December 16, 2013
A massive modernization push is imminent for Russian aerospace defense: The air force alone could receive 4.5 trillion rubles ($136 billion) over 10 years, about one-quarter of the overall drive to upgrade Russia's Soviet-era weaponry.
The money will help replace about 70% of the air force fleet by 2020 and position it to acquire the Sukhoi T-50—a fighter advanced enough to rival the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—as well as a stealthy, long-range bomber, and to overhaul its surface-to-air missile stockpile. However, analysts caution that the plan's financial scope may be unrealistic.
For now, the investments are on track. During a series of briefings by military officials and defense manufacturers in late November, Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the procurement program adopted in 2010. The meetings amounted to the first public audit of the program to ensure that the investments are on track—a domestic show of support for the Russian defense industry, despite the country's economic stagnation.
The list includes accelerating replacement of old aircraft in the air force fleet. Putin has announced that the military will have received 86 new and, modernized fixed-wing aircraft and more than 100 new helicopters this year, and will take delivery of up to 120 fixed-wing aircraft and 90 helicopters in 2014. In 2011 and 2012, just 263 new aircraft were delivered to the military units.
By 2020, the air force aims to have a total of 1,600 new aircraft, renewing about 70% of its fleet.
So far, the air force's orderbook consists of Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bombers and Su-30M2/SM and Su-35 multirole fighters. In 2014, the air force plans to rearm one air regiment with the Su-34s, according to Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. A training air base in Borisoglebsk is to be reequipped with Yakovlev Yak-130 jet trainers; 18 of the type were delivered in 2013, out of 55 ordered.
According to the head of the United Aircraft Corp. (UAC), Mikhail Pogosyan, the Sukhoi T-50 will start official evaluation tests with the air force in 2014. The first phase of these trials is expected to be completed in 2015, he says. The five prototypes involved in the preliminary test program have logged more than 450 flights. The Russian defense ministry issued technical requirements for the future long-range bomber to the corporation in September. “We are now at the stage of drawing up the contracts to start the full-scale development of this aircraft beginning next year,” Pogosyan says.