Friday, 25 January 2013

What next for Russia’s military air transport force?

Historically, most of Russia’s military transport planes have been Antonov makes – from Antonov-26 to Antonov-124 – developed and built at design bureaus and plants located in Russia and Ukraine. Dependence on cooperation with the latter country may compromise Russia’s ten-year programme to supply its armed forces with over 100 new transport jets.

Forty should be Ilyushin-476s (the latest modification of the Ilyushin-76), assembled at the aviation plant in Ulyanovsk. The rest should be Antonov makes, mostly Antonov-70s and superheavy Antonov-124s. The fate of both Antonovs, however, is now in question. The Russian military appears to have deemed the Antonov-124, or Ruslan, jet an unnecessary luxury. It will continue to maintain its existing Ruslan fleet, but will not procure new Ruslans.

Unending delays on the Antonov-70 programme, which is yet to be accomplished, remove the prospect of assembling such planes at the aviation plant in Kazan to the period after 2015.

As for the lighter transport jets, it is still unclear whether the Russian Air Force will pick the mostly Ukrainian Antonov-140T or the Russian Ilyushin-112B.

As matters stand now, only the procurement of Ilyushin-476s looks definitely assured. The resulting gap in Russia’s air transport capacity is to be partially filled by overhauling and renovating old Antonov-22s and Antonov-124s. The fleet of Antonov-26s is already beyond repair or renovation.

The year 2013 is to face the Russian Defence Ministry and the Air Force with a choice between two medium-sized transport jets: Ukraine’s Antonov-178 and the Russian-Indian MTS/MTA.

The Russian military will also have to somehow bring forward the Antonov-70, which can use short grass runways for take-off and landing, and mull a replacement to the Antonov-124, presently Russia’s prime long-haul strategic airlifter.

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