New face of Russian Air Force

The Russian Air Force has started a massive renovation of its fleet. According to the service’s plans, by 2020 the share of new and modernized aircraft should reach 70%. For this purpose the Air Force are increasing the procurement of new equipment and continue to upgrade the existing inventory. The goal of this effort is to make the service more compact in size, but far more effective.
In August the Russian military placed the largest order since the early 1990s, signing contracts for delivery of 64 Sukhoi fighters. Under the deal, in 2009-2011 Sukhoi jet maker will hand over to the Air Force 12 Su-27SM single-seat fighters and by the end of 2011 – four Su-30M2 double seaters. In 2010-2015 the manufacturer will deliver 48 Su-35S multirole combat aircraft.
The decision to increase the procurement for the national air force was first revealed in May 2009, during Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Sukhoi’s primary production enterprise KnAAPO. According to Sukhoi CEO Mikhail Pogosyan, these orders will ensure the workload of the company’s production facilities and shift the Air Force’s priorities from modernization to purchase of new aircraft. This is also the successful completion of Pogosyan’s years-long efforts to sell the Su-35 – originally developed as an export aircraft – to the Russian Air Force. The jet was initially offered as an interim solution until Russia’s fifth-generation fighter, currently under development at Sukhoi, is operational. But Pogosyan said in June 2009 that production of the two similarly-roled warplanes would run in parallel for about a decade.
The Su-35 is a thoroughly upgraded development of the Su-27 multirole fighter. Sukhoi says the incorporation of fifth-generation technology gives it an edge over same-class aircraft. It is fitted with a new avionics suite built around an integrated digital aircraft control system, the Irbis passive electronically-scanned array radar and a pair of NPO Saturn Product 117S vectored-thrust engines each producing 14.5 tons of thrust.
Sukhoi says the two Su-35 test aircraft have by mid-2009 accumulated over 100 flights. Static tests are set to be completed this year, followed by super-agility trials. The flight-test phase should be finished in 2011.
The Air Force Commander Gen-Col Alexander Zelin also announced that his service would take into service MiG-35S fighters soon. Like the Su-35, the MiG-35 is a transformational redesign of the original MiG-29 aircraft that introduces extended range, increased combat payload and an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. It was developed to take part in the Indian Air Force’s tender for 126 fighters under its MMRCA program. MiG press-secretary Elena Fedorova told Russia & CIS Observer that the number of MiG-35s to be acquired by the Russian Air Force is still being discussed, but aircraft are already included in the defense procurement program through 2020. But the Air Force’s chief of armaments Maj-Gen Oleg Barmin warned that the order may be placed if only the MiG-35 development costs are not included in the price of the aircraft as it was with the Su-35s.
Meanwhile the Air Force is already renewing its fleet of MiG-29 light fighters. In December 2008 it signed a contract for delivery of 28 MiG-29SMT aircraft — a modernized version of MiG-29 basic variant with ground attack capabilities. These aircraft were initially assembled for the Algerian Air Force, but rejected by the customer in 2007. Nevertheless Barmin characterized SMT version as "a very successful modernization variant of MiG-29". This year the Air Force reportedly expects to get the first modernized MiG-29UB two-seaters also rejected by Algeria.
Another important program for the Air Force is modernization of MiG-31 interceptors. The service received the first upgraded MiG-31BM aircraft in 2008. They have new onboard equipment, improved radar and satellite navigation and are able to use new guided weapons. According to Zelin, the Air Force plans to have 9 squadrons of modernized MiG-31s with total of 108 aircraft.
The Air Force will also modernize its strategic bombers. Zelin mentioned that Tupolev Tu-95MS, Tu-160 and Tu-22M3 heavy bombers will receive upgraded avionics to be able to use precision weapons. Simultaneously the military are preparing their requirements for the next generation strategic bomber that, according to the Commander, will be more effective than existing aircraft. It is expected to use wide range high-precision strike weapons what combined to new combat capabilities will enable to fulfill the deterrence tasks by completely new methods.
The fleet of military transports is to be drastically renewed within the next decade, says the Air Force strategy. As Alexander Zelin explained, in the next years Antonov An-22, An-12 and An-26 airlifters will be withdrawn from operations. In the heavy class, the Air Force will focus on modernization of An-124 and Il-76 aircraft. The first prototype of Il-76MD-90 with improved cockpit avionics and new PS-90 engines is expected to start trials in 2010 while the production of the new version is to start in Ulyanovsk-based Aviastar facility in 2011. The Air Force plans to order about 40 aircraft.
An-26 is to be replaced with the new Ilyushin Il-112V light transport with payload of 6 tons. It avionics suite is developed on the basis of Kotlin-Novator Kupol-3 digital flight control and navigation system and will be common with those at new Il-76s. The Air Force expects that the first test aircraft will roll out next year while the flight trials are to start in early 2011. Zelin said that the initial order from the Air Force may include more than 70 Il-112 aircraft, but more orders may be placed by other military services and Russian government bodies. According to the representatives of VASO plant, where Il-112V is expected to be assembled, the first aircraft may start operations in 2012.
The replacement for the medium class An-12 will be the new multirole transport aircraft (MTA) jointly developed by Russia and India. The two partners are expected to set up a joint venture that will deal with the development and production issues. According to the designers, the MTA development will be finished by 2015-2016, while the first prototype may take off in 2014. With the cargo compartment twice the shorter than at Il-76, MTA will be capable to carry up to 18.5 tons of payload. According to intergovernmental Russo-Indian agreement, the Russian Air Force promised to buy up to 100 MTAs. The expected order from the Indian Air Force is smaller – 45 aircraft.
Increased procurement of the new and modernized aircraft is supported by new orders for air launched weapons. In August the Air Force and Russia’s Tactical Missiles Corporation (TMC) signed a contract, valued at 6 billion rubles (about $190 million) for delivery of 14 types of weapons for engaging airborne and land and sea-based targets in 2009-2011. The new TMC missiles will be installed at new-purchased Su-35S fighters and modernized MiG-31BM interceptors.
Both the military and TMC didn’t specify what kind of missiles are in the list, but Zelin mentioned Kh-31 (AS-17) anti-radar missile and Kh-35 (AS-20) anti-ship missile. The TMC representative explained to Russia & CIS Observer that the order also includes new types, first unveiled at MAKS-2009 air show held recently in Zhukovsky, near Moscow. There TMC showed Kh-35UE modification with the range doubled to 260 km as well as short-range RVV-MD and medium-range RVV-SD air-to-air missiles. The official weapons list of Su-35 also includes the following TMC’s products: R-27, R-73 and RVV-AE air-to-air missiles, Kh-29 and Kh-59MK land attack missiles and KAB-500 and KAB-1500 smart bombs. The Air Force Commander explained that his service will also purchase air-launched weapons from other Russian manufacturers adding more than 20 new types to its arsenals.   

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