All posts in “Russia”

tu22e

Everything Old is New Again*

* Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace The Bad Old Days

Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed

Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

- Peter Allen, ‘Everything Old is New Again

There was a point, a decade or so ago (OK, maybe two decades back), when I thought some of my bete noirs, like medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missile-armed supersonic bombers were going to go skulking off into that not-so-gentle night.  Alas, it appears not so:

A move by Russia to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China for US$1.5 billion to China was confirmed by the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission two years ago and the bomber’s name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports the state-run China News Service  … The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force. One of world’s fastest long-range bombers which can also carry atomic weapons, the plane can cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific.  Sources here and here.

So now, along with pondering MRBMs that may be the Pershing II re-incarnated, alongside bulked up Badgers, we have the prospect of the Backfire being introduced into the increasingly volatile mix that constitutes the Far East Theater.  Mah-velous.  Previously rebuffed in the late 80′s/early 90′s by the Russians who didn’t want to upset the balance of forces in theater, the Chinese evidently closed the deal in 2010 to domestically produce up to 36 Tu-22M3 Backfires (Domestic designation: H-10) with the engines to be supplied by Russia – an agreement all the more curious because of the very real anger the Russians have (had?) over the Chinese knock-off production of the Su-27SK that formed the basis of the J-11 family and the navalized J-15 without paying the attending license-fees.

While it is easy to wave the “game changer” flag, the appearance of the H-10 in the region, especially in terms of coverage in the SCS and as a possible LACM platform for strikes against Guam, will be cause for more concern and an additional complication in the “Pacific pivot.”  Already, H-6′s and H-6K’s running around the region with a variety of sub- and supersonic cruise missiles are cause for concern, and now, just as in the ‘Good/Bad Old Days’ the appearance of the Backfire on the stage once again places a premium on our ability to reach out and touch at long ranges, the archer before he has the option to shoot his arrows – rebuilding the Outer Air Battle as it were, but in an updated form to handle an updated threat and under conditions we didn’t necessarily have to face in the Cold War.   It also means stepping up our training and putting renewed emphasis on countering the reconnaissance-strike complex that would support the H-6/H-10 (and ASBMs for that matter) – time to get serious about OPDEC, EMCON and a host of other TTPs we became very practiced with during the 80′s but have let atrophy over the years.  Oh, and did I mention the need for some really, really good AEW? ;-)

And do-on’t throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo (ITAR-TASS)

ROSKOSMOS Head on Recent Failures – “…Sabotage”

President Vladimir Putin (right) with General Vladimir Popovkin at the Voronezh Radar Station in a 2007 file photo (ITAR-TASS)

When all else fails – and your butt is on the line with a major PR catastrophe looming, it is best to man-up, square your shoulders and do your duty as organizational lead by assuming responsibility before The Big Guy…unless you are the head of Russia’s ROSKOSMOS space agency.  Then you can hint darkly about “sabotage”

Roscosmos director Vladimir Popovkin’s comments to state-backed daily “Izvestiya” echo a recent allegation by a retired Russian general who said a U.S. radar in Alaska might have emitted an electromagnetic burst to disable a mission to probe Mars’ moon Phobos in November.
“It’s not clear why our setbacks often occur when the vessels are traveling through what for Russia is the ‘dark’ side of the Earth — in areas where we don’t see the craft and don’t receive its telemetry readings,” Popovkin reportedly told “Izvestiya.” “I don’t want to blame anyone, but today there are some very powerful countermeasures that can be used against spacecraft whose use we can’t exclude.”

Never mind the fact that sloppy manufacturing, nonexistent quality assurance, much less configuration management might perhaps to be to blame?  Nope – easier to blame it on nefarious doings over on the dark side of the Bering Strait…

Just as the star-crossed BULAVA SLBM suffered a series of test failures stemming from absent quality controls and poor engineering design that caused a series of upper stage failures (finally corrected after a detailed autopsy of the design and manufacturing process), the PHOBOS-GRUNT mission was doomed by last minute modifications that were not part of the original design, poorly executed and with little, if any risk management applied.  The net result — when it came time to position the spacecraft to burn the thrusters setting it on path to Mars, they failed to start.  The satellite began to drift and when it was unable to orient itself to allow the solar panels to provide power to the spacecraft, it became so much space junk.  $5B rubles worth of space junk with over 7 tons of highly toxic nitrogen tetroxide and hydrazine used as fuel – and no means to conduct an intercept like the US did in 2008.  So, in a few days when Doc Newton is proven right (again) and Phobos-Grunt re-enters the atmosphere, there is a very real possibility some larger pieces may survive and make it all the way to the ground with the potential for property damage and personal injury.  The good news, if one wants to call it that, is that unlike that 2008 satellite which had been on orbit long enough for the hydrazine to freeze solid (and thereby improve chances of survival on re-entry), the odds are that isn’t in play here and most of the really toxic stuff will burn up in the upper atmosphere.

Still, in light of the other very public failures of multiple launches last year – including a failed ISS re-supply mission that forced a reduction in manning for the space station, questions are mounting regarding the direction and management of Russia’s space program, from outside as well as within:

In late November, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev hinted at the “need to carry out a detailed review” of the space program’s problems “and punish those guilty.”

Given that Popovkin’s appointment came about when his predecessor was fired over a failed SATCOM launch and in light of Medvedev’s hints of further punishments, perhaps it is understandable that the old chestnut of “sabotage” is trotted out – but the track record isn’t so good for others that have tried:

They were all disloyal. I tried to run the ship properly by the book, but they fought me at every turn. If the crew wanted to walk around with their shirttails hanging out, that’s all right, let them! Take the towline – defective equipment, no more, no less. But they encouraged the crew to go around, scoffing at me and spreading wild rumors about steaming in circles and then ‘Old Yellowstain.’ I was to blame for Lieutenant Maryk’s incompetence and poor seamanship. Lieutenant Maryk was the perfect officer, but not Captain Queeg. Ah, but the strawberries! That’s, that’s where I had them. They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt, and with, with geometric logic, that, that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist. And I would have produced that key if they hadn’t pulled the Caine out of action. I, I know now they were only trying to protect some fellow officer. (He pauses – looks at all the questioning faces that stare back at him, and realizes that he has been ranting and raving.) Naturally, I can only cover these things from memory… (Caine Mutiny)

Vlad, in the interest of post-Cold War relations and the big red reset button, allow me to offer another time honored excuse rational explanation:

Yep — gremlins

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What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:


    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS

Russia to Proceed with Supersonic Cruise Missile Sale to Syria

Russia has evidently opted to proceed with sales of the SS-NX-26/Yakhont ASCM to the Syrians. The intent was voiced by Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov over the weekend.

“The contract,” he told journalists in Vladivostok, “is in progress.” The minister added his country was also bent on carrying through on promises to deliver several Bastion anti-ship missile systems to Syria.

SS-NX-26/Yakhont Ranges (Syria - red) (Lebanon - yellow)

SSC-5 Bastion CDCM launcher

Anti-ship ballistic missiles may be the newest, sexy thing on the anti-access/area denial (A2AD) block, but the simple fact of the matter is that ASCMs far outnumber ASBMs and constitute a significant challenge to all surface ships.  The SS-NX-26 is part of a new generation of fast, smart ASCMs designed to penetrate the latest air defense systems. Designed for launch from air- (above with the Su-33), surface and subsurface platforms, the SS-NX-26 can fly a hi-lo profile for max range (300 km) or a lo-lo profile (120km), also supersonically (2.5 Mach), to avoid detection by the target, maximizing surprise in delivering its 300 kg warhead.  It also is used in the SSC-5 Bastion coastal defense cruise missile system, reportedly also part of the deal.

The Israelis – and the Israeli Navy in particular (no stranger to ASCM threats) have not surprisingly demurred on Russia’s offering to regional stability:

Security officials warned that the Russian cruise missiles “are potentially dangerous weapons and they may come fall into the hands of Hezbollah, just as other weapons systems came from Syria.”

Not like they haven’t seen the Syrians do this with other systems.  Still, all indications would seem to point to Syria retaining control of the missiles, especially as they would have the necessary over-the-horizon targeting capability to employ the missiles at their full range (e.g., drones, MARPAT, etc.). In light of their experience with (presumably) Iranian-supplied C-802 cruise missiles off the Lebanese coast are that the Israeli navy’s freedom of operation will be further limited while ratcheting up the demand signal for detection and intercept assets — and another spiral in the region’s on-going arms race

Worth noting is that the SS-NX-26/Yakhont forms the basis of the joint Russo-India BrahMOS cruise missile – which is also being developed by the Indians in a LACM (land attack cruise missile) version.   And nothing good could come of that if Syria goes down that path…

BrahMOS LACM


The Price of Admiralty

Without a doubt, navies are among the most expensive arms a nation may deploy. Our own ongoing going experience being germane – Russia is re-discovering the cost of admiralty and it isn’t always in rubles:

The project to modernize an aircraft carrier for the Indian Navy in Severodvinsk Sevmash has resulted in the bankruptcy of one of Russia’s largest design institutes, the Technology Center of Shipbuilding and Ship Repair (TSTSS), writes today, 14 December, the newspaper Vedomosti . . .(the) 51st Central Design and Technological Institute of Repair” (51th CKTI repair) filed a lawsuit on Dec. 10, demanding to declare OAO Technology Center of Shipbuilding and Ship Repair bankrupt, according to the website of the Arbitration Court of St. Petersburg and Leningrad region. Date of trial has not yet been set.” (www.navy.ru)

To recap — the INS Vikramaditya, was launched in 1982 as the Baku (renamed in 1991 as the Admiral Gorshkov) and entered service with the (then) Soviet Navy in 1987. After being laid-up for sometime after a 1994 boiler room explosion and following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia agreed to sell the Gorshkov to the Indian Navy at a price of $974M, including re-fit. As those of us who have had even passing acquaintance with overhauls of ships long neglected will attest to, initial estimates of effort

Baku (ca. Jan 1989)

and cost are rarely, if ever close to reality. That would be the case with the ex-Gorshkov. In short order, the amount required increased another $1.2B as extensive repairs were required in company with major upgrades (especially it seems, in the vessel’s wiring). This past March, on the occasion of a state visit by Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, with the carrier already late in delivery, India agreed to another $2.35B to further cover refurbishment and training of the Indian crew. And now the day of delivery continues to slide, with hopes that delivery to India will come near the end of 2012 and entry into service around 2014. The cost (estimated total of $4.5B) and schedule delays have ignited a round of stormy criticism in the press and among naval strategists who assert that the capability and capacity of the Vikramaditya, *when* delivered, will be anything but state of the art for the costs involved (for comparison’s purpose, the HMS Queen Elizabeth, under construction, displaces 65,600 tones and at present, is estimated to cost $6.2B and provides significantly greater capability and capacity).

But, as indicated above, the cost doesn’t end there. Mirroring a similar failed approach with the development of the Bulava SLBM, a design institute whose business lay in the design of documents for repairing ships, not actually building them, took on the project with fairly predictable results (note that this info comes by way of other St. Petersburg shipbuilders, so caveat emptor... – SJS). Aircraft carriers are incredibly complex with layer upon layer of inter-relationships, many of which aren’t self-evident. On the surface, that may seem to be a simple remove and replace with a touch-up of paint can readily turn into a back-breaking, months-long shipyard endurex — a black hole of funds and manpower. Hard enough for those experienced with the trials (and possessing of the diminishing pool of talent used in the construction) – Herculean for those not.

So, will the institute dissolve in bankruptcy? Likely as not – no. As a national resource, TSTSS will undoubtedly be the benefactor of apolitical solution. But there will remain the matter of settling debts, even as mounting costs limit, delay and cancel other projects.

Meanwhile, in another part of the world, another ex-Russian carrier quietly moves closer to the day it will get underway…

(Source: China Military Report)

(h/t: Russian Navy Blogger)

icebreakerxuelongsnowdr

Linking the South China Sea and the Arctic Ocean

When Russia planted a flag on the Arctic Ocean seabed in August 2007, it was in part, political theater meant to cement its claim to the region’s vast natural resources (especially mineral).  Of course, such action served as a shot across the bow of the other states bordering the region, leading, among other actions, to a 2008 joint Canadadian-Danish geologic study that supports Canada’s claim to the Lomonosov Ridge as a natural extension of the North American continent and as such, a significant portion of the Arctic seabed.  While the five nations with competing claims have agreed to work under UNCLOS through the aegis of the Arctic Council (founded in 1996), there has been an increase in military presence (primarily Russian) in recent months and something of an information campaign as well.

All of this is pretext to an event in the South China Sea that occurred earlier this summer – but only recently announced:

A Chinese submarine planted a national flag deep on the floor of the South China Sea during a test dive last month to reinforce China’s territorial claim, the boat’s designer said yesterday.

The State Oceanic Administration and Ministry of Science and Technology jointly announced yesterday that a Chinese scientific submarine with three civilian crew members had explored unknown terrain at a depth of more than 3,700 metres at the heart of the South China Sea. Before resurfacing, they planted a Chinese flag on the ocean floor.

The motivation of such as pretty clear:

“We were inspired by the Russians, who put a flag on the floor of the North Pole with their MIR [deep sea submarine],” said Zhao, an engineer at the China Ship Scientific Research Centre, who designed the hull of the submarine. “It might provoke some countries, but we’ll be all right. The South China Sea belongs to China. Let’s see who dares to challenge that.”

Brave words indeed from an engineer associated with the project (but one presumes they would not have made it into circulation without the tacit approval of the Chinese government) – but it doesn’t end there.  Being as how there was nowhere near the Chinese coast to test the deep sea submersible’s operating depth of up to 7,000 meters (greater than the Russian Mir and similar Western subs, as claimed by the Chinese maker), it was tested close to the Philippines:

“The closer to Philippines, the deeper the sea. We will put down national flags all the way until we reach their border,” Zhao said. “And then we will go beyond and aim for the Mariana Trench.”

Oh yes — and one other “small” item all the way at the end of the article:

The Sea Dragon needs the support of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, according to Zhao. “The navy has escorted all our previous missions and I think they will continue to do so,” he said. “The further we go, the more we need guns to protect ourselves.”

Which itself, brings to mind something we noted in an earlier post

The timing of the announcement and subsequent revelation in the open press (e.g., South China Morning Post – 27 August 2010 (registration/subscription may be required to read))  obviously follows on the heels of China’s assertion of sovereignty over the South China Sea.  The rub of it is, however, that in so doing their goal of keeping the US marginalized and the other nations bordering the SCS divided becomes harder to obtain.  The US has already stated that the competing clams over the resources in the sea and on the seabed of the SCS should be handled in a multi-lateral forum – one thinks something similar to the afore-mentioned Arctic Council, which would be anathema to the Chinese who, ironically enough, have obtained observer status on the Arctic Council.  And that item, brings us back to the Arctic where China has asserted a right for access to the mineral wealth on par with the perimeter nations.  Giving substance to the claim is a research station established in Norway and deployment of a Russian-built, nuclear-powered icebreaker on a semi-permanent basis.

So, here’s an observation — Russia has laid clam to a vast amount of the Arctic and may well end up with a majority share of said resources.  Claim, however, is one thing, the ability to access and exploit another — and the current state of Russian industry and technology to exploit the mineral resources of the region is questionable.  The US and Canada have the technological capability, but one wonders about the commitment of the US and the capacity of Canada – which leads us to look at a possible Russo-Chinese joint venture — hard currency for Russia from sales abroad of liquid and mineral resources and guaranteed access to same by a resource hungry China.  All without any expectation of China stepping back from its increasingly aggressive posture in the SCS.

…things that make you go, hmmm…

Update; See also Eagle1 and ‘Phib posts this subject as well as this weekend’s blogtalk radio’s coverage of the same.

tu95_03

Russian Tu-95MS Bombers Set Flight Duration Record

Perusing the usual pull from a variety of sources, happened across this item:

Two Russian Tu-95MS Bear-H strategic bombers have carried out a record-breaking 40-hour patrol over three oceans, an Air Force spokesman said on Thursday, RIA Novosti reported.

“The Tu-95MS bombers carried out patrols over the Arctic, the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans and set a new flight duration record of about 40 hours, exceeding the previous record by four hours,” Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said at a news briefing in Moscow.

The crews practiced instrumental flight and carried out four in-flight refuelings from Il-78 aerial tankers,

Tu-95 Flightpath (approximate) click on image to enlarge

the official said.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans in August 2007.

All flights are performed in strict compliance with international law on the use of airspace over neutral waters, without intruding the airspace of other countries. (Ria Novosti)

Some other sources noted the distance was in excess of 30,000 km.  Video of the flight was run on Russian TV providing some interesting views:

Rough translations follow:

(Presenter) two Tu-95 strategic bombers have set a new flight time record for this type of aircraft.  They have spent more than 40 hours in the air, to cover a distance of 28,000 km.  During the air patrol, the aircraft refueled in flight from air tankers four times.

(Yevgeniy Semenyuk – crew commander (captioned)) The difficulty was our rendezvous with tanker aircraft.  We had to rendezvous in the clouds.  There was turbulence.  We also had to approach the tanker aircraft.  Everything went off as normal.  We rendezvoused and took on the necessary amount of fuel.  (ed. I’d say he looks like he’s spent 40+ hours aloft – hope the box lunches were decent… – SJS)

(Vladimir Popov, commander of Ukrainka Airbase (captioned)) At first we performed 12-hour flights, during which we refueled once.  Then the duration was increased.  That is to say, we built up for this sortie gradually.  The main objective was to see how the aircraft behaved, that is their bombsight and navigation [corrects self] – flight control and navigation system, the work of the engines and all the other systems.

(Presenter) The Tu-95s left on their combat air patrol from an airbase in Vorkuta.  Their route took them over the Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Sea of Japan.  Based on the results of the flight, the crews will be rewarded by the command of Long-Range Aviation, according to the spokesman for the Russian Federation Air Force.

For the record, the FAI database shows no entry under “duration” for the C-1q (landplanes with gross weight greater than 150,000 kg and less than 200,000 kg), turboprop subcategory.  The longest duration flight (refueled) was accomplished over the course of 64 days, 22 hours and 14 minutes in a Cessna 172 in 1959.

In the final analysis, while it was an interesting public affairs feat, the true question about the overall capabilties of Long-Range Aviation, like so much of the rest of Russia’s forces, remains to be seen.  Flight hours are falling off again following a rapid rise two years ago and material condition of the force, much less level of training is questionable as well, given how far it had fallen from immediate post-Cold War levels.  Worth noting is that some Canadian defense analysts seized on the occasion of the flight and corresponding CF-18 intercepts as justification for the recent Canadian decision selecting the F-35 as a replacement for their aging CF-18s.

So it remains to be seen if The Bear(tm) is back.  Still, there is a certain familiarity in seeing an old opponent flying again, bringing to mind previous escapades and encounters…

Catching Up: Russia, The PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM

Have been a bit sparing of late on posting here and at USNI, in large part because the day job(s) have been demanding their pound (more like tens of pounds) of flesh.  And developments appear to promise a major surge on one front in the next few weeks, so we’ll take advantage of the relative calm afforded during the next day or two to catch up on some previously reported events.  Today — Russia and some updates on the PAK-FA and Bulava SLBM…

17 июня 2010 года 17:30 | Сергей Турченко 17 June 2010 17:30 | Sergei Turchenko

Putin's Introduction to the PAK-FA (17 June 2010 | (c) Sergei Turchenko)

Russia: Putin Pledges 30 Billion Rubles for Fine-tuning PAK-FA

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

Russia’s fifth generation fighter program began roughly the same time as the US’ effort that yielded the F-22A, according to Russian sources.  Delays stemming from defense and industry reform and economic slowdown in the wake of the breakup of the Soviet Union drew out the program.  Cul-de-sacs beginning with the Berkut and later the MiG 1-44 added further delay until Sukhoi was back in charge of the project with the PAK-FA proposal.  Taking the occasion during a recent demonstration/test flight (16th since first flight in January?), Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin identified about 90B rubles (руб) (~ US$ 3.3B ) in development funding for the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI), the Aircraft Construction Center at Zhukovsky and the PAK-FA.  60B руб is to go for building three additional tunnels at TsAGI and another 11B руб to the new center to be constructed at Zhukovsky.  The former will be spread out in installments over the next several years, the new center is slated for completion around the end of 2012.  As for the PAK-FA — I think the expression in the photo above bespeaks volumes.  As the US has discovered in the prolonged gestation periods for the F-22 and now the F-35 with commensurate rising production costs, the ticket for entry into the 5th generation fighter program is indeed an expensive one.  Despite happy-talk about the PAK-FA being “two and a half and three times less than of its foreign counterparts” it is still too expensive for the Russian economy.  Over 30B руб has been expended thus far on PAK-FA development and it is still sans the 5th gen engines necessary for all aspect stealth and a good bit of development remains on the weapons system.  Even with the promise of another 30B руб forthcoming, much like the F-35, the PAK-FA will be heavily reliant on outside funding to come close to meeting any kind of production numbers.  India has stepped to the plate, offering cash but also demanding a healthy portion of the early production, demanding 250 aircraft by 2017.  And those are to be two-seaters.

Despite the acclaim the PAK-FA has received, as an expensive sink-hole in the Russian re-armament program, it has garnered its fair share of domestic criticisms:

Independent analysts give an overall negative forecast for the national rearmament program. The country has virtually wasted the 20 years which have passed since the break-up of the Soviet Union, said Anatoly Tsyganok, head of the Moscow-based Center for Military Forecasts.

Not a single new tank or fixed-wing aircraft has been developed since 1991, with only one helicopter being developed and used. “Fifth-generation planes are very expensive. Comparing total costs, Russia and the United States spend approximately the same amounts on their development and production,” Tsyganok told the paper. (Nezavisimaya Gazeta – translated)

Calvin Coolidge once waspishly commented on the high price of aircraft by asking why not buy one airplane and let pilots take turns flying it.  With the advent of triple-digit million dollar fighters, we may be reaching such a point and it is evident that the US isn’t the only nation happening upon this circumstance.  But, as far as the Russian leadership is concerned, for now at least the PAK-FA is flying, the same cannot be said about an even more vital element in the national defense plan, the Bulava SLBM…

Bulava SLBM to Resume Test Flights in August 2010

  President Dmitry Medvedev and Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov observe the Borei-class SSBN, Yury Dolgoruky underway for sea trials. 16 July 2010 (c) Sergei Turchenko

(Source: Свободная Пресса, 18 June 2010 (translated))

A recent interview with the former commander of the Soviet and Russian Navies, Admiral Vladimir Chernavin (translated), was revealing on several fronts insofar as the much troubled Bulava is concerned.  Of first note was the fact that it appears testing of the Bulava will resume earlier (August 2010) than previously reported (November 2010 at earliest).  At the time of the previous announcement in May, it was stated that a production run of three identical missiles was required before the next round of tests began – whether the earlier date is a reflection of that requirement being dropped or discovery of the root cause of the series of failures (particularly with the liquid-fueled third stage*) remains to be seen.  Perhaps after having seen the head of the Strategic Missile Forces get sacked after less than a year on the job over probable readiness issues, Navy and industry found renewed enthusiasm for a more aggressive schedule.

The Bulava and its development trials and travails have served as a poster child for a larger view of a Russian defense industry that increasingly is finding it difficult to meet the demands for new forces while adjusting to the post-Soviet era.  Consolidation has struck the industry as hard, if not harder, than its US counterpart.  In his interview, ADM Chernavin pointed to the need for a replacement for the Sineva SLBM (ed: R-29RMU/RSM-54 Sineva/SS-N-23 SKIFF).  The Sineva, while an exceptional missile in service (duration and capability — the last test launch was to its full 11,547 km range) is also a completely liquid-fueled missile, utilizing exceptionally dangerous hypergolics, which present a hazard to the boat and crew as well as demanding special care in materials selection and construction to avoid/contain any leakage.  The drawbacks of hypergolics (ed. research and work on, I would note, have been part of the reason behind the paucity of posts – SJS) are the chief reason all US ICBMs and SLBMs as well as all new Russian ICBMs are solid-fuel.  An earlier attempt at a solid-fuel SLBM, the R-39 (NATO: SS-N-20 Sturgeon) brought forth a 10-warhead missile, but one that was exceptionally heavy, with a launch weight of 90 tons. A follow-on to the R-39, the R-39UTTH “Bark suffered three consecutive failures in its first stage in early testing and was canceled.  The Bulava followed in part, because the institute building it was also building the Topol-M land mobile ICBM and figured to gain efficiencies in development and production by emphasizing commonality between the two.

Chernavin points to the beginning of problems when the Bulava designers learned that, surprise, submarines move whereas the Topol, while a mobile missile, is fixed in place for launch.  Compounding the flawed foundation decision-making was a series of cost- and schedule decisions to speed up the development process and shaving tests.   The lead designer of the missile, Yury Solomonov, points the finger at Russia’s defense industry in general:

“I can say in earnest that none of the design solutions have been changed as a result of the tests. The problems occur in the links of the design-technology-production chain,” Solomonov said in an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published on Tuesday.

“Sometimes [the problem] is poor-quality materials, sometimes it is the lack of necessary equipment to exclude the ‘human’ factor in production, sometimes it is inefficient quality control,” he said.

The designer complained that the Russian industry is unable to provide Bulava manufacturers with at least 50 of the necessary components for production of the weapon. This forces designers to search for alternative solutions, seriously complicating the testing process.

That and evident quality control problems have led to a test program with between 1 to 5 (depending on whom you are talking to) successes in 12 launch attempts. However, with nothing else even on the drawing boards and a new class of SSBNs designed such that the Bulava is the only missile they can take, the die has been cast.  Chernavin underscores this state of affairs with a verbal shrug and dose of fatalism, noting so much effort has already been spent that eventually “they will force it to fly” (“Но, уверен, «Булаву» все-таки заставят летать”).

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* Why a liquid third stage?  That is the post-boost vehicle (PBV) that carries the MIRVs — a liquid-fuel engine allows controlled start/stops to precisely maneuver the PBV as it releases the MIRV payload.

Putin Snubs US And Brit VIP Delegations

That whole warm, feel good evolution that was the 65th anniversary celebration of the defeat of Germany? The one where US and British troops participated in the parade for the first time, ever?

Turns out someone still has an axe or two to grind:

Vladimir Putin has snubbed both the Prince of Wales and the US vice-president, Joe Biden, by refusing to allow them to attend a parade in Red Square marking the 65th anniversary of the end of the second world war, the Guardian has learned.

Russia invited Gordon Brown and other heads of state to attend the Kremlin’s celebrations on Sunday – the biggest ever. But with the prime minister unable to attend because of the general election, the Foreign Office suggested Prince Charles instead.

and

Last week, however, the prince was quietly stood down after Putin made it clear that he did not want him there – apparently in a sign of his continuing annoyance with the UK over its failure to extradite Boris Berezovsky, the Kremlin critic and former oligarch, to Russia.

Putin, Russia’s prime minister, also snubbed Biden, who had planned to go to Moscow and has been left kicking his heels in Brussels. Biden is close to Mikheil Saakashvili, Georgia’s president. During the 2008 Russian-Georgia war Putin famously threatened Saakashvili, pledging to “hang him by the balls”.

If it wasn’t abundantly clear before, it should be by now that Russia in general, and Putin in particular is in no particular mode to deal with the West in any particular matter other than disdain and from a distance.  Emboldened by a series of events that have fallen Russia’s way, beginning with the war with Georgia, the death of the Orange revolution and installation of a pro-Russian government and most recently, allegations of Russian involvement in Kyrgyzstan, it is clear Putin believes he can (and will) deal form a position of superiority in matters with the West and if some insult can be thrown in for the bargain (because it plays well with the hard-core folks at home), then all the better.
From Russia with Love

De-constructing Sukhoi’s PAK-FA

You may recall that when the PAK-FA first took flight earlier this year a quick analysis was run on these pages and those over at USNI with a note that more granular analyses would surely be forthcoming.  One of the first out of the box was over at the Air Power Australia site, and was pretty eyebrow raising in it’s own right.  This past week Byron passed along an even more detailed analysis, all from open source material, that had come his way:

29739693 de Constructing the Sukhoi PAK FA Su 50
(Stephen Trimble over at The DEW Line notes that Markov and Hull have done work for Institute for Defense Analyses in the past, but this brief may be an independent effort).

In addition to the usual host of subjects – comparison with the only other 5th gen fighter currently flying, the F-22, for one; there are some interesting and perplexing elements to the design.  For starters there is the matter of the split canopy (slide 33) with a structural member down the center of the canopy.  The embedded radar antennas in the cheeks and wing leading edges are notable, but not novel as it is alleged the F-22 has embedded sensors around the aircraft.  However, a multi-band capability (X-band AESA in the nose and fixed L-band in the cheeks and wings) offers greater operational flexibility and complicates counter-measures planning.

As pointed out earlier, the engines appear to lag the rest of the airframe, but even at that, with German technical assistance (see slide 40) presumably for improvements in the R&D side of the house with targets of efficiency and service life of the engine, the engines should prove sufficient from a performance, if not stealth (see slide 65).  Closer to the F-35 in that regard than the F-22.

The fact that of the run of 500, 250 are Russian and the other 250 are to be a two-seat variant for India is worth noting from a resources standpoint (e.g., FMS to India is required to bring the project to fruition, just like the F-35 requires it’s share of international sales), though one wonders how much technological access the Indians will be given.  This is not a small consideration as technology sharing is a bone of contention between the US and it’s F-35 partners, especially where software for the weapons system is concerned. Makes one wonder if a partnership had been entered with Japan and/or Australia what the production cost offsets might have been as well as potential for moving on to a 2nd and 3rd generation F-22.

That technology can range from the exotic, like a potential plasma energy capability which would allegedly function to break the lock of hostile AAM’s (see slides 18 & 67) to what looks to be a breakthrough in stealth coatings.  The latter, if true, is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the aircraft because of the implications it carries, not just for the PAK-FA, but generation 4.5 fighters like the Su-35.  Stealth coatings have been a major time and materials cost factor for operational aircraft.  The B-2 required special climate control hangers for maintenance on its coatings and one of the charges against the still-born A-12 was the beating its coatings would take in the at sea environment on a carrier.  If the Russians have indeed turned the corner on a material that provides a 10x reduction in RCS, is substantially thinner (and thereby, lighter), durable in the field and can be applied to generation 4.5 aircraft, that raises the stakes considerably for Western air forces confronting opponents operating aircraft like the Su-35 updated with this material.  One needn’t look too far to find a near-peer competitor that would have significant interest in applying this to their own fleet of indigenously produced gen 4/4.5 fighters and what that in turn would allow them to put into place from an operational standpoint.

Still, there are only a handful of prototypes and full flight testing is supposed to begin later this month.  It is a long road from the CAD/CAM boards to the flight line and as we have found out time and again with the F-117, B-2, F-22 and now with the F-35 that unforeseen issues arise during testing (like avionics cooling – a real bedevilment for stealth aircraft) that force design changes and production delays.  One also wonders given the current state of industry in Russia if they will be capable of producing the numbers indicated and within the time-frames evidently agreed to.

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