Russia's bomber production plans 'not feasible'

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Reuben F Johnson, Kiev - IHS Jane's Defence Weekly
12 June 2015


The Tupolev Tu-160 first flew in 1981. Just 16 examples were produced by the Soviet Union, but Moscow plans to restart the line and build another 50. Source: Tupolev

Recent declarations by Russian officials regarding plans to re-start production of the Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber, combined with various other announced procurements, are being met with scepticism by a number of experts. The two reasons most commonly cited for this are that Russian industry lacks the numbers of qualified personnel necessary to support so many procurements taking place simultaneously and that the funding available is nowhere close to what would be required.

The Russian deputy defence minister for procurement, Yury Borisov, told news outlets on 4 June that the envisioned new-build Tu-160 would essentially be a new aircraft due to its onboard systems being several generations beyond the 1980s-era avionics suite of the original Tu-160. "This aircraft would be designated the Tu-160M2," he said, adding that, "according to our plans, this will most likely happen sometime after 2023".

In addition to the plan for a modernised Tu-160, another initiative calls for 130 Mikoyan MiG-31 interceptors to be brought up to the MiG-31BM configuration. Central to that upgrade is the installation of a new avionics suite, modernised crew stations fitted with state-of-the-art displays and a new variant of the onboard radar set. Known as the NIIP Zaslon-M, this enhanced model of the passive electronically scanning array (PESA) design has an enlarged antenna array around 1.4 m wide, which increases the number of targets that can be handled simultaneously in track-while-scan (TWS) mode to 10. The range of the radar against aerial targets with the radar cross-section of a typical fighter is 320 km, while targets can be fired upon at up to 280 km.

In addition, the chief of staff of the Russian Air Force (VVS), Colonel General Viktor Bondarev, is also calling for large numbers of Sukhoi Su-30MK, Su-35 and T-50/PFI fifth-generation fighters, Su-34 fighter-bombers, and a new domestic version of the MiG-35 that was formerly proposed for export to India.

"The people issuing these orders still believe we are living in Soviet times," said a Moscow-based analyst of the Russian defence sector, "where you simply make proclamations and an entire constellation of design bureaus and production plants charge forward and no one is estimating the money required or - even worse - calculating anything like the opportunity cost created."

A commonly cited weakness of today's Russian defence sector is that the workforce is only a small fraction of its former, Soviet-era size, with a commensurate drop in its capacity. Following a soon-to-be-completed round of reductions within the Russian defence sector, the numbers of personnel to be left at some of the most critical design bureaus is estimated at being less than 10% of their apex in the 1980s.

Russia's bomber production plans 'not feasible' - IHS Jane's 360
 

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