The average age of aircraft in the Russian Air Force is about 25 years, so the defense ministry is working up an ambitious plan to replace a major portion while eliminating some inventory by retirement, all by 2020.  Fifteen hundred aircraft of which 350 are to be new production combat aircraft over the next ten years, that is the plan.  However, just as the US and other Western air forces are finding out, the costs for a complete overhaul are quite prohibitive.  Same as regards total numbers, too expensive to go for a 1:1 replacement.  However, it’s not as if the current inventory, numbering over 2800 (1500 combat aircraft), is the paragon of full mission capability as many are either so old/obsolete that they are for all intents, static displays.

So despite the flight of the first 5th gen fighter earlier this year, the RuAF will instead look to a mix of 5th gen, updated 4th gen and rework of existing aircraft.   Sort of like the F-35, F/A-18E/F decision the Navy is facing here at home.  The box score (according to a recent article in Ria Novosti) shows the defense ministry has already signed contracts for:

  • 32 x Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers (to be delivered by 2013)
  • 48 x Su-35 Flanker-E fighters (delivery by 2015)
  • 12 x Su-27SM Flanker B Mod 1 fighters (by 2011)
  • 4 x Su-30M2 Flanker-C (also by 2011)
  • 12 x Su-25UBM Frogfoot combat trainers

Additional contracts this year call for:

  • 26 x MiG-29K Fulcrum-D fighters (by 2015)
  • at least 80 x Su-34s and 24-48 x Su-35s

In sum, the RuAF is expecting to receive 240-260 new aircraft of these types by 2015.  Another 100-110 aircraft (according to the article) consisting of MiG-35, Su-30, and 40-60 Sukhoi PAK-FA 5th generation are scheduled to be added.  Clearly, even with some reductions in force stemming from consolidation and greater capability per aircraft, some existing a/c will still need to be retained and as such, overhauled. Included in the latter group will be the majority of the bomber force consisting of Tu-160 Blackjack, Tu-95MS Bear-H and Tu-22M Backfires while working on a new generation bomber.

Several questions arise regarding this ambitious plan, chief of which is the industrial capacity to support the plan.  Not long ago, the first Tu-160 to go through re-work/update was completed – an effort that took over a year for one aircraft.  Now, a new process will take time initially to complete and over time, efficiencies manifest themselves as workers gain experience and overhaul times will correspondingly drop.  However, one must ask if there are sufficient amounts of skilled labor, spare industrial capacity and funding to complete.  Some ventures, such as a proposal that India share 50-50 in the development (and costs) of an export variant of the T-50 to serve in the Indian Air Force may help offset some of those shortfalls while easing some of the costs.  Other sales overseas would also offset financial costs, but at what price to making the rather optimistic and aggressive schedule the defense ministry has laid out.

Time will tell…

2 Comments

  1. virgil xenophon

    All depends on the price of oil. If Obama gets his way it will be sky-high and Russia will have more than enough to both re-float their Navy and re-launch their Air Force using the flood of Obama-inspired petro-dollars as our dependence on foreign oil grows apace and China locks down long-term energy contracts all over the non-Russian world as are developing their own sources while they are buying a piece of the action wherever they can world-wide. All of this will make oil scarce for the non-Russian, non-Chinese part of the world and drive prices ever higher.

    We are sailing on the proverbial “Ship of Fools”, SJS. Ship of State? Au contraire: Ship of Fools…

  2. jako777

    “and 24-48 x Su-35s”

    as far as I know it is 48 x Su-35s
    and 96 engines for the planes are finished already(source – RIA news)

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