its F-22 and F-35, and even the Chinese claim they have 40 series-produced J-20 fighters.

Second, Russia’s fourth-generation fighters are laggards. Not a single one has an active phased array radar. This is no longer an innovation for the U.S. The French have it. And China also asserts success in putting it on its fighters.

Third, the Indians are unhappy with Russia’s R-77 air-to-air missiles they purchased. New Delhi says they lack the range and effectiveness of U.S. AIM-120 and European Meteor missiles.

Fourth, with respect to strategic bombers, Russia is renewing production of the existing Tu-160 Blackjack. A new design PAK DA will require “remarkable patience” at a minimum and, with a long-term recession looming, it probably won’t happen at all.

Fifth, Russia hasn’t managed to put an active phased array radar on its AEW aircraft because of its almost total lack of commercial electronics and microelectronics industries.

Sixth, for transports, Russia continues to rely on the Il-76 while the U.S. introduced the C-17 with nearly double the cargo capacity in the 1990s.

Seventh, Russian unmanned aviation is a complete bust. There is the single S-70 Okhotnik, but you couldn’t see a Russian analogue to Global Hawk “even with a telescope.”

Militaryparitet sums up:

So what kind of Russian leadership in combat (military) aviation is Putin talking about every time? Russia has long been on the margins of progress in this sector, and there is no hope to get to the cutting edge “by its own efforts.” We are living in a time when you can’t do anything good without cooperation . . . .

But . . . is there all of a sudden an area where Russia is overtaking the entire world in combat aviation? If there is, speak up, please. We’ll celebrate together.

4 responses to “Leader in Combat Aviation?

  1. Pingback: Leader in Combat Aviation? - DFNS.net Policy

  2. Svit Valenčič

    Personally I don’t see lack of microelectronics industry in Russia. While Intel is producing 10 nm microprocessors, Russian Elbrus is currently at 16 nm, so it’s world’s second most advanced country, ahead of China, whose military is using Russian chips. Moreover, AESA fighters are already in service (Mig-35) and ready for mass production in Su-57. Why Su-35 still flies with PESA? Well, it’s indisputable that its radar is world’s most powerful right now, so it’s better to count T/R modules and compare at what angle can they operate before dismissing PESAs, just because they are seconds slower.

  3. Russia’s microelectronics industry is practically non existent.

    -Elbrus is not manufactured in Russian. It’s outsourced to TSMC in Taiwan.

    -Mikron, Russia’s most advanced fab is at 65nm(>12 year old tech) and producing in such low volume(3000 wafer starts / month) its better described as a pilot line than a manufacturing line. They have been losing money for 10 years.

    -Angstom-T, Russia’s second most advanced fab (90nm, >15 year old technology)) declared bankruptcy last October.

    Every other fab in Russia is ancient, 600nm technology(early ’90’s tech) or older.

  4. There are fair criticisms here of stereotypical Russian pronouncements, but a few of these are pretty weak and pointless comments from an analytical standpoint. In general Russian airpower should be a laggard given its lower prioritization and different role if you compare to US as an expeditionary aerospace power with a tremendously higher amount of investment and emphasis on airpower – both land based and in the maritime domain. In fairness if we look at the capability gap that existed between the US and other powers in 1990s, when Russian armed forces were an omnishambles and Chinese were just getting off of biplanes, they’ve managed to close it considerably over the past 15 years. One can expect the US to retain a substantial lead in aerospace power, but the degree to which that quality offsets quantity, and its price tag, may be increasingly an issue. Certainly comparing the state of Russian airpower to NATO forces in 2020 is a much better story for Russia than it would have been 10 years ago.

    Putin should have said that they’re the world leader in air defense, since their competitive strategy was to invest in advanced air defense and not try to rival US/NATO in aerospace power, where they qualitatively out matched and incidentally outnumbered at least 4:1 in tactical aviation. There was a programmatic strategy in there, they invested and bought X over Y, and given Russian requirements that was a better bet.

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