MAKS Can’t Stop the Rot of Aerospace Industry
By Reuben F. Johnson
I have lived in Russia and Ukraine for almost half of my life — most of the time reporting on the aerospace and defense industry in this part of the world. In that time I have seen the ups and downs of MAKS, the Moscow Air and Space Salon [website here], track with the fortunes of the aerospace sector as a whole in Russia.
The industry struggled in the 1990s and at one point many of us wondered if this air show would just disappear due to lack of interest. After the turn of the century, the aerospace firms in Russia were in a recovery mode, which continued for about a decade.
Russia’s aerospace industry is one of the few success stories of the Soviet era. Unlike the perennial disastrous output of communism’s centrally-planned, state-managed agricultural sector or the pathetically unreliable and crudely-designed automobile models that were produced for the common citizen, Soviet aerospace could boast numerous achievements and firsts. It was the linchpin that made the Soviet Union a world military power.
However, the build-up to the air show this year and the conversations I have had in the proceeding months with those I have known in this industry for more two decades tell a collectively sad tale. MAKS in 2015 will be to Russia’s aerospace industry what the closing years of the Brezhnev era were to the Soviet Union as a whole: an attempt to mask a tragic decline by pasting a glorious and victorious veneer over the top of it and hoping that no one would notice.
A look at some of the major contracts that are expected to be announced during MAKS tell the tale. The 48 Sukhoi Su-35S fighter aircraft [see here] to be signed for delivery to the Russian Air Force are the second such order by the Russian armed forces, the first having been at the same MAKS expo in 2009. This is a total of 96 new fighter orders in a six-year period and does not even begin to address the replacement needs of the air force. Russia’s armed forces need hundreds of new fighters at present — not just a few dozen.
The aircraft currently in inventory are aging, in need of modernization and increasingly wanting for adequate supplies of spare parts and components that had been produced in Ukraine, but which are now embargoed by Kiev for sale to Russia as retaliation for Russia’s involvement in the Ukraine conflict. This partly explains the steady numbers of Russian military aircraft dropping from the skies over the last few months [see first link above]…
If the platform that was planned to be in service already with the air force were on schedule, the Sukhoi T-50/PFI [see here], there would be no need for another Su-35 procurement, but this program is mired in multiple developmental problems. The fifth-generation jet engine and the active electronically scanning array (AESA) radar that are supposed to be installed in the T-50 are nowhere in sight, so the aircraft is being built with the same Saturn 117S engine and NIIP Irbis passive (rather than active) scanning array radar that is already fitted to the Su-35. All of which means its not really a fifth-generation weapon system…
Do read it all. Also: