Data on VDV

One can’t call this news.  News not discovered or reported promptly is just data. Not less important to this mind.  But on with the story . . .

Last summer, VDV Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Shamanov told the press about pending changes in the Russian Airborne Troops’ manning and structure.  Not clear if, when, or at what level they’ve been approved.  But fait accompli is Shamanov’s style.  His influence is larger than his nominal rank and post, and he often gets what he wants.

Specifically (among many things), Shamanov claimed the VDV will:

  • Upgrade some regiments to brigades;
  • Establish a logistics brigade;
  • Raise some companies to battalions; and
  • Add a third maneuver regiment to each VDV division.
Valeriy Vostrotin

Valeriy Vostrotin

That’s all context . . . last October, chairman of the Union of Airborne of Russia (SDR or СДР), retired General-Colonel Valeriy Vostrotin gave out two data points in a comment to Rossiyskaya gazeta:

“We veterans were satisfied with the news that it’s now been decided to reinforce the VDV significantly, to increase their numbers by another 20 thousand men.  For me personally, it’s particularly pleasant that, in 2015 in Voronezh an air-assault brigade with the number 345 will be formed and the banner of the famous 345th regiment, which I once commanded in Afghanistan, will be transferred to it . . . .”

So . . . another 20,000 men for VDV, and a new brigade.  Not confirmed, but possibly on the horizon.

Today Russia’s airborne forces are thought to number about 30,000.  Down from an “on-hand” strength ranging anywhere from 55,000 to 75,000 in the late 1980s or very early 1990s.  Desantura.ru gives figures like that.

Going back to 50,000 would be significant, and would add lots of contractees to the ranks.  Equipping a new formation and other new units would not be a minor undertaking either. 

Again, data not news.  May or may not happen.  But we were informed.

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.

For Reference

Here’s a little reference material with some order-of-battle info.  Just a place to put scraps of data when they’re found.

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.”

55 OMSBr (G)

Denis Mokrushin’s blog provided heads up to the establishment of an independent motorized rifle brigade (mountain), which may stand up in, of all places, Tuva in 2015.

Tuva and Central Asia

Tuva and Central Asia

According to Mokrushin, the new 55th Independent Motorized Rifle Brigade (Mountain) will be based in Kyzyl, capital of the ethnic Tuvan republic located at the geographic center of Asia, not far from Central Asian nations where it might deploy in a crisis.

The new mountain brigade, part of Russia’s Central MD, will reportedly be designated not just for mountain combat, but peacekeeping duties as well.  A story from February indicated only residents of Tuva will be considered for enlistment in the 1,500-man brigade.  It will be mainly equipped with GAZ-2330 Tigr vehicles.

The 55th would be one of a handful of formations specifically created for mountain warfare, the most significant being the Southern MD’s 33rd and 34th brigades.  It will also give Russia a maneuver force in a location near its border currently lacking troops.

According to Tuva’s military commissar, contractees in the brigade will have a chance to support themselves and their families.

Tuva might best be described as remote, rugged, impoverished, and sparsely inhabited.  Its 300,000 or so people are predominately, and increasingly, Tuvan as the Russian population dwindles.

The reported plan to recruit only in Tuva means that the 55th brigade would be effectively an ethnic formation — something the Kremlin and the MOD have steadfastly resisted in regions like Tatarstan or the North Caucasus.  The brigade priest will be Buddhist.

This month, however, a military spokesman said men from neighboring Krasnoyarsk Kray, Khakassia, and Kemerovo will be recruited as well.

The report of a new brigade in Tuva appears against the backdrop of previously announced plans to add more Russian Army brigades and sign up larger numbers of contract servicemen.

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.

Never As Strong

One’s been reminded recently of the adage (attributed to Churchill and others) that Russia (and its military) is never as strong, nor as weak, as it seems to be.

Its military strength or weakness slides along a scale, constantly shifting. Though appearing to be in one place, it’s often already moving (or starting to move) in the opposite direction.

Yesterday’s Red Square military parade marked the 69th anniversary of victory in the Great Patriotic War.  It was quite an impressive display of fair Slavic manhood.

Defense Minister Shoygu Reviews Troops Before 9 May Parade

Defense Minister Shoygu Reviews Troops Before 9 May Parade

As every year, Moscow understandably put its best foot forward.  But we’d do well to remember this isn’t necessarily the face of the entire Russian military.

This is the same country that gave us the Potemkin village and infamous 1955 Soviet Aviation Day flyover (and bomber gap).  Be impressed, but don’t go overboard like many comments you’ll read.

Russia’s armed forces have clearly improved in recent years.  There’s even been an uptick since Shoygu replaced Serdyukov.

But is Russia’s military development on a sustainable trajectory?

Probably not, in this writer’s estimation.

Shoygu Likes Things on a Soviet Scale

Shoygu Likes Things on a Soviet Scale

Shoygu’s efforts appear aimed at returning the armed forces to something approximating Soviet scale (or the unreformed, pre-2008 Russian scale at least).

Despite the problems he ultimately caused, Serdyukov tried — not just to reduce the military’s proportions — but to make it fit its manpower, its logistical support, and its most likely threats.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its build-up opposite eastern Ukraine have spurred observers  to assess that Ivan’s 7-feet-tall and growing.  Many of them never looked at Russia’s military prior to March.

One’s strength is inversely proportional to that of the enemy.  Everything is net assessment.  Three long-time analysts have concluded:

“You don’t have to be good to win — just better than your foe.”

“The Russians were capable of confronting an inferior force that is right next door.”

“It’s an impressive operation, but it’s an 80% political operation.  The military are there to stand around and look menacing.  It’s not as if they took Crimea.”

We should also note the Russians already had a huge military presence inside the borders of the country whose territorial integrity and sovereignty they violated.

Russia isn’t the first (and won’t be the last) great power or superpower to use its foreign military bases for such a purpose.

Such actions usually carry a high diplomatic, political, military, and economic price that has to be paid eventually.