Russian Military Transport Aviation (MTA), a part of the country’s air force, completed reorganization in 2009 and is now preparing to renew its fleet. MTA Commander Lt-Gen Viktor Kachalkin announced in May that his service expected to get new transport aircraft from 2012 to 2020. However, the military’s plans strongly depend of the capabilities of the Russian aircraft industry and its possible cooperation with the Ukrainian aircraft makers.
Following the general reorganization of the Russian Armed Forces, MTA shifted to a more simple organizational structure. The earlier structure, inherited from the Soviet era, included air divisions, air regiments and air squadrons. Now there are air bases, which directly command air squadrons. Overall, there are four air bases: two 1st class bases in Tver and Orenburg, and two 2nd class bases in Pskov and Taganrog. There is also the 610th training center in Ivanovo. As part of the reorganization effort, military transport aviation now includes A-50 AWACS units, as well as An-2 light turboprops formerly operated by aviation of the Airborne Troops.
According to Lt-Gen Kachalkin, whereas in the previous years the total annual flying time of his aircraft amounted to 12,000 hours, this year his service managed to reach that result in the first six month alone. He expects that an average MTA pilot’s flight experience will reach 96-100 hours in 2010.
Now the service relies on a fleet of Antonov An-124 strategic transports, Ilyushin Il-76MD heavy transport aircraft and Antonov An-26, An-22 and An-12 turboprops. None of these models is produced in Russia at the moment, but the military plans to include orders for new such aircraft in the state defense procurement program for 2011-2020, which is expected to be approved by the Russian government at the end of 2010.
Challenge for the industry
Lt-Gen Kachalkin explained that the fleet renewal will start in 2012-13 with the introduction of new Ilyushin Il-112 light transports. These turboprops, with a payload of up to 6 tons and a range of up to 5,000 km, should replace MTA’s ageing An-26s and An-24s. Later on the military expects to modernize the Il-76MD aircraft through the installation of new avionics and more powerful PS-90A-76 turbofan engines. Plans also call for the procurement of new Il-476 aircraft, an improved modification of the Il-76 which will be assembled in Russia. In 2009, the Russian government took a decision to resume production of the An-124 transport, with deliveries to MTA to start in 2014.
The MTA commander also mentioned the Antonov An-70 transport aircraft developed jointly by Russia and Ukraine. He said that this model, with a payload of 47 tons, could find its niche in the MTA inventory between the Il-76MD and the An-12. Lt-Gen Kachalkin expects his service to get the first one or two such aircraft in 2014-15, to be deployed at the Tver air base. He declined to give the exact overall number of new transport aircraft to be procured, saying only that the fleet renovation program would be completed by 2020.
However, the military’s plans strongly depends on the ability of the Russian aviation industry, now merged under the umbrella of United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), to successfully run so many new programs within such limited timeframes. UAC representatives comment that the Air Force hasn’t yet placed any firm orders. The Defense Ministry is still in the process of defining its vision of the defense procurement program for 2011-20, which is to be funded from the state budget.
The Il-112 will be produced at the Voronezh VASO plant and, according to a UAC source, the first prototype should roll out in 2011. Next year will also see the start of Il-476 assembly at the Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar facility. Compared to the Il-76, which used to be produced at the TAPO plant in Uzbekistan, the new aircraft will have PS-90A-76 engines, a two-member crew and a new, more swept wing. Aviastar also plans to restart its only remaining assembly line for the An-124 strategic transport, but to do so it has to land a military order for at least 20 aircraft, the UAC source says. This program would also require closer cooperation with Ukraine’s Antonov concern, the An-124 designer.
Cooperation with Ukraine
Cooperation with Antonov should also give an additional boost to the An-70 program. The development of this aircraft was launched in the 1980s. The model will feature short-runway performance due to its four D-27 engines with SV-27 counter-rotating propfans. These propellers produce additional air flow that increases the wing lift, provides higher cruising speeds and reduces fuel consumption compared to similarly sized turboprops. The An-70 will be able to operate from unpaved runways of up to 700 m length with 20-ton payloads.
The maiden flight of the first prototype took place in 1994. The program has been developed in cooperation between Russia and Ukraine, but in 2006 the Russian Air Force that was expected to be the major customer for the new aircraft suddenly announced its withdrawal from the program. Bilateral cooperation on the An-70 officially resumed only in 2009. Dmytro Kiva, President and General Designer of Antonov, explained to Russia & CIS Observer that the Russian side has resumed financial support for the program, but that another $150 million is needed to complete the An-70 development.
An-70 prototype is currently in the final phase of government evaluation trials in Ukraine, to be completed in 2012. The aircraft has made 624 test flights, logging 707 flight hours. The remaining tests will include hot-and-high trials and formation flights, for which the An-70 prototype will team up with the first two production aircraft currently under construction in Kiev under the order of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry, Kiva said. He also confirmed that the first production aircraft would feature improved avionics, including new hardware components and processors, cathode ray tubes replaced with LCD displays, and FADEC engine controls.
Earlier, the assembly of An-70 aircraft for the Russian Air Force was expected to start at the Omsk-based Polet facility. But now this facility is out of the UAC scope. After merging with the Khrunichev Space Center, it has now shifted to manufacturing launch vehicles and space satellites.
Integration prospects for the two countries’ aircraft industries were discussed during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Kiev in April. According to preliminary plans, UAC was expected to get 50% plus 1 share of Antonov concern, which includes the Antonov Сompany, production plant in Kharkiv and the Kiev-based 410th aircraft repair plant. In exchange, Antonov was to receive a stake in UAC whose size could be defined after the Ukrainian company completes due diligence. Now it looks like the possible merger is put off for more distant future as it will require reincorporation of the state-owned Antonov into a joint-stock company. Both sides discuss now the creation of a joint venture that will run joint programs like, for example, those of An-124 and An-70. In June UAC’s Board of Directors approved the creation of such Russian-Ukrainian JV. According to Vasily Prutkosvky, UAC Vice-President for Corporate Governance and Development, it will be responsible for procurement of materials and assembly parts for jointly produced aircraft as well as for their sales and post-sale support.