Just over one year ago, Russia’s resurgent aerospace industry dominated the flying display at the Paris air show, ably covering for the low-profile showing by the unusually cash-strapped US armed forces. Highlights included the Sukhoi Su-35 fighter and Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter, along with the Superjet regional airliner and Irkut’s in-development MC-21. Ukraine’s An-70 transport was also on show, with Antonov holding on to hopes of securing fresh backing from Moscow.
Things couldn’t have been more different at last month’s Farnborough air show, with Moscow’s part in stoking instability in Ukraine prompting a ban on all military hardware, and preventing some officials from securing the visas needed to visit the UK.
The downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – an act which has been widely attributed to pro-Russian separatists – has since brought relations to even more of a low point.
With sanctions and counter-sanctions now being traded by the USA, the EU and Moscow, it is hard to imagine things will improve before the industry gathers again at Le Bourget in 2015.
While there is no sign yet of a return to a full-blown Cold War scenario, the prospect of Russian products – such as the Sukhoi-promoted Superjet – snaring fresh sales with Western operators look to have dimmed considerably. That’s bad news for a domestic sector which has been struggling to emerge from the post Soviet-era doldrums. Similarly, those Western companies looking to sell products into the Russian market, for example to meet regional turboprop demand, are also likely to be disappointed by the current situation. But things look even worse for Ukraine’s Antonov, which now faces a true battle if it is to survive beyond the conflict.
Much will depend on the attitude taken by President Vladimir Putin in the face of continued strong international criticism, but he appears – for now at least – to be determined to stare the West down.
NATO nations in Europe, along with the USA, had already stepped up their air defence posture against Russia from earlier in the Ukraine crisis. Clearly some believe that Moscow will not backtrack, and already are looking to tweak their procurement plans to be able to react to a threat which many believed had gone away. Washington – which had turned its attention to a potential future adversary in the Asia-Pacific – will also be bearing the situation in mind, as it continues to study a sixth-generation fighter requirement.