Tag Archives: VVS

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 III)

In the middle part of General-Colonel Zelin’s incredibly long NVO interview, he reacts to Defense Minister Serdyukov’s high command changes and other structural realignments over the last couple years.  He also shares thoughts on the state of VVS training.

Zelin speaks to interviewer Viktor Litovkin like a 58-year-old three-star who’s surprised to have stayed at his post as long as he has.  He speaks like he isn’t concerned about being retired.

Asked what he and his Main Staff do now that the VVS operate under the four MD / OSK commanders, Zelin responds that plans to create an automated C2 system (ASU) haven’t quite gotten there.  He talks and is online with the district commanders often.  But, he says:

“The main thing is combat training remains with the VVS Main Command. Organizational development (stroitelstvo or строительство) of the service and combat training.  And without combat training what kind of employment can there be?”

There were, he continues, arguments and unresolved issues:

“But during the decisionmaking I proved my point of view, my vision of present problems, sometimes they had to agree, sometimes they had to listen on several issues, but, since now decisions have been made, we have to fulfill them.  To get to work.”

But he grouses a bit more.  He sounds like a man with responsibility who lacks authority.

The ASU isn’t working, but service central command posts (TsKP or ЦКП) were eliminated.  Regardless, Zelin says he has to organize and control training.  Every day 70-80 units have aircraft flying, and they have to be tracked.  They can’t just be given a mission and forgotten.

Asked about the newly-established Aerospace Defense (VKO) Troops, Zelin claims interestingly, that only PVO brigades in Russia’s central industrial region — the old Moscow AD District, KSpN, or OSK VKO — went over to them.  He says MD / OSK commanders got the rest, and he equips and trains them for regional commands to operate.  His view seems to be VKO is limited to strategic and theater MD.  You can’t, he opines, have PVO without air defense aviation integrated into it.  According to Zelin, a single national system of air defense, including Troop Air Defense, is needed, but a decision’s been made and it’s left but to fulfill it.

Before talking more about training, Zelin reiterates that a single system of net-centric strategic C2 and decisionmaking is the goal, but they aren’t quite there.

He seems envious of the large-scale, largely automated airspace control systems he’s seen in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

On training and flight hours, Zelin says he’s got no problems with material support (i.e. POL), but problems addressing aircraft service life support [ресурсное обеспечение].  He states frankly he worries about maintenance provided (or not) by civilianized, outsourced Oboronservis affiliate Aviaremont.  There is plenty of money for maintenance, but those responsible aren’t getting it done.  While the Glavkomat has heartache about aircraft serviceability:

“Our other structures for some reason are responsible only for financial flows.”

Zelin was asked earlier if 130 flight hours was the VVS goal.  He says last year pilots got 340,000 hours, or 90 per pilot.  That makes roughly 3,800 pilots, if they’re shared evenly (they’re not).  Eighty percent of young pilots got not less than 100. In some cases, it was harder and they got a little more than 50.  Zelin adds this is still better than the 1990s.

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.

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.

Some Cracks in Air Forces’ Stonewall (Part II)

Returning to the latest on Igor Sulim . . . in a late July Nezavisimoye voyennoye obozreniye article, Oleg Vladykin summarized the GVP’s various recent press releases about rising crime in the Armed Forces.  He provided insight into how senior officers view Sulim and premium pay extortion at Lipetsk.

A colonel, a deputy formation commander speaking anonymously told Vladykin:

“Almost the entire service of many senior officers came to twenty years in which they constantly humiliated, deprived the army whenever possible, and generally kept it in a miserable state.  But at the same time they used it regularly.  Senior officers carried all this gloom on their shoulders.  And here now, as if in gratitude, they promise to raise their pay three times!  Colonels will receive the same as junior managers in some public company, whose peaceful labor the army successfully defended in spite of everything.  Many have only a year or two left to serve, then dismissal in connection with reaching the age limit.  And what then?  And then also an increased, but still laughable pension.  It will be two times less than a lieutenant’s pay.  Therefore, senior comrades confidently tell younger officers:  ‘Boys, you still have everything ahead of you.  Somehow, you’ll manage to make a more or less decent living.  We here won’t…’  You know the majority understand this.  And those like Senior Lieutenant Sulim from the Lipetsk Center are the exceptions.  I’m not judging them, no, but I’m sure that after 1 January the prosecutors won’t easily locate those who’ll agree to talk about their contributions to their senior colleagues.”

Vladykin says he can’t agree with this argument, but it’s impossible not to note some logic in it.  He concludes:

“The psychology of men in shoulderboards has changed very powerfully in the course of recent Armed Forces transformations.”

In his Moskovskiy komsomolets blog Friday, Sulim highlighted an article posted on Lipetsk’s Gorod48.ru.  The article reviewed the shady, semi-criminal past of Hero of the Russian Federation, General-Major Aleksandr Kharchevskiy.

Then Sulim asks (rhetorically) how Kharchevskiy can be silent, and how could he not know about the criminal activities of his deputy, of his cousin, or of his subordinates who extorted money from their subordinates.  He sums it up:

“It’s shameful and disgusting that in the space of twenty years they’ve turned an elite flying unit into an elite business for stuffing pockets, hiding all this under a mask of love for the Motherland and swearing on officer’s honor.”

Perhaps there’s some kind of behind-the-scenes three-way struggle between the Defense Ministry, Air Forces, and military prosecutors over premium pay extortion.  Or maybe it’s a negotiation to agree on how, and how far, to pursue the Lipetsk case and ones like it.

But the Defense Ministry seems paralyzed.  The unit checks ordered by Serdyukov rather improbably failed to turn up similar crimes in services or branches besides the Air Forces.  As the colonel quoted above says, the Defense Ministry may believe the scandal will die down after the new, higher military pay system goes into effect.

The cracks in the Air Forces’ stonewall on the Sulim case are only tiny fissures.  Those immediately involved in extorting money and pressuring officers at Lipetsk are finally in trouble with the law, but no one above that immediate level.  As an institution, the VVS appears unworried for now.

The prosecutors apparently can’t even name the officers they “hold accountable” in the VVS Glavkomat.  This isn’t to belittle Sergey Fridinskiy, his organization, and their efforts.  He and his prosecutors sometimes seem to be the only people looking honestly at the state of the Russian military.  There are clearly only so many battles they can fight. 

And preoccupied as they are with their own positions, skirmishes, and the fast-approaching election season, Russia’s political and government leaders aren’t likely to devote more time or attention to untangling what’s happened at Lipetsk.

Zelin Out?

An Interfaks source in the Defense Ministry says Air Forces CINC, General-Colonel Aleksandr Zelin might be retiring on age grounds.  The rumor goes that Zelin’s Deputy for Aviation, General-Lieutenant Igor Sadofyev will relieve him, while Zelin moves into a defense industry job.  RIA Novosti reports the same story, citing several media outlets.  The Air Forces spokesman, meanwhile, says the VVS cannot comment because it doesn’t have any information to this effect.

RIA Novosti talked to defense commentator Igor Korotchenko, who expressed caution about the Zelin rumor, but said the move to four MDs / OSKs has diminished the service CINC’s influence:

“The role and place of the main commands of the services of the Armed Forces has been reduced accordingly.  Practically all aviation, except strategic, will be subordinate to the OSK commander.”

He says the story of Zelin’s possible departure may have surfaced because of the downgrading of the service CINCs.

It’s interesting that age was cited since Zelin’s only 57, and can serve until age 60 under the law.  He’s headed the VVS since May 2007. 

The three-star general was the subject of dismissal rumors in 2009 when the General Staff Chief and Defense Minister were allegedly unhappy with his insufficient command of air-space (aerospace) defense (VKO) issues.  See Newsru.com and Grani.ru for that story.

Latest on VVS Procurement

Su-35

Russian Air Forces (VVS) spokesman Colonel Vladimir Drik picked the day after New Year’s to make some specific announcements on his service’s plans for procuring airplanes and helicopters out to 2015.  Not sure what inspired or spurred the sound bites, but one’s glad for every morsel.

He said the VVS will acquire up to 100 Sukhoy aircraft by 2015.  Sukhoy has three state contracts to provide, as Drik put it:

“. . . nearly 50 multifunctional highly-maneuverable Su-35 fighters (they should be delivered by 2015), more than ten modernized Su-27SM and nearly five two-seat multipurpose Su-30M2 fighters (they will be delivered before the end of 2011).”

It doesn’t read as awkwardly in RIA Novosti’s original:

“. . . около 50 многофункциональных сверхманевренных истребителей Су-35 (их должны поставить до 2015 года), более десяти модернизированных Су-27СМ и около пяти двухместных  многоцелевых истребителей Су-30М2 (их поставят до конца 2011 года).”

It’s not clear whether “before the end of 2011” applies to just the Su-30M2, or Su-27SM deliveries as well.

What Drik describes is basically Sukhoy’s VVS contracts signed at MAKS-2009 (48 Su-35, 12 Su-27SM, and 4 Su-30M2).  In all, 64 aircraft for about 80 billion rubles.

Drik also said 25 Su-34 fighter-bombers will be procured.  The Su-34 purchase has always been reported as 32. 

It’s easy to lose track – were there 2, then the 4 at the end of 2010, plus 25 for a 31?  Or was it really 3, then 4, plus 25 for a total of 32?

He concludes that, in all, there are long-term contracts for “nearly 130 combat aircraft.”

Recall that Deputy Air Forces CINC Sadofyev said the VVS order for 2011 includes the Su-27SM, Su-30M2, Su-34, Su-35, Yak-130, and helicopters, but he gave no numbers.

Now this observer counts 90 Sukhoy airframes in Drik’s comments, so that’s pretty much “up to 100.”  Less clear is where the balance of 30-40 combat aircraft will come from by 2015.  Will they be new Yak-130 combat trainers, helicopters?

Drik did enlighten us a little on VVS plans for helicopters.  He said three (not four as reported elsewhere) Ka-52 / Alligator arrived at Torzhok at the end of last month, and he noted that serial deliveries of this helicopter will begin this year.

Ka-52 (photo: RIA Novosti / Anton Denisov)

He emphasized that the Mi-28N / Night Hunter, accepted into the inventory in 2009, is no less important to the VVS.  He said Army Aviation will need it for a long time.  For trainers, series deliveries of the Ansat-U began in 2009, and preliminary testing of the Ka-60U continues, but Drik didn’t say anything about numbers the VVS expects to receive.

If this is the complete plan until 2015, it’s fairly modest.  Modest can be good.  Modest is achievable.  It may or may not be the whole picture.  We have to continue parsing the statements, and triangulating the words, to try and see where the VVS will be in the next few years.

If this is the plan, it doesn’t sound like what’s been touted as 500 new airplanes and 1,000 new helicopters by 2020. 

Yes, this is a skeptic’s viewpoint.  Maybe VVS procurement is backloaded after 2015. 

But a few other thoughts linger . . .

  • The Su-35 still faces state testing.  It was supposed to start this past fall. 
  • Seems like a lot of aircraft are gap-fillers for PAK FA.  It’ll be interesting if it’s not an obvious success well before 2015.
  • One supposes MiG aircraft are completely out of the picture.
  • Nothing was said about transport aircraft.  They’ve been emphasized a little lately, and sooner or later someone’s got to talk exact numbers.
  • Interesting that there’s so little specific said on helicopters.