Category Archives: Air Forces

Not Enough Men or Transports

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Il-76 Transport Landing (photo: Kommersant / Anatoliy Zhdanov)

Another large-scale Russian military “surprise inspection” has concluded, and military commentator Ilya Kramnik has placed it, and other exercises, into perspective for Lenta.ru.

Interpreted as a prologue to war in Europe by some, the Kremlin-directed “surprise inspections” are the logical continuation of a process in recent years.  It is the process of developing strategic mobility through deployment exercises, according to Kramnik.

The latest six-day “surprise inspection” focused on deploying and redeploying forces in Russia’s Arctic regions, but President Vladimir Putin expanded it into a nation-wide exercise.

Kramnik focuses his analysis first on the Kaliningrad exclave.  Russia has practiced its defense of this region since the mid-2000s on an expanding scale. But the first large-scale drill in Kaliningrad, Kramnik says, was Zapad-2009.

Kaliningrad is where the pattern of special attention to troop mobility developed. In “surprise inspections,” military units from almost every armed service and branch were delivered by ground, rail, sea, or air transport to unfamiliar ranges in that region to conduct training missions.

The pattern has repeated in each of Russia’s “strategic directions.” Although Kramnik doesn’t describe it as such, it is, in effect, the establishment of expeditionary forces within the Russian military intended for internal transfer and use on any of Russia’s borders (or beyond them).  

If mobility questions play a key role in Kaliningrad, Kramnik continues, they are dominant when it comes to the Arctic.  All Arctic deployments depend on Navy and Air Forces transport capabilities.  Then he writes:

“It relies first and foremost on reestablishment of infrastructure which supports, if necessary, the redeployment [переброска] of troops by sea and by air and not requiring large numbers of personnel for daily service and security.  13 airfields, radar stations, repaired ports and other facilities allow forces to return quickly ‘in a threatening period.’  And to control the surrounding sea and air space a rather sufficiently compact grouping based here on a permanent basis.”

Kramnik concludes that Russia is confronting its weakness — armed forces not large enough to garrison its immense territory.  This increased attention to strategic maneuver is a means to compensate for an insufficient number of troops.  He takes a comment from Viktor Murakhovskiy:

“Today we don’t have a single self-sufficient grouping on any of our [strategic] directions.  This is the main reason for the great attention the Armed Forces leadership allocates to the potential for redeploying forces.”

Mobility, guaranteed by a developed railroad network, and in distant and isolated TVDs by the world’s second largest inventory of military-transport aviation, should support the potential for Russia, if necessary, to “swing the pendulum” — effectively maneuvering forces between different TVDs, Kramnik writes.  The capacity provided by the civilian airlines and fleet can also add to this.

But besides men, Russia also lacks enough transport aircraft.  

Kramnik writes that while attention has gone to constructing and reconstructing airfields and finding personnel to service them, the VTA’s order-of-battle is in critical condition, especially in terms of light and medium transports.  The average age of the An-26 inventory is nearly 35 years; the An-12 more than 45 years.

Events of the last year in Ukraine ended what were already difficult talks with Kyiv about building the An-70 and restarting production of the An-124.  Meanwhile, much of the Antonov Design Bureau’s competence has degraded, according to CAST Deputy Director Konstantin Makiyenko.

So today, Kramnik says, Russia has at its disposal only one serial VTA aircraft — the modernized Il-76, developed 40 years ago with serious limits on the weight and dimensions of military equipment it can deliver.  It will be supplemented by the Il-112 (light) and Il-214 (medium) transports, and by a “future aviation system transport aviation” or PAK TA.

The very same reported PAK TA that generated hysterical press here, then here, and here by promising to land an entire armored division of new Russian T-14 / Armata tanks overnight, anywhere in the world.  From an aircraft industry at pains to duplicate large but old designs like Antonov’s?  Obviously, a sudden outbreak of irrational Soviet-style giantism.

In the end, Kramnik concludes that VTA needs a high priority or Russia will have trouble moving combat capable groupings to the Arctic and Far East.  New aerial tankers are needed as well.

Aerospace Forces

At some point, probably next summer, the Air Forces (VVS) will cease being one of Russia’s three armed services.  The Aerospace Forces (VKS or ВКС) will take their place.  The Aerospace Defense Troops (VVKO) will likewise disappear as a branch and get rolled into the new VKS.  Russia will be left with three services and two branches (not three of each).

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

RF and Air Forces Flags (photo: Mil.ru)

The Aerospace Forces will be responsible for all Russian air forces and air defense (and more).

This news comes on the heels of six months of studious MOD denials that such a move was even contemplated.

It began quietly on 1 December  with Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu’s remarks to a regular military leadership videoconference.

According to Krasnaya zvezda, Shoygu discussed changing the organizational structure of the Air Forces in connection with turning VVKO aerospace defense brigades back into air defense (PVO) divisions.  He said the decision was made in mid-2013 after an analysis of mission fulfillment by the Air Forces.  He explained that:

“The goal of the changes being made is to increase the effectiveness of VVS [Air Forces] command and control, to improve the quality of the organization of everyday activity and planning for the combat employment of the troops.”

It echoed an earlier decision to reverse course on Anatoliy Serdyukov’s large composite air bases and groups and put aircraft back into more dispersed divisions and regiments.

By 10 December, Interfaks-AVN reported that the decision to replace the VVS with the VKS awaited only an official announcement.  

The news agency’s MOD source said:

“Formation of the new service [VKS] will proceed gradually, and, as expected, take several years.  In the course of this period, the forces and means entering the VKS must develop in the direction of unification and standardization of command and control, information and strike systems.”

The source also claimed the first CINC of the new service would be a general officer with experience commanding large inter-service [unified or joint] troop groupings, including aviation and PVO.  The most likely candidate — according to the source — Central MD Commander General-Colonel Vladimir Zarudnitskiy.

Then Defense Minister Shoygu made it official on 18 December when he said creating Aerospace Forces would be a priority task for 2015.

TASS reported the VKS CINC will have deputies for aviation, air defense, missile defense (PRO), and space.  It also indicated that VKS will control all current VVS aviation, including frontal and army aviation.  But its sway over the latter two — with the exception of fighter aircraft — will be “purely nominal,” and they will be employed in “coordination” with MD commanders.  Troop PVO will apparently continue to protect army formations.

Military commentator Igor Korotchenko captured the essence of VKS as a reaction to the possibility of a devastating U.S. aerospace attack on Russia:

“The main function [of VKS] is to guarantee realization of the Russian Federation’s concept of aerospace defense, proceeding from the need to counter existing plans, particularly of the United States of America, to implement the prompt global strike concept.  The Americans are planning in the conceivable future to use precision weapons, including hypersonic ones, to destroy [launch] positions and silos of intercontinental ballistic missiles, command centers, communications centers.  The fact here is that this concept will potentially be a great threat for Russia.  These new structures, the new service of the Russian armed forces will be occupied with its deterrence and neutralization.”

Such a potentially disarming threat might mobilize the military and public against America, but Korotchenko and the VKS will have to wait a very long time for it to materialize.  And if it doesn’t appear, then the deterrent worked, right?  A no-lose proposition from Moscow’s perspective.

VKS will be something of an effort to resurrect or reconstruct Soviet PVO Strany — national air defense — that was dismantled beginning in the late 1970s. Serdyukov’s reorganization of the VVS and creation of VVKO are criticized now as focused solely on saving money.  The current thinking is that all aerospace defense systems should be concentrated in a single service and single CINC with authority and responsibility for protecting the country’s aerospace borders.

The new VKS will be anything but compact, as President Putin often calls on the army to be.  They will be a sprawling enterprise that may be challenging to link and inter-connect for operations as a unified command.  If Serdyukov’s changes were too economy-minded, this one errs on the side of Soviet-style giantism. And now isn’t an auspicious time for expensive undertakings.

There are practical issues too.  How will the VKS CINC manage competing requirements for modern fighter aircraft from frontal aviation and air defense?Their number is limited and insufficient for both needs.  So creation of VKS won’t change the fact that they will be spread thinly over a gigantic landmass.

Moral of the story:  Reform, reorganization, and reshuffling never really end no matter the boss — Serdyukov, Shoygu, etc.  VKS may be the answer for a time, but they’re very unlikely to be the last word. 

P.S.  Various reports on VKS provided some indication of deployments in 2015. What is currently the VKO brigade (or will become a PVO division) in Novosibirsk may receive the S-400 this summer.  Shoygu said the MOD will put an air and air defense army (AVVSiPVO or АВВСиПВО) in the Arctic.  More recently, TASS reported an S-400 regiment will be deployed on Novaya Zemlya.

Item 30

PAK FA

PAK FA

HT to Militaryparitet.com for pointing to Lenta.ru on the status of work on PAK FA’s advanced “second phase” engine.

Lenta (citing Interfaks) says a source close to ODK General Director Vladislav Masalov says a PAK FA with the “second phase” engine will fly in 2017.

He reportedly said the “second phase” engine will replace “item 117” and give PAK FA supercruise capability while being 15-18 percent more fuel efficient and cheaper to maintain.

Lenta notes the developmental engine is “item 30” not “item 129” as cited previously in Russian media.

The AL-41F1 is “item 117.”  Current PAK FA prototypes and the Su-35S have “item 117S” (AL-41F1S) engines.

Recall, in 2010, ODK along with NPO Saturn hoped the “second phase” engine would fly by 2015.  However, OAK President Pogosyan was considerably less sanguine, saying that the advanced engine might come in 2019, or later.

S-400 Deployments

S-400 Firing (photo: Interfaks-AVN / Andrey Stanavov)

S-400 Firing (photo: Interfaks-AVN / Andrey Stanavov)

Last week Interfaks-AVN wrote that the Russian military just received two “regimental sets” of S-400 / Triumf SAMs.  They make numbers seven and eight.

One became the fourth “regimental set” of the 4th Aerospace Defense Brigade around Moscow and the other is bound for the 1st Aerospace Defense Brigade on the Kola near Northern Fleet headquarters at Severomorsk.

The Kola brigade is the first in the Western MD to have the S-400.  It falls under the Western MD’s 1st Air Forces and Air Defense Command.

The other three of the eight are the 3rd (Kaliningrad), 7th (Novocherkassk), and 12th (Nakhodka) Aerospace Defense Brigades.

Almaz-Antey General Director Yan Novikov told the Interfaks-AVN that, for the first time, the Defense Ministry will get three S-400 “regiments” in a single year in 2014.

TASS reported even earlier last week that Almaz-Antey will deliver the ninth “regiment” will before the end of December.  It will be the first three-battalion regiment, and is destined for Kamchatka, or the 14th Aerospace Defense Brigade (Yelizovo).

In September, the commander of PVO and PRO for VVKO, General-Major Andrey Demin told TASS that 12 “regimental sets” of S-400 and 72 Pantsir-S would be procured by 2020.

Su-35 Deliveries

Su-35

Su-35

RBK-TV ran a short segment on 3 October indicating that OAK, Sukhoy, and KnAAZ (aka KnAAPO) will deliver (or will have delivered) 22 Su-35 aircraft to the Air Forces by the end of 2014.

Twelve Su-35 were reportedly delivered in 2013, so 22 plus delivery of 14 more in 2015 would fulfill Sukhoy’s 2009 contract for 48.  There’s been talk all along about a follow-on contract.

The report briefly covered the aircraft’s capabilities and noted that China would be the primary foreign customer for it.  However, according to RBK, the export variant will not carry the same avionics as the domestic version.

The video features OAK President Mikhail Pogosyan saying that the corporation’s military production is fully independent of foreign suppliers (and therefore unaffected by Western sanctions).

The broadcast ends noting that more than 12 billion rubles have been invested in Sukhoy’s modernization over five years.  More than 3 billion from targeted state programs have gone into financing Su-35 development.

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.”