Tag Archives: Su-34

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.”

Su-34 Growing Pains

Su-34 (photo: Izvestiya / Dinar Shakirov)

Su-34 (photo: Izvestiya / Dinar Shakirov)

Early this month, Izvestiya’s Aleksey Mikhaylov and Dmitriy Balburov published on “growing pains” in Russia’s procurement of the Su-34 strike fighter.  The aircraft is “not combat capable” according to them.

A few English-language sites mentioned their story, but didn’t render it completely or accurately.

According Izvestiya, the Defense Minister may soon sign out a report on  defects in the Su-34 that interfere with its “full combat employment.”  Each of the 16 Su-34s received over six years reportedly has its own “individual problems.”

The authors say the Defense Ministry already won an 80-million-ruble suit against the Novosibirsk Aviation Plant named for Chkalov over undelivered aircraft.  They insinuate this Defense Ministry report could be the basis for more litigation against the airplane’s manufacturer.

A Su-34 pilot told Izvestiya radar and targeting-navigation system problems interfere with flight training in the aircraft.  Malfunctions, he says, are the result of both programming problems and technical flaws.  A maintenance officer said each aircraft has “its own characteristics,” for example, an auxiliary motor located in different places on different borts.

Two Su-34s delivered to Lipetsk in 2006 are allegedly non-operational, and sit at the airfield for show.  However, the best airframes are the last three borts sent to Baltimor / Voronezh last summer, a VVS Glavkomat officer told the authors.

OPK representatives expressed surprise at the military’s complaints, noting that the early production run of any aircraft entails problems.  Some blamed a low level of training among VVS pilots and technicians for difficulties with the Su-34.

The Izvestiya report seems at odds with the recent announcement that delivery of a second Su-34 squadron is beginning.  In fact, the media reports five more aircraft arrived at Voronezh from Novosibirsk just days ago.  Practically the same day, Defense Minister Shoygu visited the city, airfield, and other VVS institutions.  It may be that his predecessor Serdyukov was inclined to criticize the OPK and the Su-34’s quality.  So maybe Shoygu won’t approve the Su-34 report.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean there aren’t real problems with the aircraft.

Zelin’s Update (Part I)

Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin gave NVO editor-in-chief Viktor Litovkin an extremely long interview last Friday.  Zelin expanded on things he’s said in previous press encounters.  Some interesting stuff.

Here’s the first part of a quick synopsis.

Su-34.  Zelin mentions the contract for 92 by 2020, but says the VVS will buy 124 or even 140.  He again talks about making it a strategic platform by adding a long-range cruise missile.

Su-35.  The contract for 48 could become 100.

Su-30SM.  This fighter will be used in the progression of pilot training for Su-35 and PAK FA / T-50.

Yak-130.  Zelin mentions using this trainer as the base to develop a light strike fighter for training Su-34 and Su-35 pilots.

MiG-31.  The Air Forces CINC expounds on this old interceptor and plans for it.  About 100 will be kept, and Zelin talks about using a meter wavelength navigation system on it (and other aircraft) so it can operate from civilian airfields.

Su-24.  Two squadrons of “high series” Su-24 will be kept under Gusar and Metronom R&D efforts.  This is necessary because the VVS can’t go entirely to the Su-34, which, incidentally, will be based at Khurba, Chelyabinsk, Krymsk, Voronezh, and Lipetsk.

PAK FA / T-50.  Still planning on 60.

More later.

Su-34 Completes State Testing

Su-34

This week an aviation industry source told Interfaks-AVN that the Su-34 fighter-bomber completed state joint testing, and Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Zelin signed off recommending state acceptance of the aircraft.  The Russian government is preparing the paperwork to this effect for release in 2012.

AVN also said the Su-34 will undergo additional special testing “conducted with the goal of broadening the Su-34’s combat potential.”  The report noted, in testing thus far, the aircraft employed 20 different weapons – including practically all Russian laser-, television-, and satellite-guided precision munitions.

One wonders if this “broadening combat potential” relates to outfitting the Su-34 with cruise missiles.  Lenta.ru’s Vasiliy Sychev recalled General-Colonel Zelin’s words:

“In its maneuver capabilities and missions it can conduct, it is close to Long-Range Aviation’s aircraft inventory.  If it carries a cruise missile, it belongs in a different class.”

According to Izvestiya’s Ilya Kramnik, there are 16 Su-34s in the inventory at present.  They first arrived in 2006.  The VVS are supposed to add six in 2011, get 12 in 2012, and reach 70 in 2015 and 120 by 2020, according to Zelin’s announcement at MAKS in August. 

Let’s recall a couple past promises . . . when Sergey Ivanov was Defense Minister, there were supposed to be 50 Su-34s by 2010, and 200 by 2015.

Kramnik writes that 120 Su-34s will be 70 percent of the fighter-bomber inventory, and some 50 modernized Su-24s will make up the balance.  Right now, there are about 160 Su-24M and 40 Su-24M2 in the force with their average ages in the 25-27 year range.  It sounds like about 10 of these aircraft can be modernized each year.

Lenta reviewed a little Su-34 history.  Conceived in the 1980s as a generation 4+ modification of the Su-27, it had its first prototype flight in 1990 as the T-10V-1.  It’s survived to this day, and been through many convolutions.

Henceforth the Su-34 will have a modernized AL-31F engine, the AL-31FM1 or AL-31F-M1.  See Aviaport.ru on it.  The Su-34 will carry new air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles on its 12 hardpoints.  It has new electronics, a Sh141 phased array radar, aerial refueling capability, and an updated L-150 “Pastel” radar warning system.  It also features an auxiliary power unit so it can use airfields without ground support equipment.

Lenta says the factory in Novosibirsk (NAPO) is modernizing its production lines to the tune of 2 billion rubles with some of the money reportedly coming from the state program of OPK modernization, about which we’ve heard little.  Putin talked about 3 trillion rubles for this over 2011-2020 back in April.

NAPO will give half its capacity to the Su-34, and will allegedly be capable of assembling 20 of them simultaneously, while cutting the time for repairs on other aircraft in half.

The news outlet lauds the Su-34 (rather obviously) as a new aircraft rather than a modernization of an aged one.  But then again one could argue it’s not completely new given that it’s been around, in one form or another, since the 1980s.

Kramnik, citing Konstantin Makiyenko, writes that a multirole fighter like the  Su-30 could perform the Su-34’s missions, but there’s some desire to send NAPO orders.  And the VVS, for their part, will take everything new that the aviation industry can give them.

Makarov’s Press-Conference (Part III)

Army General Makarov (photo: RIA Novosti / Aleksey Nikolskiy)

Still plumbing General Staff Chief Makarov’s Monday press-conference . . .

Makarov indicated Russia’s Israeli-made UAVs will be used in the Tsentr-2011 exercise.  According to Krasnaya zvezda, he once again worked Vega over for wasting years and money without meeting the military’s requirements, forcing it to turn to Israel to obtain unmanned aircraft.

According to Interfaks, the General Staff Chief asserted Russia won’t buy anything but PGMs for its combat aircraft:

“The purchase of conventional [unguided] means has stopped.  We are buying only highly-accurate means.”

“Western countries conduct military operations almost without ground forces.  Aircraft operate outside the air defense zone and sustain minimal losses.”

Izvestiya noted, however, replacing Russia’s dumb bombs with smart weapons won’t be cheap.  Tens of thousands of rubles versus millions.  But one of the paper’s interlocutors concluded:

“The Defense Ministry believes there’s money for buying them, contracts for the first deliveries of new munitions have already been concluded.”

He estimates they will comprise perhaps half of Russia’s aviation weapons inventory by 2020.

Izvestiya quoted Ruslan Pukhov to the effect that guided ASMs made up only 1 percent of Russia’s stockpile in the five-day war with Georgia, and Russian aircraft had to brave Georgia’s air defenses on most missions, losing four Su-25, two Su-24, and a Tu-22M3.  He added, however, that a Su-34 employed an anti-radar Kh-31P to destroy a radar in Gori.

Lenta.ru recalled General-Lieutenant Igor Sadofyev’s late 2010 comments about plans for a radical increase in PGMs and UAVs in the Air Forces by 2020.  You can refresh your memory here.

Some military commentators and news outlets managed to tie together Makarov’s comments on Arab revolutions, Central Asian exercises, snipers, and sniper rifles in interesting, but not always accurate, ways.

KZ summarized Makarov pretty simply as saying the armed conflicts in Arab countries were difficult to predict, and similar events can’t be ruled out in Central Asia.  In its replay of his remarks, he said:

“. . . we should be ready for everything, therefore we are working on this in the exercises.”

So, Moscow’s pretty obviously looking at the possible repetition of a Libyan or Syrian scenario somewhere in Central Asia . . . no surprise there . . . makes sense.

Komsomolskaya pravda said:

“Our military isn’t hiding the fact that current exercises are directly linked to the probable export of military aggression from Afghanistan into the Central Asian republics after NATO troops withdraw from there.”

It cites Makarov:

“[The exercises] envision developing variants for localizing armed conflicts on the territory of these countries.”

That doesn’t really sound Libyan or Syrian, does it?  It’s not internal.  It’s good old external spillover.  Oh well, as long as it’s “localized” on someone else’s territory, and doesn’t cross Russia’s borders.

ITAR-TASS’s version of Makarov got people more spun up:

“The world situation is complex, quickly changing, particularly in North Africa and the Middle East.  It was difficult to forecast what happened in a number of countries of this region, events developed with great speed.  Now no one can say what will happen next.  But this is a signal for all states.  We military men need to be prepared for the worst scenarios.”

This led a few outlets to take the next step on their own, i.e. a repeat of the Arab scenario inside Russia.

You can read likely exaggerations of what Makarov really said in Gazeta.ru or Rbcdaily.ru.  In its version, the latter claimed Makarov didn’t exclude internal unrest following the Arab example in Russia, and the army has to be ready for the worst case scenario of political developments inside the country.

Pouring gas on the fire it lit, Rbcdaily introduced the sniper issue here.

Of course, snipers are great for urban warfare or urban unrest.  Rbcdaily’s Defense Ministry source says Makarov plans to put independent sniper platoons in every brigade.  They’ll be armed with British rifles, of course.  And the snipers themselves will have to be long-term professionals – contractees, so that’ll have to wait until the middle of next year.

Igor Korotchenko tells Rbcdaily:

“A sniper is a piece of work, he can’t be trained in a year, therefore they must absolutely be professional contractees.  We can’t count on conscript soldiers here, like in the old days when there were enough gifted guys who learned to fire the SVD well among the conscripts.”

KZ didn’t mention Makarov talking about snipers.

Just to finish this off, Makarov’s Syrian comments weren’t construed or misconstrued as much.  KZ said simply that he said Russia is not planning a military presence in Syria, nor the introduction of extra security measures at its material-technical support base in Tartus.

ITAR-TASS put it this way:

“This base remains in our hands.  Besides it, our advisors work in Syria.  That’s enough.  We don’t intend to adopt any preventative measures.  . . . we have to watch closely those forces opposing the government.  There are legal demands, and there are opposition demands which, in our view, need to be ignored because they are illegal.”

Air Forces Prospects

With MAKS-2011 underway, this is something of a moving target.  Before getting to the main topic, a little news from Zhukovskiy . . . some of today’s headlines. 

OAK President Mikhail Pogosyan told the press two more T-50 prototypes will join the development and testing program this year.  He expects more than 100 military transport aircraft to be bought under GPV 2011-2020.  Il-112, Il-476, and Il-76MD will come first, then ten An-124 in 2014-2015, and later a larger number of An-70s.  Pogosyan said, starting from 2011, OAK will deliver more than 20 combat aircraft each year.

VVS CINC, General-Colonel Zelin told the media he foresees five squadrons of Su-34 (possibly as many as 120 aircraft).  The VVS will have six by the end of 2011 and will get 12 next year under the current contract for 32 aircraft.

For Air Forces Day, RIA Novosti had military commentator Konstantin Bogdanov describe how he sees things developing for this armed service.  How he puts the Air Forces’ future picture together is worth a look.

Bogdanov says he sees, for the first time since the Soviet collapse, movement, a turnaround in procurement financing, and real deliveries of aircraft in 2011. 

Interestingly, he begins with the Su-35S.  Forty-eight of these “transitional” 4++ generation fighters will be procured, but there could be more if there is any delay in the 5th generation T-50.  Bogdanov suggests, even without a  delay, the pragmatic Defense Ministry leadership could decide to blend 4th and 5th generation technology and equipment in one aircraft.

Bogdanov maintains one Su-34 flew missions in the 5-day war with Georgia [has anyone seen this elsewhere?], then got its serial production go-ahead, and contract for 32 aircraft in fall 2008.  Modernizing the aged Su-24 is a backup plan for the Su-34.  Bogdanov claims VVS CINC Zelin has hinted that ALCM-armed Su-34s could go to LRA.

Some old Su-27s have been updated to Su-27SM, and even a few new Su-27SM3 — unsold to China — have been obtained.

RSK MiG’s future, according to Bogdanov, looks less certain.  Russia had to buy the defective Algerian MiG-29SMTs.  It’s unclear if the Defense Ministry will have any requirement for the MiG-35.  And this leaves MiG with the possibility of providing MiG-29Ks to replace the Navy’s Su-33 fighters on the Kuznetsov’s deck.

Bogdanov then mentions how Irkut has parleyed its export success into more domestic sales.  He says the firm has redeveloped its Indian Su-30MKI into the Su-30SM, and it may sell as many as 40 to the Defense Ministry.  Twelve might go to replace Naval Aviation’s Su-24s at Gvardeyskoye in the Black Sea Fleet [apparently these aircraft weren't swept up by the VVS earlier this year].  Similarly, says Bogdanov, KnAAPO last fall sold the VVS four Su-30M2s, domestic versions of its Su-30MK2 export.

Turning to rotary-wing aircraft, Bogdanov sees stable order books for Russian helicopter makers.  The order books are balanced in terms of military and civilian, and internal and external buyers, and all sales sectors are growing.

He says by 2010 the military’s contract for Mi-28N helicopters reached 100 units and serial production of its main competitor, the Ka-52, continued.  Mi-8s have been bought by the dozens.  And the hangars and flight decks of Mistral helicopter carriers will have to be filled in the future.

Bogdanov concludes more than 100 helicopters of all types may be procured before the end of 2011.  He repeats the familiar goal of 1,000 new helicopters by 2020, and says the near-term future for this sector looks good.

Bogdanov sees more clouds in military transport development and production.  Il-476 production at Ulyanovsk still needs to stand up, and Zelin’s already announced that a new A-100 AWACS will be based on it.  Restarting An-124 production and buying the An-70 from Ukraine are possibilities with details to be worked out.

Focused on platforms, Bogdanov gives short shrift to organizational and human aspects of VVS development.  He notes the Air Forces are completing the change from mission-oriented air armies and divisions to territorial composite or mixed formations (air bases), and he briefly mentions scandals over the handling of “order 400″ premium pay.  But he concludes:

“In coming years we’ll see more than a few painful symptoms in the VVS, both strictly aviation-related and internal, and those connected to the general background of difficult transformations of the country’s armed forces.  Let there be pains, but let them be growing pains.”

Zelin’s Press Availability

Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin made a variety of remarks to the media this morning.  It’s not clear where yet, but it might have been a press-conference at ITAR-TASS.  It’s the season for such things with Air Forces Day and MAKS-2011 just ahead.

At any rate, Zelin had a lot of information on the status of different VVS programs and plans:

  • Army aviation will expand by more than 1,000 helicopters by 2020.  The number of army aviation bases will grow from 8 to 14 during that time.  He mentioned reestablishing production of Mi-26 transports in a POL supply variant.  Zelin doesn’t sound like he’s willing to surrender the VVS’ hold on army aviation.
  • Zelin mentioned getting 8 or 6 new Su-34 this year.  ITAR-TASS gave both numbers, but we’ve seen six elsewhere.
  • The VVS CINC criticized work on the Su-35, saying it has a number of problems.  PAK FA / T-50 is going on schedule, but he wouldn’t say when he expects it to enter the inventory.
  • On UAVs, some drones will go to the Ground Troops per a Genshtab decision, but Zelin says operational-tactical unmanned aircraft will stay at air bases under the control of military district commanders.
  • Without mentioning S-500 development, Zelin talked about new Morfey and Vityaz SAMs.  Morfey is a short-range system mentioned before as part of S-500.  Zelin described Vityaz in greater detail, calling it an improvement on the S-300 with greater capabilities and 16 missiles per launcher.  See ITAR-TASS for this.
  • Zelin said there will be four S-400 regiments by the end of 2011.  He said the second one, the 210th Air Defense Regiment, went on combat duty with it last week, so two more are expected.  The CINC said the manufacturer’s had problems with the system’s long-range missile, but there is an understanding on how to resolve them.  The Air Forces, he says, still want Almaz-Antey to build another production plant.  Interfaks posted on this.
  • The next 6 Pantsir-S gun-missile air defense systems will go to the OSK VKO around Moscow.  Zelin said the first 4 went to the 4th Air Forces and Air Defense Command at Novorossiysk.
  • Another flight demonstration group will be formed using Yak-130 trainers.
  • Zelin expects to get a new A-100 AWACS aircraft, based on the Il-476, by 2016.  He says it will have both air and ground surveillance missions.  The plan has Genshtab and financial support, according to Zelin.