Category Archives: Defense Industry

Tighter in the Hall

Sevmash (photo: www.sevmash.ru)

Sevmash (photo: http://www.sevmash.ru)

It’s tighter in Sevmash’s construction hall, but there’s still plenty of space.

Russian submarine producer Sevmash released the following noteworthy statement on 28 March:

Uniting forces for nuclear-powered submarine construction

For the realization of the state arms program and effective construction of modern nuclear submarines, buildingway-delivery production is being organized at Sevmash.

The Testing and Order Delivery Directorate (UISZ) is joining Sevmash’s two largest buildingway departments — 50 and 55.  The new structure is needed to increase the tempo of modern nuclear submarines construction (recently a significant number of submarines was laid down), guarantee evenness in labor force distribution, and promote the transfer of production experience.  Recall that the buildingway of department 50 was occupied with civilian production in the 1990s:  specifically, it built the unique ice-resistant maritime platform ‘Prirazlomaya.’  Last year the department came back to its core business:  modern nuclear-powered submarines were laid down here.  As the chief of buildingway-delivery production Sergey Novoselov announced, a management system for the new large-scale sub-unit is currently being formed in accordance with the general director’s order.

Press-service OAO “PO ‘Sevmash.'”

For curiosity’s sake, here’s Bellona.org’s take on the ‘Prirazlomaya’ drilling platform.  Not flattering.

What is this buildingway-delivery production?  It sounds like Sevmash knows once it launches some submarines now under construction, it’ll face a fitting-out bottleneck . . . perhaps some pre-delivery work will now occur on the ways prior to launch.

Various media outlets recently noted Russia’s increased submarine production and declared that it is building four nuclear-powered boats (two SSBNs and two SSNs) for the first time in post-Soviet history.  Examples can be found here and here.

But a bit of research, e.g. here, here, here, and here, would have shown that three SSBNs and four SSNs — seven unfinished boats — are now in the hall at Sevmash.  Six laid down since 2012.  They are, of course, proyekt 955A Borey-class SSBNs and proyekt 885M Yasen-class SSNs.

Official reports from Sevmash early last year indicated that the builder plans to lay down two more Boreys and two more Yasens in 2015.  That would make a rather whopping 11 submarines under construction.

The numbers seven and 11 hark back to the halcyon days of Soviet production:  to the 1980s when Sevmash built Typhoon-, Delta IV-, Oscar-, and Akula-class submarines.  Early in that long ago decade, Moscow built four boats at a time, toward mid-decade — six or seven, by the time Gorbachev came to power — eight, before 1990 as many as 10 simultaneously.  Then production dropped to virtually zero in the mid-1990s.

We should remember, however, that Russia’s submarines under construction could turn out to be proverbial “birds in a bush.”  The navy much prefers to have completed boats in hand.

So what stands in the way of completing them?  A number of things potentially. Skilled labor, materials, and component shortages, finding domestic substitutes for sanctioned foreign inputs, and high interest rates and high inflation complicate the already pricey business of building new submarines.

Tsar-Boat

Russian military television, TV Zvezda, not long ago ran a 35-minute show on the construction and acceptance of Borey-class SSBN Vladimir Monomakh in Severodvinsk.  Pretty interesting footage showing test launches of Bulava SLBMs and engineers checking design specs on reams of paper documents.  Props to someone for putting the video on YouTube.

The program follows MOD military representatives, civilians, and crew through the final process of delivering and accepting the new submarine into service.  It also has footage from Votkinsk showing the manufacture of Bulavas for the Borey-class.

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.

What’s It Cost? (Addendum)

There’s reason this week to return to the issue of what the S-400 system costs. Specifically, what it might cost China.

Vedomosti reported Wednesday that Russia has signed a deal with China to sell it the S-400 / Triumf.

The business daily’s defense industry source claims the agreement inked by Rosoboroneksport and the Chinese military will send off not less than six battalions of the advanced SAM system for more than $3 billion.

That would be at least $500 million per battalion (against the previously ventured guess of about $320 million).  Or in excess of $80 million per TEL.

The Russian Defense Ministry has consistently maintained that the S-400 won’t go abroad before 2016.

Vedomosti notes China’s last big purchase was 15 battalions of S-300PMU-2 completed in 2010.

RIA Novosti pretty quickly reported that an official of Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation (FSVTS) said an S-400 contract hadn’t been signed with China as yet.

Rosoboroneksport and Almaz-Antey just declined comment.

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.

Defense Sector Wages

Interesting item on wages in Russia’s defense industrial sector in NG on November 11.

Alina Terekhova reports average monthly pay in the OPK is 17 percent higher than the country as a whole.  However, defense industry salaries lag employee earnings in other key sectors (i.e. railroads, oil, finance).  Yet they are likely to grow while wages elsewhere will probably begin to fall.

Minpromtorg [rather optimistically] forecasts that the earnings of OPK workers will double over the coming five years.

Defense industry pay grew 13 percent last year [not entirely consistent with the table below] against almost 12 percent in other areas.

Average Pay in the OPK

Average Pay in the OPK

Earlier this year, workers in Russia’s mining industry made nearly 57,000 rubles per month, oil workers 83,000, railroads 41,000, and finance 67,000.  Pay in the defense industries averaged about 38,000 rubles per month during the first half of 2014, according to Rosstat.  Nationwide it was about 32,000.

That 38,000 seems to fit in the context of other salaries (e.g. 30-35,000 for junior officers and contractees).

Rising inflation, Terekhova reports, could reduce real earnings for everyone next year.

She quotes a couple experts, neither of whom expects a decline in OPK wages. Despite the stagnation evident in the economy, the Kremlin will likely continue funding the GOZ generously given increased tensions with the West.  This will keep upward pressure on defense sector salaries.

It’s interesting that the oft-mentioned “cadre famine” in defense industry hasn’t bid wages higher.  But some enterprises report the average age (and presumably the pay grade) of their workers is dropping with the arrival of new and younger employees.

The Next China Deal

IA Regnum military observer Leonid Nersisyan recently took a stab at preparing Russian public opinion for the eventual sale of S-400 SAMs and Su-35S fighters to China.  A major arms deal with China should be expected, especially given Moscow’s turn further east in the wake of Western sanctions.

Nersisyan aims to refute usual complaints about exporting Russia’s most advanced weaponry to China, i.e. that Beijing will quickly copy and sell it more cheaply.  He dials back to the early 1990s.

The sale of S-300 SAMs began in 1993, amounting to something between 24 and 40 battalions of three variants.  Along the way, China developed a copy, the HQ-9, similar but less capable than the original in many performance parameters.  If it had been a really good knock off, Nersisyan argues, the HQ-9 would be found in many of the world’s armies, but it isn’t.

China's S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

China’s S-300, Whitewalls on a TEL?

The S-300 has grown old, and the money earned from China went into S-400 development and saved Almaz-Antey from bankruptcy at a time of little, if any, Russian military procurement.  Nersisyan concludes that:

“. . . the deal was successful — the system was copied (with deficiencies) only two decades after the first deliveries, when it had already grown old, and Russia had more modern analogues.”

Nersisyan points also to the Su-27 sale.  First Russia sold Beijing 24, then 200 kits for assembly in China.  But the Chinese stopped the transfer at 100, and began producing a copy, the J-11B.  However, its engine proved unreliable in comparison with Russia’s AL-31F, which the Chinese opted to buy for their domestic fighters.  Similarly, China bought nearly 100 Su-30 variants beginning in 2000 before producing a copy, the J-16, which also lacks a reliable engine. China’s difficulty, according to various reports, is manufacturing turbine blades and plates.

Neither the J-11B nor the J-16 is being produced in volume, and Russian aircraft remain the foundation of Chinese fighter aviation.

So, concludes Nersisyan, it will take China 20 years to copy the more complex S-400, while Russia is deploying the S-500.  Copying the generation 4++ Su-35S will be complicated by its more advanced thrust-vectored AL-41F1S engine, and Russia will be fielding the PAK FA / T-50 in the meantime.

Nersisyan writes that becoming a real competitor in the global arms market requires original RDT&E, not copying.  He sums up in three maxims:

  • Modern technologies don’t lend themselves to quick copying.
  • Copiers always lag behind.
  • The copy is often worse than the original.

What do others say about the threat of Chinese copying?

CAST’s Vasiliy Kashin agrees that fears are exaggerated because people don’t understand the obstacles to successful copying or that China’s military modernization is directed against the U.S. (something that, he adds, benefits Moscow).  He also blames much of the copying of Russian fighters on Ukrainian technical cooperation with China.

Vasiliy Sychev has written that S-400 and Su-35S sales to China will be straight sales without any technical or production licenses.  Moscow typically wants to sell more, and Beijing buy less, but the sides have worked toward the middle.  A new deal (or deals) will be for 2-4 SAM battalions and 24 fighters ($1.5 billion, or $60 million per).

Nor does Viktor Murakhovskiy see anything critical because Russian capabilities will be ahead of what China gets.

More Sinophobic, Aleksandr Khramchikhin says there’s an active and effective pro-China lobby in Moscow’s power ministries and OPK, and he believes Russia needs to understand it faces a grave threat from China.