Category Archives: Defense Industry

An-124 Program

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.

Akula Update Progressing, Slowly

Russia’s effort to extend the service lives of its Akula submarines and increase their capability to the level of new Yasen-M boats is progressing, but not as quickly as Moscow planned.

The Russian Navy counts on refueled reactors and new major systems to enable project 971 Akula-class SSNs to operate at least 15 more years. This would provide needed time for construction of new Yasen-M submarines. The modernization of the Akulas, to include possible deployment of Kalibr missiles on them, will bring them closer in capability to new fourth generation Yasen-M SSNs.

Akula-class SSN Vepr returned to service in the Northern Fleet around August 5, according to an OPK source. The submarine arrived at Nerpa, in Snezhnogorsk near Murmansk, in 2012 for repairs and modernization. Vepr was originally scheduled to rejoin the fleet in 2014, but this was delayed several times.

Nice photo of renovated pr. 971 Akula SSN Vepr (K-157) from Murmanskiy vestnik

Vepr is the second renovated Akula. Kuzbass was modernized at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen between 2009 and 2016 when it returned to the Pacific Fleet. Kuzbass reportedly received Kalibr cruise missiles during its modernization. But that capability has not been demonstrated.

Vepr gives the Russian Navy maybe three operational Akula SSNs. Six Akulas, all 25 or more years old, are currently located at Zvezdochka, Nerpa, or Zvezda.

The Northern Fleet’s Leopard arrived at Zvezdochka for repair and modernization in 2011 , with a planned return to service in 2015. That deadline passed, as did ones in 2016 and 2018. Completion of work on Leopard is now expected in 2020 or 2021.

Volk arrived at Zvezdochka possibly as early as 2011 and repairs began in 2014. The Pacific Fleet’s Bratsk and Samara arrived in late 2014 on a heavy lift vessel via the Northern Sea Route. Serious work on Bratsk and Samara likely awaits the completion of Leopard and Volk. Volk may be ready in 2023.

Northern Fleet boat Tigr was towed to Nerpa in 2017. According to Izvestiya’s source in the Russian MOD, Tigr will be renovated, armed with Kalibr missiles, and returned to the fleet in 2023.

In mid-2019, a Vladivostok news agency reported the repair and modernization of Magadan had commenced at Zvezda in Bolshoy Kamen, although some initial work may have started in 2018. The submarine arrived at the shipyard in 2015 or even earlier. It will not to return to operational status before 2023.

On September 25, an MOD source claimed it will return in 2021 or early 2022. It will receive a new name given that Magadan has been assigned to a project 636.3 diesel-electric submarine under construction for the Pacific Fleet.

The Akula repair program first and foremost entails refueling the nuclear reactors and restoring the hulls of the SSNs. Reactor and propulsion system components – steam generators, turbines, turbogenerators, motors, gears, shafts, rudders, and propellers – likely require major work.

The modernized Akulas probably are receiving new major ship and combat systems including command, control, and communications, navigation, fire control, sonars and non-acoustic sensors, and weapons possibly including the Kalibr anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile system. Its land-attack 3M-14 missile has a range possibly up to 2,500 km.

Despite frequent announcements that Kalibr is being incorporated, no firing of the missile from a modernized Akula has been reported. A test launch of the new system would be a normal part of combat certification for returning to operational status. Moreover, when it occurs, the MOD can be expected to publicize it widely.

Delays in the Akula repair and modernization program are endemic. In 2016, Zvezdochka’s press-service reported that the shipyard routinely had to begin repair work – dismantling the hull and equipment – while awaiting design documents. Zvezdochka also indicated it faced difficulty in obtaining new or repaired components because some original manufacturers are defunct. The shipyard has retooled and re-equipped to support the program, but making changes inside its shops has pushed the completion of the Akulas to the right.

Russian shipyards are likely at capacity with submarine repairs. Zvezdochka has been maintaining and upgrading Russia’s Project 667BRDM Delta IV-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, and it modernized Oscar II-class cruise missile submarine Orel. This work has slowed progress on the Akulas. Similarly, at Zvezda on the Pacific, modernization of Oscar IIs, specifically Irkutsk — now supposed to be finished in late 2022 or 2023 — competes with work on Akulas.

Despite these challenges, Moscow is committed to returning modernized Akulas to operation to retain its capability for long-range anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare while it awaits new SSNs. The first Project 885M Yasen-M SSN, Kazan, has been undergoing trials since 2017 and is expected to be delivered in 2020. The Russian Navy plans to add seven Yasen-M by 2027, but at the current pace of construction, it is unlikely to have its full complement of new production SSNs before the early 2030s.

New Dry Dock

SSK Zvezda has completed a massive dry dock at Bolshoy Kamen, reportedly four years ahead of schedule.

The Rosneft-owned facility will build ships to support Russian oil and gas extraction and transport.

The dock is 485 meters long, 114 in width, and 14 deep. It is outfitted with internal gates to create separate compartments that can be flooded independently. Besides the massive 1,200-ton gantry crane, the dock has four 60-ton tower cranes.

This image from May shows the new dock in the lower left, and the existing buildingway (also pretty new) just right of center adjacent to DVZ Zvezda. Recall DVZ Zvezda is Russia’s sole sub repair yard on the Pacific Ocean.

Shaposhnikov Trials

Marshal Shaposhnikov enroute to factory trials

Marshal Shaposhnikov enroute to factory trials

Mil.ru reports Russian Pacific Fleet Udaloy-class destroyer Marshal Shaposhnikov departed Dalzavod shipyard in Vladivostok yesterday after an overhaul and modernization which took five years to complete. The original plan was three.

The 35-year-old ship will conduct factory trials in the Sea of Japan.

Below is Izvestiya’s video.

 

The destroyer’s hull and fittings were repaired and new equipment was installed, according to Mil.ru. More than 20 percent of the superstructure was dismantled and refurbished. Trunk cables were partially replaced.

Most significantly, the modernized destroyer became a land-attack and anti-surface warfare platform whereas it was primarily ASW before. It received long-range Kalibr-NK (SS-N-27 Sizzler) missiles and Uran (SS-N-25 Switchblade) ASCMs.

TV Zvezda also had a long video in which Shaposhnikov’s new armament is easy to see.

The destroyer is supposed to rejoin the Pacific Fleet’s order-of-battle before the end of 2020.

Russian media have claimed four of the Navy’s other seven Udaloy (pr. 1155) destroyers will be modernized. But the Russian MOD and Navy may not have committed to this yet, waiting perhaps to absorb how the process turned out and exactly what it cost. The upgraded Shaposhnikov could be a stopgap for a fleet awaiting more new corvettes and possibly frigates.

New Airborne Armor Deliveries

ROC priest blesses new BMD-4M delivered in January

ROC priest blesses BMD-4M delivered in January

Russia’s VDV got its ninth battalion set of new BMD-4M and BTR-MDM armored vehicles on June 19, according to media in Pskov — home of  the 76th Air-Assault Division’s 234th Air-Assault Regiment. The tenth battalion set will reach troops in Stavropol before the end of 2020, according to the Russian Defense Ministry.

Here’s some info on when and where these new airborne infantry fighting vehicles and personnel carriers were delivered.

Click on the image for a larger table where you can click the links therein.

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.

Mass Counterfeiting

Overlooked in recent days was new RF Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov’s announcement about the “mass use” of counterfeit materials and parts in Russia’s OPK.

Igor Krasnov

Krasnov

Interfaks-AVN reported Krasnov told fellow prosecutors at a “broadened collegium” in Moscow:

The mass use of counterfeit materials and parts by OPK enterprises is a cause for special alarm. Considering the strategic character of this problem, it’s necessary to carry all planned oversight measures to their logical end.

We know “logical end” means arrest and convict people, don’t collude with them. 

Krasnov continued:

. . . the condition of legality dictates the need to increase the oversight component in strengthening financial discipline, reducing the indebtedness of OPK enterprises for unmet obligations and increasing the quality of military products.

Krasnov claimed during the past year military prosecutors uncovered more than 44,000 legal violations in the OPK.

TASS reported Krasnov directed military prosecutors to ensure MOD officials responsible for “military acceptance” respect relevant laws and exert control over the fulfillment of GOZ work.

Counterfeiting in Russia’s defense industry isn’t novel. It just doesn’t get much attention. There are likely egregious cases of counterfeit equipment that never surfaced. But a few have:

  • An official in the MOD’s 1st TsNII (Shipbuilding) said in 2018 that counterfeit parts were hampering Russian efforts to build its own ship engines to replace those once bought from Ukraine and Western countries.
  • As late as the first half of the 2010s, torpedo maker Dagdizel was “recycling” parts from old dismantled weapons for “new” torpedoes.
  • Several managers at Zvezdochka were arrested in 2015 for using fake parts in the repair of Indian Kilo subs.
  • An experimental Ka-60 helo crashed in 2010 due to faulty tail rotor parts made by an unauthorized “underground” manufacturer.
  • The MiG-29SMT fighters sold to Algeria and returned in 2008 is just the most famous scandal. Some “new” parts on those planes were stamped in the early 1990s.

Some recent glaring example of counterfeiting in Russia’s OPK must’ve sparked the new Prosecutor General’s comment but we just haven’t learned about it yet.

OPK Write-Off

Yesterday Russia’s Deputy PM Yuriy Borisov was in Kazan to inspect Tupolev’s work on strategic bombers and gave the media details on the plan to deal with defense-industrial complex (OPK) debt.

Borisov (right) with Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov

Borisov (right) with Tatar President Rustam Minnikhanov

The government arms tsar and former deputy defense minister said the plan will restructure 750 billion rubles ($11 billion) in debt. Actually, 300 billion rubles in non-performing loans will be written off. The other 450 will be restructured into 15-year loans at three percent interest.

For Russia’s defense producers, Borisov concluded:

It’s a very serious measure that will allow them to be free of big payments to bankers and free up resources for their own development.

For anything more specific, however, one would have to read President Putin’s secret ukaz on the issue.

This result is somewhat the reverse of what Borisov wanted. More favorable to enterprises than bankers, he sought a 400-450 billion write-off and restructuring of 300-350 billion for 15 years at two percent with a five-year payment holiday to start.

Before that, he sought a complete write-off but Russia’s big banks flatly refused.

Recall this 750 billion rubles represents only Russia’s most troubled defense industry debt. The total burden on the sector is 2.3 trillion rubles ($34 billion).

Tanks in GPV-2027

According to a February 13 report from Vedomosti’s Ivan Safronov, Russia’s Ground Troops could receive 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks before the current State Armaments Program (GPV) ends in 2027. The article is paywalled, but Bmpd recapped its contents.

Nine hundred — 500 T-14 and 400 T-90M — seems quite an optimistic forecast.

T-90

According to Safronov’s story, a source close to the Russian MOD said there were three contracts between 2017 and 2019 to deliver more than 160 T-90M (Proryv-3) tanks. The first two called for 60 tanks in 2018-2019, of which 10 would be newly built, 50 would be older T-90 tanks modernized to T-90M, and 100 would be T-90A tanks from the inventory improved to T-90M.

However, an industry source said the deliveries slipped because its fire control and target tracking system needed to be finished, and the turret with its dynamic defense — the tank’s main feature — had to be tested.

These issues are supposedly resolved, and the tank is in series production. The MOD should get not less than 15 T-90M tanks in 2020.

A source close to the MOD leadership indicated that President Vladimir Putin wants to renew Russia’s tank inventory over the next five years. Currently, only 50 percent of the Ground Troops’ armored vehicles are “modern” — the lowest indicator of any branch or service of the RF Armed Forces.

Upgrading Russia’s armor will involve both new production and modernization. There may be a contract in 2020 to improve another 100 T-90s to T-90M. Deputy Defense Minister and arms chief Aleksey Krivoruchko has indicated there are 400 T-90s in the Ground Troops that could be upgraded.

State testing of the newest T-14 tank on the Armata chassis is set to begin in 2020. A Vedomosti interlocutor says there could be a state order for 500 T-14s by 2027.

Recall after debuting in 2015, the T-14 was supposed to enter state testing in 2017 but that didn’t happen.

Ground Troops are hoping for 900 T-14 and T-90M tanks to arrive by 2027, but they won’t supplant some 2,000 T-72B3 tanks as the foundation of Russia’s tank inventory, according to military commentator Viktor Murakhovskiy. He adds that the T-72B3 can’t really be considered a “modern” tank without serious modernization.

For those keeping score, the T-72B3 is a 2010 upgrade of the T-72B not really improved since the mid-1980s. The T-72B3M is a 2016 modification adding Relikt reactive armor, a more powerful engine, etc. The T-90 and T-90A are early 1990s upgrades on the T-72B. The T-90M is a 2018 update with the same gun as the T-14, Afganit active protection, Relikt reactive armor, etc.

T-72B3M

Not addressed in the Vedomosti report is what (if anything) the Russian Army plans regarding the future of upgraded T-80BVM tanks. It received an unspecified number in 2017-2019. The Ground Troops often prefer its gas turbine engine over diesel for extreme cold in the Arctic and Eastern MD.

It’s difficult to assess even what happened with tanks in GPV 2011-2020. Putin and the MOD called for 2,300 tanks in 2012 even though Ground Troops procurement wasn’t a priority in that GPV. The naive assumption they’d be new ones soon gave way to realization that all tanks received were ones modernized as described above. Complicating matters further, Russian MOD descriptions of what they actually received typically lump all armor — tanks and armored vehicles — together making it virtually impossible to tell how many upgraded tanks of which type (re-)entered Russia’s forces.

More on the Damage Estimate

Additional thoughts regarding the damage to Admiral Kuznetsov . . . .

The gulf between OSK chief Rakhmanov’s 300 million rubles and 95 billion rubles from Kommersant’s Northern Fleet staff officer source is as wide as it gets. How do we parse what we’ve heard? Whom do we believe?

Admiral Kuznetsov on fire

Interesting that Rakhmanov had something of an estimate, but, at the same time, said, “We simply weren’t allowed on-board for a long time.” He also rejected the possibility of critical damage right after the fire. Can he really know the extent of damage if experts haven’t been on-board?

The same may go for Kommersant’s source. Have he and other naval officers been on-board? Maybe 95 billion was misheard? Doesn’t seem likely though in the case of a quality paper like Kommersant.

We’re in a “he said, she said.”

So let’s try to understand 300 million and 95 billion rubles.

  • A TASS feature in July indicated that a Krylov center design for a 44,000-ton catamaran-hull carrier, the design alone, would cost 3-4 billion rubles.
  • In December, an OPK source told RIAN development and construction of an unspecified new carrier would likely cost Moscow 300-400 billion rubles ($4.7-6.3 billion).
  • Even the “medium repair and limited modernization” of Admiral Kuznetsov, as envisaged in 2018, is likely to cost at least 55 billion rubles ($860 million), per Bmpd.
  • To get your bearings, first-in-class USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) cost $12.8 billion to build with $4.7 billion in R&D costs.

Bottom line: we have to wait and see how much this fire costs the Russian Navy, if we ever find out. We have to watch for Russia’s financial calculus vis-à-vis continuing the repair and modernization of Kuznetsov. But here’s a guess. The fire damage from December 12 will be closer to Kommersant’s number than Rakhmanov’s.