KZ coverage of yesterday’s MOD leadership videoconference provided a little window into what has apparently become the modest modernization program for Russia’s An-124 Ruslan heavy transport aircraft.
Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu proposed discussion about the modernization and repair of the An-124, saying:
In conditions where the demand for transport of super-heavy and large diameter loads in the Armed Forces is growing, resolution of this problem has taken on special importance. In the conference, we will hear proposals of the directors of Aviation Complex named for S. V. Ilyushin and the Ural Civil Aviation Plant [UZGA] regarding completion of the contract for modernization, restoration, and life extension of two An-124 aircraft, but also for the capital repair and modernization of 12 D-18T aircraft engines.
So that’s modernization of two aircraft and 12 engines (three aircraft?). Shoygu confirmed what was reported for VPK in 2018 by one-time officer and KZ journalist Oleg Falichev.
Falichev called (perhaps shilled?) for work on 12 D-18T engines. He claimed Russia’s An-124s received only two percent of funding required for their maintenance, and indicated UZGA had not “mastered” repair of the D-18T, a Soviet-era product made on the territory of Ukraine.
Recall we see various numbers for An-124s in VTA’s inventory, perhaps four or nine operational aircraft with maybe more than 20 airframes in various states of repair (or disrepair).
It’s been clear for a while that Moscow won’t try to recreate production of An-124s; modernization is supposed to allow them to serve until the 2040s when PAK TA might enter the force.
Shoygu could be right. The demand for super-heavy airlift might be growing, especially given the current state of world disorder and Moscow’s increased activism abroad. This could put a premium on the ability to deliver large amounts of cargo rapidly to great distances.
Then again, if this is the extent of the An-124 modernization program, it doesn’t sound like a high priority. It sounds like a band aid. Always resourceful, the Kremlin will find simpler ways to get the job done.