Old planes of peacekeepers: the mutiny in Kazakhstan exposed the problems of the Russian aircraft industry
“We need to return the approaches that were under Soviet rule”
Now, when we proudly sum up the results of the first in all 30 years of the CSTO's existence such a successful operation to transfer peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan, it is worth remembering the problems of the Russian aviation that it exposed. Its scale can perhaps be compared with the events of December 1979 – the airborne operation during the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan.
Photo: Alexey Merinov
The numbers are comparable. Then the airborne division was delivered to Afghanistan by 50 heavy Il-76 aircraft, 40 An-22 “Antey” and almost 200 military transport aircraft of medium payload An-12. Now for the transfer of almost two thousand paratroopers, more than 70 Il-76 aircraft and 5 of the world's largest transport aircraft An-124 “Ruslan” were used.
But there is a difference, and a big one. Then these were new military transport aircraft, and now they are old Soviet transport aircraft of the 70s and 80s of the last century. How many more years will they be able to carry out such tasks? According to a number of aviation experts, they made the transfer of troops to Alma-Ata almost on their last legs. Is this so – “MK” tried to find out from the representatives of the Russian aircraft industry.
On the Internet, on aviation sites, there is now a heated discussion of the successful delivery of the CSTO collective peacekeeping forces to Kazakhstan by the forces of the Russian military transport aviation (MTA). Hardly anyone can argue that the speed of solving this problem – 2-3 days – played a decisive role in stabilizing the situation in the neighboring country. In this regard, the question of the near future of the military transport aviation of Russia is absolutely rightly raised, since no one has yet invented a faster method of delivering paratroopers than by air. Allegations are heard that today this is the most vulnerable point of the mobile transfer of military forces.
Unfortunately, there are reasons for concern. Take the same Il-76. It made its first flight half a century ago, in 1971. It entered wide service in 1975. The bulk was built by the Tashkent Aviation Plant, which has not been involved in aviation for a long time. Of course, over all these decades, the car has been modernized. The latest version of the Il-76MD-90A is mass-produced at the Ulyanovsk aircraft plant. Several new aircraft of this modification even took part in the Kazakh operation. But there are about ten such machines in the fleet of our Air Force. The rest of the Il-76 aircraft are honored veterans of the flight service.
That is, the share of modern aircraft in this specific, by the way, very popular aircraft segment is about 10%, and maybe less. Moreover, in the segment of “heavyweight” (An-124) and light transport vehicles (An-26), we do not have modern vehicles at all.
Is this a lot or a little – 10%? Let's compare with the state of missile technology in our strategic forces. For example, there are more than 80% of modern missiles in the Strategic Missile Forces. By 2024, they promise to bring this figure to 100%. In general, the share of modern weapons in our Armed Forces is more than 70%.
How did it happen that the VTA – the “workhorse” of the entire army and especially the Airborne Forces – ended up in the corral? MK has written about this more than once. For example, about how, starting from the 90s, the domestic aviation industry was killed – the capital design bureaus of Tupolev, Ilyushin, Yakovlev … The state then abandoned world famous companies to their fate, apparently considering it a burden. The number of design bureaus has decreased by tens, or even hundreds of times. Many of the talented designers have found a place over the hill. I personally met, for example, such in the Israeli aviation concerns. By the way, the Israeli military-industrial complex, by the way, in the 90s pulled out strongly. Perhaps, just at the expense of Soviet brains.
Well, what about us? We stayed at the broken aircraft trough. Civil aviation moved to American Boeings and European Airbuses. It's good that the country still has something to pay for them. But dependence on aviation imports in civil aviation is complete. By and large, the “leg of import substitution” has not set foot there yet.
On the territory of the once powerful capital aviation design bureaus, residential quarters have been built or are being built today. Very wise. This territory “floated away” in different ways, often criminal. Evidence – Several criminal cases against former aviation managers. Unfortunately for the aviation industry, there were no wise and decisive leaders and far-sighted patrons in it. Nobody shouted: “Sovereign's word and deed!” But the missile design bureaus were lucky. For example, the Moscow Institute of Thermal Engineering – the author of the Topol-M, Yars, and Bulava rockets. There, Yuri Semenovich Solomonov was able to reach out to whomever he needed and kept MIT. They say that at one time he was supported by a graduate of the Institute of the Petrochemical and Gas Industry, the then mayor of Moscow, Yuri Luzhkov. Now we have a new, not rusty nuclear missile shield.
The problems of the Russian aircraft industry, which sometimes disrupts the terms of the defense order, are a headache for the military department. Under Sergei Shoigu, they took her under strict control. Meetings are held almost monthly, at which industrialists are given tasks. Somewhere they stimulate with additional orders, somewhere they explain, and in some cases they beat them with a ruble, rolling out billions of dollars in fines for work not completed on time.
No, of course, if the aviation industry were taken and transferred to the military department, then for sure things would have gone much more lively. But this is true, dreams that cannot be realized in the current market economy. Sorry.
So what will happen next with our aviation for the “winged infantry”? I am talking about this with two of my long and well-known operating specialists of the aviation industry. I don’t name them, as they didn’t get permission from their management to talk to the journalist. The answers paint a more or less objective picture of what is happening in the industry. First, of course, I ask about Kazakhstan.
– The tasks for Kazakhstan have been completed to the top five. Maybe even with a plus. BTA has worked very mobile.
– Return Soviet power. And if not her, then at least those approaches that existed then in the aircraft industry. As long as the industry is ruled by economists, financiers and other lawyers, nothing good will happen. At the head of all processes for the creation of aircraft should be a designer or a production worker – a person who thinks in these categories. But today designers, production workers in the aircraft creation chain and in the industry rankings are the last people. All those managers who manage them “help, tell how and what to do,” while they themselves do not create anything. This is our main problem today. It slows down the process of creating aircraft, if not completely ruins it. While this all continues, do not expect good. It takes too much time for our great managers – and they can be very good people – to understand what kind of aircraft and how they should be built.
– Certainly. The fact that our old men – Antonovites, Ilyushinites laid the foundation when they made their first Il-14, Il-12, the entire Anov line – from An-8 to An-124 – worked the correct approach to creating an aircraft. It is still relevant today. Otherwise, they would not have been able to create such machines that still fly, perfectly solving their problems. For example, the Il-76 plane. And the main burden of transportation fell on him both in Afghanistan and now, in Kazakhstan. They completed most of the flights. And in the future, I am sure he will have to solve many important tasks.
Removal of Russian tourists from Alma-Ata on a military transport plane. Photo: Gulnara Minkova
– Nonsense. The first 12 cars are flying. Including these new machines flew during the recent events and to Kazakhstan. By the way, the production of these aircraft is being improved, production is being modernized – now they have switched from manual assembly to a production line. Already the third new plane left the production line.
– Of course, we would like to see more planes. But, by the way, in the 90s, almost 300 Il-76 aircraft remained in Ukraine. After all, five divisions of the BTA were based there. And everyone stayed there. Then they sold those Il-76s for nothing. It's hard to say how many are left there. Maybe about a hundred and it will be typed.
– In its best years, Tashkent produced 72 aircraft a year. Moreover, it was a manual assembly. Now here in Russia there are already production lines – and this is a big difference. But the numbers are not yet in our favor – we make 4-5 planes annually by force.
– We have to issue 12 aircraft annually. But it doesn't work.
– There are many reasons. Including – endless reorganization of the industry, change of leadership, coming at the initiative of the UAC. This is a very painful factor for enterprises in the industry, and has a strong impact on productivity. All this does not improve production in any way, which is reflected in wages. And if there is no normal earnings, then the workers, engineers leave the enterprise. Moreover, the workers are qualified.
– It's hard to say … They say that more than 12 units a year, it seems, is not needed. Although I honestly doubt it. Because transport aircraft are not only military ones. After all, they are needed to solve purely economic problems, and they are in demand in the Ministry of Emergency Situations, and among other security officials.
– This is understandable. Who needs competitors? If there is an opportunity to destroy them and at the same time get hold of their design ideas, why not use such a chance?
– It is still difficult to judge about this. We must wait for the results of the investigation. But I was told that the engine engineers there and now continue to be wise. Under the requirements set by the customer to the manufacturer, it is required to increase the engine power, reduce its weight by 180 kg, since it is overweight. But the minders are silent and, it seems, are not going to do this. So it is unclear if this project has any prospects.
– Who writes this? I heard a ringing, but does not know where he is. The Antonov aircraft, including the An-12, although they are old, the service life is extended. In this matter, the experience with the Il-18 was taken into account, the complete write-off of which was an unfortunate decision. So today, similar planes are decommissioned very carefully. If there is an opportunity to extend the resource, it is extended.
– What does Ukraine have to do with it? Are they asking us when they independently deal with our IL-76? No. So why should we go to them?
– If we have these airplanes in service, it means that under the current conditions we take on ourselves the full responsibility for extending the service life and their operation. Specifically, the Ilyushin aviation complex and its component, the Myasishchev plant. The Myasishchevites are now dealing with the whole Antonov theme. Only An-124 is dealt with directly by PJSC “Ilyushin”.
– Usually. The car arrives at the serial plant. They look at it, carry out fault detection. Some of the parts and assemblies that are in doubt are re-manufactured and replaced. After all, they were originally made at our factories. We have all the documentation for them. And we will not ask anyone. Moreover, Ukraine, which pursues such a policy.
– Of course. They still fly. And not even one year.
– A decision will be made on it in the very near future and its development will begin. This solution is almost ready. You are right, unfortunately, we have been talking about him for a long time, almost from Soviet times. Then this plane was called Il-106. But at the Army-2021 forum, and then at one of the meetings, Defense Minister Shoigu named this Il-100 project. This heavy military transport aircraft will replace the An-124. It is an analogue of the American military transport aircraft C-17.
One of the prerequisites to seriously tackle this work is the events in Kazakhstan. Aircraft of such a class as the Il-100 or S-17 are just needed to perform such tasks. There is no larger dimension, they are heavy, there are no normal airfields for them. And these are just right. In terms of dimensions, they will naturally be combined with medium military transport aircraft such as Il-76MD, Il-76MD-90A.
– Ilyushin residents have already presented it to a potential customer many times. Today it is high time to formulate the final terms of reference and start implementing it directly on the plane.
– Of course, now are not the Soviet years when dozens of aircraft were produced. And the design cadres have thinned out. But I still think that if they start producing it now, this plane will appear in 7-8 years. At least, its prototype.
– Its appearance is formed on the basis of PD-35. Moreover, these engines are already at a good stage of development. Accordingly, an aerobatic aviation complex is also required, which today satisfies all the principles of air navigation. Without this, a good plane will not work either. Well, I think that this is not a problem in a normal organization.
– But what kind of “specialists” do you all quote? Military transport aviation will never end. At least in Russia, because it defines the essence of the state and its capabilities.
Oh, these would words yes to God in the ears. Well, or at least the Supreme Commander-in-Chief. It is high time to fix what has been done in the domestic aviation industry over the past decades.