Mark Collins – Russian Air Force Woes, Cont’d

The Bear is not ten feet tall in the air–further to this post, excerpts from an article in the Moscow Times (via a tweet by Jeremiah Cushman–yes, Svetlana, a bit of free press remains):

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:

Russian Air Force Woes, Unification Section

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


7 thoughts on “Mark Collins – Russian Air Force Woes, Cont’d”

  1. A friend with long familiarity with military aviation matters observes:

    “No doubt that the Russian air force and associated industries are having a hard time. Some of their age-old problems continue, the first being aero engines. Go back to the 1950s and 60s and their other strategic bomber at the time, the Bison, was a superb airframe crippled by totally inadequate engines. The later Sukhoi fighters continue that tradition but are not as badly off performance-wise as the Bison was. [More here on the aircraft: ]

    One of the key problems for the current Blackjack supersonic bomber has also always been the engines; apparently they have finally produced a reliable, improved variant which may explain the announced plans to build a bunch more. [See “NORAD and Russia Upping the Blackjack Ante”: ]

    The Russians do well with tactical helicopters and new versions of the IL-76 transport/tanker/AEW family will appear, with a new engine. And the new Kh series strategic cruise missiles are but one type of new missiles [more here: ], which include ICBMs, SLBMs, SAMs.

    Overall, they have cut force structure and support facilities but appear to be rebuilding the industrial base through the numerous upgrade programs, including the MiG-29 family, the Bears and Backfires, and of course the Frogfoot.

    They may be a long way from their glory days but they certainly have some good airframes and are gradually coming back–so triumphalism is not warranted. They are no worse off than most NATO air forces which have managed to stay relevant only by draconian force cuts. As for the big peer competitor, the USAF fighter force is in trouble as all the money goes for the F-35.”

    Note that last sentence–and see this:

    “The U.S. Air Force Is Slowly Killing the F-16 — and Leaving Gaps in America’s Defenses”

    Mark Collins

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