Category Archives: Aerospace Forces

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.

Pchela’s Daughter

Order the flowers . . . Russia’s March 8 (and 9) celebration of International Women’s Day has started.

On February 27, KZ highlighted Yekaterina Olegovna Pchela who may become Russia’s first female LRA pilot.

She’s a cadet at the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation Pilot School (KVVAUL) and the only woman currently studying to fly Russian strategic bombers.

Cadet Pchela’s the start of what Russians like to call a “military dynasty.” Her father — Oleg (promoted to one-star general-major rank on February 20) — has commanded the 22nd Guards Heavy Bomber Aviation Donbass Red Banner Division at Engels since 2017. It operates Tu-160 / Blackjack and Tu-95MS / Bear H bombers.

Cadet corps at KVVAUL

Cadet corps at KVVAUL

The Russian MOD first allowed women to attend KVVAUL in 2017, but restricted them to transport aircraft.

According to the school’s deputy chief, now there’s at least one woman studying each of four specialties: one in attack aviation, one in long-range aviation, seven in fighters, and the balance in transports.

On average the women get higher marks than the men. KZ’s editor adds there are 45 women enrolled in KVVAUL.

Female second- and third-year cadets will fly for the first time this spring.

The number of women in the armed forces hasn’t gone up much over the past decade. There were 50,000 in 2012. Perhaps only 40,000 now despite increased opportunities for them in the ranks. Polling indicates about two-thirds of Russians don’t want their daughters to serve.

The move to a Russian Army more reliant on volunteers than draftees, however, means Moscow can’t ignore a large pool of valuable human capital — young women.

A land where male chauvinism has long prevailed, Russia still trails Western countries significantly in this respect. U.S. service academies were open to women by the second half of the 1970s and the first female USAF B-52 pilot was flying in the early 1990s.

Yekaterina Olegovna

Then there’s nepotism. We don’t know anything about Ms. Pchela’s selection for KVVAUL. We have to assume she was a qualified applicant and is a promising future officer. She’s been getting a bit of media star treatment though. Not at random, she was picked to ask Putin questions during last June’s “direct line” with the president.

Russian mothers and fathers worry about hazing and violence against their sons in the army. So they certainly worry about sexual harassment and assault on their daughters. Oleg Pchela’s presence and position in LRA protects Yekaterina in this regard. But it’s likely more difficult for female cadets without fathers who are senior military officers.

Russia’s Second Best Protected City

St. Petersburg is probably now Russia’s second best protected city in terms of air defense (as common sense would dictate).

Interfaks-AVN reported today that another regiment of the Western MD’s 2nd Air Defense Division in Leningrad oblast has completed training with the S-400 to include combat firings against Favorit targets (the 5V55 missile from the S-300P system).

S-400 deployments in the 2nd ADD

S-400 deployments in the 2nd ADD

The regiment, likely the 1489th SAM Regiment, has returned to its home base of Vaganovo ENE of StP. It’s supposed to begin combat duty in February 2020, according to Interfaks-AVN.

The 500th SAM Regiment at Gostilitsy WSW of StP got its S-400s in 2015. The 1488th at Zelenogorsk NW of StP in 2016, the 1490th at Ulyanovka SE of StP probably in 2017, and the 1544th at Vladimirskiy Lager (but launch battalions split between Luga and Strugi Krasnyye) S of StP in 2018.

So not only is the 2nd ADD now all S-400, it’s also a five-regiment SAM division.

Here’s a handy reference to S-400 deployments (which have been difficult to keep up on). No wonder Mr. Putin wants to unplug the Internet and get rid of ru.wikipedia.org.

Mil and Kamov Under One Roof

Mi-35

Mil’s Mi-35 multipurpose combat helicopter

State-owned helicopter conglomerate Russian Helicopters plans to bring the Mil and Kamov design bureaus under a single organizational structure before 2022, according to a company statement.

Russian Helicopters (itself controlled by government holding company Rostekh) announced the two longstanding bureaus will be united in a new National Helicopter Center named for M. L. Mil and N. I. Kamov [National Center of Helicopter-building or NTsV — НЦВ].

Mil and Kamov will be joined in one business by mid-2020. “Further integration processes connected with optimizing the activity of the two design bureaus in the format of one company will continue until 2022,” Russian Helicopters noted. The company said the center will unite the potential of the two helicopter-building schools for more effective resolution of design and modernization missions.

The independent Mil and Kamov “brands” will be retained, but their workers will be combined in the NTsV. The merger is supposed to remove existing administrative, legal, and economic barriers to cooperation between their designers.

Ka-52

Kamov’s Ka-52 attack helicopter

Interfaks-AVN reported the establishment of the center is explained by a need to optimize the work of a whole range of supporting and administrative sub-units and to allow engineers from both bureaus to exchange technical solutions, unify standards, and share work loads.

Besides cutting management and labor costs, the union of Mil and Kamov is supposed to reduce the time required to put helicopters into serial production.

According to Russian Helicopters’ deputy general director Mikhail Korotkevich:

By our accounting, the distribution of tasks between two design bureaus, as well as between the production and repair plants of the holding will allow us to free up 15-20% of their annual effort which can be directed at creating technical reserves and developing new equipment.

Korotkevich added that Russian Helicopters wants to eliminate “unnecessary competition” between Mil and Kamov on similar helicopter designs. He expects more efficient use of infrastructure and lower expenditures on testing to come from the merger of the bureaus.

This merger of Russian helicopter giants will be interesting. 

There are mergers and then there are mergers. Putting Mil and Kamov under the same tent as separate entities is one thing. Сhanging their business and breaking their “rice bowls” is something else. Actually achieving efficiencies and savings is another thing too.

From Soviet times, the Russian approach was to create competition where it wasn’t in the socialist centrally-planned economy. That’s how the MOD and defense industry created world-class armaments — Sukhoy vs. Mikoyan, Ilyushin vs. Antonov, Rubin vs. Malakhit, Yuzhnoye vs. Makeyev vs. MITT, etc.

Over time the design bureaus — probably guided by the MOD and government — tended to concentrate on their specialties rather than competing directly.

This hasn’t stopped brutal clashes particularly when state purchases of weapons systems are limited or declining. It may be happening now, and it may have led the Kremlin to rationalize Russia’s military helicopter market. But blending Mil and Kamov won’t be easy. There has been more recent bare knuckle competition between the helicopter designers than in other segments of Russian defense industry.

In recent days, Primorye media reported on a demonstration by workers at Kamov’s AAK Progress plant 100 km northeast of Vladivostok. They are protesting the lack of orders for their helicopters and attendant cuts in the work force.

Military Academy Instructor Arrested in Bombing

Kommersant recently covered what’s happened on this case. Recall on April 2 St. Petersburg’s Military-Space Academy (VKA) named for Mozhayskiy was the scene of an apparent terrorist bombing. But the prime suspect is an instructor, Colonel Rifat Zakirov —  combat engineer and decorated EOD expert with two tours in the Chechen wars to his credit. Other sources say he’s a lieutenant colonel. He’s under house arrest.

Rifat Zakirov

Rifat Zakirov

Zakirov was injured in the blast and couldn’t be questioned for nearly a month. Military investigators say he had TNT and bomb components taken as war trophies, and he’s been charged with theft of explosives as well as illegally possessing and transporting them. But they say he didn’t intend to blow up VKA. No, he just wanted to privatize another military apartment.

Yes, Zakirov hoped his desperate action would resolve his unsatisfactory housing situation.

To back things up a bit, Zakirov once had a 58-square-meter two-room apartment in Sertolovo outside St. Petersburg. It was a service apartment (belonging to the MOD) he received in 2004 and immediately privatized. This satisfied the MOD’s obligation to provide the career officer with permanent housing. The widowed Zakirov lived there with his two sons.

But things got complicated. Relatives came to live with him. He remarried. In 2016, he asked the MOD to improve his circumstances, now outside the norm for inhabitants per square meter. The military duly assigned him a new service apartment in St. Petersburg but said he couldn’t privatize it because he couldn’t return the “permanent” one in Sertolovo where left his relatives.

So Zakirov hatched the plot to plant an explosive device, discover, and disarm it. As a hero, the MOD wouldn’t deny another request to privatize his second, larger apartment.

When Zakirov and colleagues entered the VKA building on April 2, he “noticed” a suspicious package with a mobile phone with wires inside. He sounded the alarm and evacuated cadets and staff. Wearing a protective vest and helmet, he was about to cover the bomb with a vest when it detonated. The bomb contained no shrapnel and, other than Zakirov, no one was seriously hurt by the explosion.

If someone other than the GVSU claimed all this, you’d say he was crazy.

Putin Boosts Su-57

Putin walks the flight line at Akhtubinsk on May 14

Putin walks the flight line at Akhtubinsk on May 14

Russia’s Supreme CINC boosted the fortunes of the country’s fifth generation Su-57 fighter declaring yesterday that Moscow will procure 76 of them. Until now it appeared the VKS might only receive a handful and forego series production altogether.

According to Kremlin.ru, Putin said:

“Multipurpose fighters Su-35S and Su-57 are in the final phase of state testing. These aircraft have unique characteristics and are the best in the world. It’s essential to fully rearm three Aerospace Forces regiments with the future aviation system fifth generation Su-57.”

“At the range [Akhtubinsk] yesterday the Minister [of Defense Shoygu] and I talked about this. Under the arms program to 2027 it’s planned to buy 16 of such aircraft. We analyzed the situation yesterday, the Minister reported. As a result of the work we did, as a result of the fact that we agreed with industry, — industry has practically reduced the cost of the aircraft and weapons by 20 percent, — we can buy many more of these combat aircraft of this class, of this, essentially, new generation. We agreed that we will buy over that time period 76 of such airplanes without increasing the cost. We have to say that in such volume, but the volume isn’t even the thing, the thing is we haven’t done anything like this new platform in the last 40 years. I hope the corrected plans will be fulfilled. And we’ll soon complete the contract for the systematic delivery of 76 of these fighters equipped with modern aviation weapons and the essential supporting ground infrastructure.”

Seventy-six is an odd number. Seventy-two would make three two-squadron regiments (24 fighters per).

Looks like Putin laid down a hard line with Sukhoy and KnAAPO. But hardware price issues have a way of persisting even after the Supreme CINC has spoken. Industry, after all, has to recoup its development costs and keep up with rising prices for components, etc.

Presumably, the 76 Su-57 fighters will have the “second phase” engine giving them true fifth generation maneuverability. That engine is still in testing that won’t finish til 2023. Could make for quite a backloaded production scheme.

Capture

A Russian defense industry source has told Kommersant that a 170 billion ruble contract will be signed at the MAKS-2019 air show in August. That’s making 76 Su-57s for a fly-away price of $34 million per plane. The F-22 was $150 million in 2009. The F-35 is at least $100 million. Even adding the 20 percent back in makes the Su-57 only $41 million a copy. We should be skeptical about this plan.

Maybe saying Russia will produce reams of Su-57s is no skin off Putin’s nose. In 2024, he’ll be out of office unless he officially makes himself president-for-life. Still Putin can’t fight time; he’ll be 71 when [if] the 2024 election happens. When those 76 Su-57s are supposed to be done, Putin will be 76 years old. Ironic.

MiG-35 Update

The Russian MOD has reportedly received the first two MiG-35 multirole fighters under a contract for six signed last August. The other four will be delivered before end of 2019, according to an Interfaks news agency source.

MiG-35D

MiG-35

The first two MiG-35s were ready for acceptance testing in December, but there’s no official word that the MOD has received them. The MOD said its pilots were testing the MiG-35’s maneuverability and aerodynamic stability at the State Flight-Test Center in Akhtubinsk in late 2018.

The MiG-35 has “deeply modernized” RD-33MK engines and an on-board radar capable of detecting and tracking 30 airborne targets at 160 km, and engaging six airborne and four ground targets simultaneously. The fighter has nine hardpoints for carrying air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

In 2017, then VKS CINC General-Colonel Bondarev claimed the entire Russian light fighter inventory (MiG-29s and variants) would be replaced with MiG-35s. However, the Interfaks source says the VKS isn’t planning on making a large MiG-35 purchase at least in the near term.

Most Russian MiG-29s are essentially inactive or located at training bases. But fighter regiments in Kursk and Millerovo as well as the Russian air base in Erebuni, Armenia still have a handful of operational MiG-29 and MiG-29SMT squadrons.