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Utopian Deadlines And Reality Of Russian Military Industrial Complex – OpEd

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If there was a Baron Munchausen award that would be given to one country in the world, Russia would be the first in line to receive it. But we’ll get to that.

We’ve already looked at the outcome of Russia’s promises about developing and purchasing new armaments. In nearly all of the cases – the promises were numerous, but in reality the weapons were received much later and in a lesser amount, if they were ever received in the first place.

I was reading the news, when I stumbled upon an article in Russian media stating that as part of the current state program Russia intends to commission the “perspective aviation system of the Long-Range Aviation” (let’s call this wonder LRA PAS) by the end of 2027, replacing the current Tu-160 and Tu-95 strategic bombers.1

The technical characteristics of the system are impressive. The aircraft will be able to maneuver both at low altitudes and at the altitude of 20 kilometers, as well as able to fly along the terrain. Speed – from roughly 1,000 km/h to the speed of sound; range – up to 15,000 km (the distance between Moscow and Washington is 7,825 km). In other words – an all-around super-plane.

So, Russia intends to build and commission such an aircraft by 2027? If we believe this, we must conclude that Russia’s military-technical potential is great and that there are also no problems with intellectual potential or funding. I am certain only about Russia’s intellectual potential, but what about everything else? One of the ways of looking at someone’s military-technical potential is to look at the status of similar projects.

From time to time, Russia announces some new military project, but it’s important to differentiate between entirely new projects and the modernization of existing ones. It is the latter that happens most often. However, Russia has indeed developed new aviation projects, i.e. in order to keep up with other countries Russia has developed its own fifth generation fighter (FGF). I will note that FGFs require an entirely different approach in regard to materials and technology.

Let’s take a look at Russia’s road to FGFs. Sidenote: Russian state company Rostec announced that the mass production of the new passenger twinjet MC-21 will be delayed to early 2020 due to US sanctions on composite material supply.2 This brings up the question – how can there be talks about high-tech airplanes when Russia is unable to build a passenger aircraft? Let’s look at the facts.

In January 2002, Sukhoi began the development of a FGF, and it was planned that the FGF will be commissioned in 2009, i.e. over the course of seven years. Russia has promised that the new LRA PAS will also be competed and commissioned in seven years.

In autumn 2004, a draft project was developed and it was deemed that the aircraft meets all the demands.

In 2005, a concept was published and internal names I-21 and T-50 were assigned (it was the T-50 that became the FGF).

In 2008, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Forces Alexander Zelin announced that the development of the FGF is going according to plan.

In December 2009, the first tests of the T-50 began (it was said that the fighter will be commissioned in 2009, but that year saw only the first tests of the aircraft).

In 2010, it was stated that the first ten fighters will begin their combat duty during 2013-2015 (meaning that the fighter had already been commissioned and mass-produced).

In 2011, it was announced that the FGF will be commissioned in 2016. A year later, in 2012 Russian Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdyukov said that the construction of the export variant of the FGF will begin in 2020.3

In reality, the tests continued for a long time, and on 8 August 2017 the FGF took to the air (the 11th test model out of a total of 13).4

In early 2018, during a television broadcast Russian Deputy Minister of Defense Yuri Borisov announced that “the airplane has proved to be very good, including in Syria, where it confirmed its maneuverability and combat capabilities”. He later explained to The Diplomat that although the FGF is one of the best aircraft in the world, there is no need to speed up mass production. However, British expert on combat aviation Justin Bronk told Business Insider that Borisov’s excuses about the fighter being so good that there is no need for Russia to build it are just too unbelievable.5

In 2019, it was reported that the mass production of the fighters has begun and that a contract on the delivery of 76 aircraft has been signed.6

Only on 27 December 2020, the first mass-produced FGF with the tail number 01 began its flight to its permanent deployment location – the 929th State Flight Center in Akhtubinsk. It was also announced that by 2028 a total of 75 FGFs are to be received.7

On 7 December 2020, hopes were expressed that the second-generation engine for the FGF will be completed by 2022 and that their mass production could begin in the following years.8

Short summary on the construction of FGFs.

It is announced that the development, construction, commissioning and mass production will begin in seven years.

Development begins in 2002.

First mass-produced fighter is delivered to a unit in 2020.

Hasn’t yet been commissioned.

Russia hopes to develop the “real” engine by 2022 and begin its mass production in the following years. The most optimistic forecast is that this will happen by 2024.

The conclusions don’t look good enough for anyone to believe that Russia’s plans regarding its LRA PAS can be fulfilled in seven years. The first mass produced FGF model came after 18 years, not seven as was promised, and it still can’t be considered completed without the second-generation engine. Mass production is to begin around the year 2024, and only then Russia can say that its fifth-generation fighter has been finished, i.e. 22 years after development began.

We must also keep in mind that when the development of the FGF began, there weren’t any sanctions imposed against Russia. But as we can see now, sanctions are even hindering Russia from building a passenger aircraft.

There is a saying – there are no greater promisers than those who have nothing to give. Putin’s Russia is indeed worthy of a Baron Munchausen award for everything it has said.

1https://ria.ru/20210113/bombardirovschik-1592746727.html

2https://jauns.lv/raksts/arzemes/318933-asv-sankcijas-piespiez-krievijai-atlikt-jaunas-pasazieru-lidmasinas-serijveida-razosanu

3https://lenta.ru/lib/14213071/

4https://ria.ru/20170808/1500000200.html

5https://www.delfi.lv/news/arzemes/krievija-cies-sakavi-asv-un-kinai-piektas-paaudzes-iznicinataja-izstrade.d?id=50211309

6https://sputniknewslv.com/Russia/20190730/12168953/Krievija-sakta-iznicinataju-su-57-serijveida-razosana.html

7https://iz.ru/1104700/anton-lavrov-roman-kretcul/trudnyi-vzlet-minoborony-nakonetc-poluchilo-pervyi-seriinyi-su-57

8https://ria.ru/20201207/su-57-1587961856.html

Zintis Znotins

Zintis Znotins

Zintis Znotiņš is a freelance independent investigative journalist. He has studied politics and journalism at the Latvian University.

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