Much emphasis laid upon modernization of existing models of warplanes will make Russia fatally lag behind the world leading warplane producers and close access to the world market of warplanes
Russian Federation Air Force Commander-in-Chief, Colonel-general Vladimir Mikhailov said at a press conference the other day that only 15 per cent of the government defense order would fall at the Air Force in 2004. Before the Air Force and the Anti-missile Defense merged, each structure had had 15 per cent of the government defense order. However, the situation radically changed after the merger and became unfavorable for the Air Force, Vladimir Mikhailov says. As a result, even though the defense order has increased by almost 20 per cent this year, the Air Force still suffers from poor financing. This fact entails high depreciation of technique, poor training of pilots and increasing accident rate among warplanes. At a session of the Defense Ministry's high ranking officials in November, Minister of Defense Sergey Ivanov strongly criticized the Air Force for poor correspondence to the requirements made to subdivisions on alert. In response to the criticism, Vladimir Mikhailov has recently said that alertness of the Air Force is maintained thanks to modernization of old military technique only under the present-day conditions of financial deficit. The commander-in-chief believes the solution is acceptable because, he says, the operating characteristics of many of the existing Russian warplane models are similar to fifth-generation technique. Experts say that this strategy will make Russia fatally lag behind other countries, the US in particular, and the country will lose access to the world market of warplanes.
Even though the defense order is bigger this year, finance appropriated for purchase of new technique for the Air Force will be enough mainly to acquire modernized models of planes, helicopters and anti-missile complexes. Vladimir Mikhailov says that for the time being modernization of Mi-24 helicopters is underway (eight modernized Mi-24 have been already adopted in the army aviation). Russia's Air Force is expected to purchase 50 new Mi-28N shock helicopters by 2010. Test of the helicopter is to start in two months; Mi-28N is to become the basic military helicopter of the Russian army aviation. The commander-in-chief says that the anti-missile defense is working on increasing the range ability of the missile for the S-300 complex and on modernization of the S-400 complex. This year, the anti-missile defense will adopt Panzir (Shell), the new anti-missile system.
The Air Force plans to acquire modernized planes only. New projects are just being developed currently, with the exception of the Su-34 new military bomber that is to be adopted by the Air Force this year. Vladimir Mikhailov says that this renovation of outdated technique is justified under conditions of restricted financing as it saves budgetary spending. The modernization will be first of all applied to Su-24 bombers, Su-25 attack planes, MiG-29 and MiG-31 pursuit planes. Strategic missile carriers Tu-94S and Tu-160 will undergo deep modernization; in addition to new battle control equipment, the planes will be equipped with long-range cruise missiles with non-nuclear warhead. Vladimir Mikhailov says that Tu-160 strategic bomber will recommence flights on January 16 after the flights were banned after an accident in September.
Besides, this year the Air Force is to equip one regiment with modernized Su-27 warplanes (soon, 20 planes of the type will be sent to an enterprise in Komsomolsk-on-Amur for modernization). Vladimir Mikhailov says that modernized Sy-27SM planes belong to the 4+ generation technique. The modernized pursuit planes will effectively attack targets in the air and on land. The Air Force commander-in-chief says that these planes differ from fifth-generation pursuit planes with their relatively high visibility and insufficient technical equipment. However, Vladimir Mikhailov says that modernized Su-27 will not influence the program for construction of fifth-generation pursuit planes.
Experts say that there is little chance that Russia will have fifth-generation pursuit planes of its own. Deputy Director of the analytical department of the Political and Military Analysis Institute Alexander Khramchikhin told RBC daily that Russia actually has money; large sums of money are constantly accumulated in the national currency reserves and get depreciated through dollar collapse. He adds that development and construction of a fifth-generation fighter demands about $20 billion dollars. It is hardly likely that the government will appropriate financing of this scale. "The problem is that economic and military authorities in this country live in parallel spaces and have no common approach to problems," Alexander Khramchikhin says.
What is more, experts say that Russia’s Air Force will have fifth-generation pursuit planes only in case if these machines will have high export potential. But experts predict that in the nearest future Russia will experience problems with entering the world market of combat planes. As a result, other countries, America first of all will flood the market with their old but still competitive pursuit planes at knock-down prices. This is the situation we witness in the civil aviation today. Mr.Khramchikhin says that Russia's Air Force is 10-15 years behind the US now, and the situation is hardly likely to change at all. New pursuit planes F-22 already appear in the US Army and F-35 pursuit planes are to be adopted soon. But Russia's fifth-generation pursuit planes are just under development now. In the nearest future, the US will flood the market with toutdated but still competitive pursuit planes at dumping prices. This in its turn will deprive Russia of access to the world market of warplanes.
Today all of Russia's projects of new air technique that might be in demand on the world market are being under development. In particular, Czechia, Hungary, Finland, Slovakia, India and China evince much interest in a unique Russian-Ukrainian joint project for construction of An-70 troop carrier. But the Russian share in the project is small - 20 million while Ukraine invested 166 million rubles in the project. Nevertheless, finance meant for launching of the project has been included into Russia's defense order for this year. But the commander-in-chief still thinks the project of the plane is still unfinished. Vladimir Mikhailov says that the plane cannot be put into production because of its imperfect engine D-27 that is "unsafe, short-life and very expensive." Experts think it is impossible to get the engine into shape. At the same time, producers stick to a different opinion. Tests of An-70 are supposed to be finished in February in the city of Yakutsk.