Category Archives: Defense Industry

Pacific Fleet Akulas Bound for Severodvinsk

Akulas Loaded on Transshelf (photo: www.dockwise.com)

Akulas Loaded on Transshelf (photo: http://www.dockwise.com)

On 9 September, ITAR-TASS reported two Pacific Fleet Akula-class submarines had begun a three-week Northern Sea Route (NSR) transit to Severodvinsk for a “deep modernization” at Zvezdochka.  They will reach the shipyard during the last ten days of the month, according to the Defense Ministry press-service.

Pacific Fleet proyekt 971 / Shchuka-B SSNs Bratsk and Samara were loaded on Dockwise’s heavy transport Transshelf at Avachinskaya Bay on 23 August.

This is the first time two submarines have been transported together. Nuclear-powered icebreakers will accompany Transshelf along the NSR.  Until now, Pacific Fleet Akulas were repaired at Vilyuchinsk or Bolshoy Kamen in the Far East.

Zvezdochka publicized the boats’ imminent departure back on 20 August. Buried in this item is a reported RF government decision on a shipyard division of labor, under which Zvezdochka will modernize Akulas and Zvezda (Bolshoy Kamen) will work on Oscar II-class SSGNs (proyekt 949A / Antey).

But it looks like Zvezdochka already worked on the Northern Fleet’s Oscar IIs in previous years; Pacific Fleet units remain for Zvezda.

Zvezdochka has a contract for four Akula modernizations.  Two Northern Fleet units — Leopard and Volk — are already there.  According to Flot.com, the 21-year-old Improved Akula Leopard arrived in 2013 and will return to the fleet in 2016.  22-year-old Volk got to Zvezdochka this year.  Both were built by Sevmash in Severodvinsk.

Akula II Bratsk and Samara — 24 and 19 years old respectively — were both built at Komsomolsk in the Far East.

Zvezdochka’s “deep modernization” reportedly includes a recore and replacement of all electronic, control, and weapons systems.

Mistrals Not Needed

It’s possible the endgame for the Russian Mistrals is approaching.

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti  / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

First Russian Mistral at DCNS (photo: RIA Novosti / Daniil Nizamutdinov)

But Moscow’s not sad.  Officials have already said it’s not a tragedy.

Mikhail Nenashev — not an official, but a former Duma member and well-informed commentator — has called into question the need for the Mistrals. He’s a former Captain First Rank who chairs the All-Russian Movement for Support of the Navy.

According to RIA Novosti, he said the Mistrals have no utility but political.  The news agency quotes Nenashev:

“These ships are no kind of necessity for the navy — we don’t intend to land troops in such a way.  As I recall, the French themselves earlier and now are searching for how to deploy these ships — for a decade of fulfilling these missions by the French Navy there were few places where these ‘Mistrals’ were deployed in reality.”

That’s a bit of an exaggeration.  The most cursory look shows that the French contributed the Mistrals to the NATO Response Force, and deployed them during unrest in Lebanon and Cote d’Ivoire, among other places.

Nenashev and others (including Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov) say Russia can build ships like to the Mistrals since it was already participating in their construction, and providing the internal command and control systems for the ships.  It would take longer (3-4 years) but cost less (€150-200 million vs. €1.2 billion).  The French, he says, can build it in a year because they have a smooth production process for these ships.

The former officer suggested that Sevmash or Baltic shipyard could construct such a ship if desired.  But he fails to note that these builders are already absolutely chockablock with orders today, and every new ship type is taking substantially more than 3-4 years to build.

But Nenashev willingly admits there are “acute questions” about the shipbuilding industry.  Specifically, issues of components, parts, technology, and skilled labor are a “little rough” and require coordination.

It’s exactly what Moscow will miss — a chance to see first-hand how fairly robust and modern French shipbuilders do their work.  No doubt there are things the Russians could have learned and taken home.

For their part, the French carefully note that the delivery of the first Russian Mistral has not legally and finally stopped. But President Hollande signaled Moscow that, if the situation in Ukraine does not improve, he will not approve the ship’s transfer in November.  That final decision will actually come at the end of October.

Improvement in Ukraine is defined by a relatively high bar of an effective ceasefire and agreement on a political resolution of the conflict.

The Elysee is quick to repeat that the Mistral sale remains unaffected by EU sanctions on Russia, and is a decision for Paris to make.  Hollande adopted his current stance in the last couple weeks as unavoidable evidence of direct Russian participation in the fighting (i.e. POWs and KIAs) in eastern Ukraine surfaced.

As of 9 September, RIA Novosti reported that planned at-sea training for the first Russian Mistral and its 400-man crew-in-waiting in Saint-Nazaire was put off for “technical reasons” having nothing to do with the French President’s current stance on the sale (or no sale).

PAK FA’s Emergency Landing

Burned PAK FA Bort 055

Burned PAK FA Bort 055

Interfaks-AVN reported yesterday that a PAK FA on a test flight from Zhukovskiy made an emergency landing.

A source told the military news agency that bort number 055 received “insignificant damage” from a fire that was quickly extinguished.  The pilot was unhurt.

There are four flying T-50 or PAK FA prototypes at present, and two used for ground testing.

This wiki article on PAK FA lists the prototypes and when they first flew.  T-50-5 or bort number 055 is the newest, making its initial flight on 27 October 2013.

AVN notes that the prototypes have performed aerial refueling and are working through various supermaneuvers.

Visit to NAPO

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.

Su-34

Su-34

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).

NAPO's Assembly Shop

NAPO’s Assembly Shop

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.”

Import Substitution

Russian helicopter engines will begin replacing Ukrainian imports.

OAO Klimov announced on 30 April that it will produce VK-2500 helicopter engines to replace those previously supplied by Ukraine’s Motor Sich.  A Klimov representative said the design bureau will manufacture 300-320 annually, including 250 for the Russian military.

Klimov's VK-2500 Helo Engine

Klimov’s VK-2500 Helo Engine

The announcement follows Ukraine’s late March ban on military exports to Russia following its seizure of Crimea.

FGUP Salyut and other Russian firms will produce VK-2500 compressor components.

The Klimov-designed VK-2500 turboshaft powers new Mi-28, Ka-52, and Mi-35 helicopters, and can replace engines on the Mi-17 and Ka-32.  It is an improved version of Klimov’s TV3-117 with increased power, full authority digital engine control, and a longer service life.  Approximately 90% of Russian helicopters carry Klimov engines.

Klimov aims for complete serial production of the VK-2500 by 2016.  It will be assembled at a new facility in St. Petersburg opening this summer.

Russia laid the groundwork for a domestic production line several years ago.  At that time, 500-600 engines per year was the goal.  Even a smaller number, however, means Ukraine’s embargo may slow helicopter deliveries to Russian forces, but not disrupt them altogether.

SIPRI’s List

Always worth looking at SIPRI.  On 31 January, it released its list of the Top 100 arms producers worldwide in 2012 and 2011.

SIPRI observed a small global decline in arms sales over the past two years.  But Russia bucked the trend as “arms sales by Russian companies increased sharply, by 28 per cent in real terms.”

SIPRI provides the context for increased arms production by Russian companies that’s worth quoting in toto:

“Rapid rise in Russia due to domestic procurement plans”

“Russian companies saw a particularly large increase in estimated arms sales in 2012. Of the 6 Russian companies in the Top 100, all except United Aircraft Corporation saw increases in excess of 20 per cent, and Almaz Antei—with a 41 per cent rise—now stands in 14th place in the Top 100, the highest position taken by a Russian company since data became available in 2002.”

“Russian arms companies continue to maintain high export levels, but the increase in estimated arms sales in 2012 mainly reflects large and growing domestic sales, as part of Russia’s $700 billion 2011–20 State Armaments Plan. While there remains widespread scepticism as to whether the aims of the plan can be fully achieved, it is clear that a major increase in Russian military equipment procurement is taking place.”

“‘The Russian arms industry is gradually re-emerging from the ruins of the Soviet industry’, said Dr Sam Perlo-Freeman, Director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production Programme. ‘Nonetheless, the industry is still plagued by outdated equipment, inefficient organization and widespread corruption, which will continue to limit Russia’s ability to compete technologically with the West.’”

So, it’s not just that Rosoboroneksport’s order portfolio is stuffed full.  But SIPRI sees both good and bad news for Russian defense industry and production.

The top Russian firms on this year’s list are:  Almaz-Antey, UAC or OAK, Vertolety Rossii (Oboronprom), Sukhoy (UAC / OAK), United Enginebuilding Corporation, UEC or ODK (Oboronprom), USC or OSK, and Uralvagonzavod.

Falling off from 2010’s list are Irkut and MiG (UAC / OAK) and the Tactical Missile Weapons (TRV) Corporation.

Some changes may be the result of data collection problems SIPRI faces.

Here’s SIPRI’s data on arms sales by Russia’s top producers.

SIPRI Data on Arms Sales by Top Russian Producers

Pretty interesting stuff.  Strong and stable growth by Almaz-Antey.  Steady growth for UAC / OAK and Sukhoy.  Remarkable growth by Vertolety Rossii — quadrupling its sales in three years.  Ditto for UEB / ODK — nearly quadrupling.  Even Uralvagonzavod doubling its sales over the same period.

Submarine Update

С новым годом ! !  Happy New Year ! !

To finish 2013, here’s some submarine news for anyone who might be a bit behind.

Oscar II SSGN Smolensk (K-410)

Oscar II SSGN Smolensk (K-410)

Yesterday Mil.ru and Interfaks reported Oscar II-class SSGN Smolensk has returned to Zaozersk, its Northern Fleet base, following two years of overhaul and modernization at Zvezdochka shipyard in Severodvinsk.

Its commander said the 24-year-old submarine successfully completed “tasks of the first phase of factory underway trials” as well as the transfer back to home base.

He said, in 2014, Smolensk will operate in “distant ocean areas” and surface at the North Pole to plant a Russian national flag and Navy ensign.

During the overhaul, the “technical readiness” of all systems, including hull and power plant, was reestablished.  Radioelectronic and navigation systems were modernized, according to Mil.ru.

An overhaul of Voronezh was completed in 2011, and Orel just arrived for refit.

The Oscar II overhauls indicate Russia is investing to keep its third generation nuclear sub numbers up, as Dmitriy Rogozin said it would in early 2012.

Shifting gears to proyekt 885 SSN Severodvinsk, RIA Novosti reported an industry source claimed this first unit of new attack submarines would be accepted at Sevmash on 30 December.

Didn’t happen.  But could soon.

Unit two, proyekt 955 Borey-class SSBN Aleksandr Nevskiy, however, officially joined the fleet on 23 December, according to RIA Novosti.

Aleksandr Nevskiy (photo: Sevmash)

Aleksandr Nevskiy (photo: Sevmash)

Mil.ru covered the acceptance ceremony.  Navy CINC Admiral Viktor Chirkov reconfirmed that Nevskiy will eventually report to the Pacific Fleet’s 25th DiPL at Vilyuchinsk.

But Russianforces.org yesterday covered the arrival of Nevskiy and unit one Yuriy Dolgorukiy at the Northern Fleet’s Gadzhiyevo base.  There, of course, they await the resolution of issues with their primary armament, the Bulava SLBM.

Nevskiy will test fire a Bulava again in 2014.

Unit three, Vladimir Monomakh, is supposed to enter the force in 2014.

Apparently, there was something to the General Staff source who told RIA Novosti that Nevskiy (and Monomakh) would be accepted without their complement of Bulava missiles.