State of change

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Ukraine's aerospace industry is shaking off the legacy of the Soviet era with new products, developed since independence, coming onto the market

Ukraine's aerospace industry is often overshadowed by Russia's huge military-industrial complex, but its contribution to the world history of aviation and space is enormous. Some 25,000 aircraft and 400 spacecraft have been manufactured there, including the world's largest transport, the Antonov An-225 Mriya.

The Ukrainian industry has survived the break-up of the Soviet Union and a deep crisis in the 1990s. It is now well on the way to recovery as new products, developed after the country's independence, come to the market. They will be showcased at the forthcoming Aviasvit air show in Kiev. First held in 1999, Aviasvit aims to send a message to the more than 60 countries where Ukrainian-made aircraft and engines are operated that the country is back as a major player in world aerospace.

The show has been popular with visitors from Muslim countries. Iran has ordered 12 Antonov An-74 transports and launched a project to locally assemble 100 An-140 regional turboprops. Libya has taken delivery of two An-124 Ruslans and four An-32 tactical transports. Last year Air Libya ordered five An-140s, and the United Arab Emirates acquired one Ruslan. This year Egypt, Libya and Sudan have ordered a total of 10 An-74TK200/300s.

The Ukrainian aerospace industry structure is broadly similar to Russia's. One difference is that most enterprises are still state-owned, including the three flagships: the Antonov design house and aircraft manufacturing plants in Kiev (Aviant) and Kharkov (KSAMC).

The industry is export-oriented because local customers are short of funds. At first, the Ukrainians tried their luck in Europe, offering NATO members the An-7X, a Westernised An-70 airlifter. Hopes were high, with Antonov general designer Piotr Balabuev forecasting orders for more than 300 airlifters. But then Airbus won the competition with its A400M, a "paper" aircraft with performance broadly similar to the already-flying An-70. The final blow to Antonov's pride came when the UK chose the Boeing C-17 after a tender in which a Rolls-Royce-powered An-124 came first in the technical assessment. Unhappy with both decisions, Ukraine blamed politics and turned to the East.

Export policy

Today, 50 countries use Ukrainian military products, according to state arms trade agency Ukrspetsexport. General director Valery Shmarov says military exports rose by 20% last year to an estimated $550 million, with the CIS states taking 55% and South-East Asia 32%. An increase of 10% is forecast for 2004, with the main customers being China, India, Libya, Russia and Turkmenistan. Iran and Syria are also viewed as promising markets.

Most Ukrainian exports to Russia are weapons and equipment for aircraft. For instance, Ukrainian missiles (including the R-27 medium-range air-to-air missile produced by Artyem) and sensors (such as the N-019 Novator radar) equip Mikoyan MiG-29s and Sukhoi Su-27/30s.

Shmarov sees future Ukrainian exports in air defence systems, radar, reconnaissance sensors, precision-guided munitions (PGMs) and countermeasures systems. Ukrspetsexport is funding development of the Kombat and Stugna laser-guided missiles, and improved Kolchuga radar and Mandat jamming systems. Foreign investors funded development of the Adros KT-01AV countermeasures system, effective against the Sidewinder, Stinger and other infrared-guided missiles. Foreign investments also helped development of the 36D6-M air surveillance radar and Mandat-M jamming system.

Domestic market

The Ukrainian armed forces, currently 350,000 strong, are to be reduced to 200,000 personnel, with 80,000 cut in 2004 and 70,000 next year. The air force and air defence force are merging, with the loss of 30,000 personnel.

With Ukraine's annual defence budget at $1 billion, about 0.5% of the country's gross national product goes to defence research and development, but there are plans to increase this to 1.5-1.7%. The air force is focusing on developing low-cost upgrades for the vast inventories of aircraft inherited from the Soviet Union. Funds have been allocated to upgrade S-300 SAMs, MiG-29, Su-27 and Su-24 tactical aircraft, Aero Vodochody L-39 jet trainers and Mil Mi-24 combat helicopters. Other Soviet-era aircraft will not be upgraded and used until the end of their useful lives.

The upgrade focus is on MiG-29 fighters, of which there are 200 in the inventory. These will be given a multi-target capability and additional radar modes to allow the use of PGMs, including radar- and TV-guided air-to-surface missiles. The search for cost-effective solutions began in 2000, and Israeli proposals were rejected in favour of co-operative efforts with Russia. The work will be performed in Ukraine at Lvov repair station, with heavy involvement by Novator, Arsenal and other local manufacturers.

The cost of pilot training has been cut by introducing the Yakovlev Yak-52 as the ab initio trainer before the L-39. Both types are set for upgrade at the Odessa-based Odesaaviaremservis site. The Yakovlev trainer will become the Yak-152 after the installation of new avionics and replacement of its Vedeneyev M-14 piston engine with the ZMKB Progress AI-450 turboprop. The L-39 upgrades are being developed with Israel Aircraft Industries (L-39MU) and Russian companies. The Ukrainian air force has 100 L-39s in service.

The air force will receive two An-70s this year after parliament passed legislation to support the longstanding project. The government has allocated $200 million for completion of flight tests and construction of the first batch of aircraft at Aviant. Under interstate agreements, Ukraine would take 65 An-70s and Russia 164. Russian air force commander Vladimir Mikhailov says that although $3.5 billion has been invested in the project, it is not enough to complete research and development. The Russian air force refuses to accept the type until theD-27A propfan engines are mature.

Commercial investment is being sought to resume production of the Ruslan. Antonov is reworking the An-124-300, giving it an enlarged wing, strengthened centre-fuselage section and stretched fuselage, for production at Aviastar and Aviant. Operators are seeking funds for 50 new Ruslans to be built at Aviastar and Aviant, but they would prefer the An-124-100M model, one of which is operated by Volga-Dnepr (Flight International 7-13 September).

A more advanced variant with the same designation has begun two months of flight tests. It is a mid-life upgrade of Antonov Airlines' An-124, with 150t payload capability and a flightdeck crew of four. Antonov Airlines plans to upgrade all its Ruslans to the An-124-100M standard by 2007.

Air transport

Soon after becoming independent, Ukraine drew up a state programme for civil aviation development that called for development of the An-38 commuter and An-140 regional turboprops and An-218 and An-180 160- to 180-seat turboprop-powered mainline airliners, and setting up a Tupolev Tu-334-100 production line at Aviant. Shortage of funds left these projects with only 10% of their required state funding during the 1990s. Efforts to attract commercial investors failed and the An-218 and An-180 were discontinued. Other projects were funded mainly from revenues from upgrading Antonov aircraft worldwide (a total of 1,500 in 50 countries) and cargo transportation services using the design house's An-12s, An-22s and An-124s operated by Antonov Airlines.

The 27-seat An-38 does not appear a good investment. So far seven aircraft have been built at Sukhoi's NAPO plant instead of the 60-100 forecast. The aircraft is available in two variants, the export version with Honeywell TPE331-14GR-801E engines and Bendix/King avionics and a "Russianised" model with Baranov TVD-20 powerplants. The US engines proved expensive to purchase and maintain because they have to go to the USA for overhaul and checks, while the Russian engine has a short lifespan.

Conceived in 1993, the 52-seat An-140 received certification in 2000. In service with Ukraine's Aeromost-Kharkov, Odessa Airlines, Motor-Sich Avia, Ilyich-Avia and Iran's Safir Air, the type is due to enter service with Russia's Samara and Azerbaijan's Azal later this year. A Westernised Pratt & Whitney Canada PW127A-powered variant was dropped, with no plans for an alternative to the Klimov/ZMKB Progress TV3-117VMA-SB2 engines. Antonov hopes for 600 sales, including 400 in the CIS.

Antonov is proceeding at full throttle with its An-148 regional jet, targeting the emerging CIS market for a 100-seater aircraft. Passenger variants of the An-74TK300 ramp-equipped freighter have been dropped. It is now marketed as a super mid-size business jet with a 5,200km (2,800nm) range.

Integration plans

The An-148 is often seen in Russia and Ukraine as a local alternative to used Airbus A320s and Boeing 737s for European services. Of 90 Ukrainian aircraft operators, Aeroswit and Ukrainian International Airlines (MAU) operate 737s and Ukraine Mediterranean Airlines an A320. If government plans to merge Aeroswit, MAU and Air Ukraine go ahead, Antonov could land a big order because the merged company would be more dependent on the government when it came to fleet planning.

The government is also planning to create an Antonov group that would unite design house, manufacturing plants, repair stations and airlines operating Antonov transports. Kiev officials have also voiced the idea of putting more than 100 industrial enterprises into four merged entities: aircraft-manufacturing, engine-manufacturing, aviation weapons and avionics, in an effort to improve the competitiveness of the Ukrainian industry.

Aviasvit takes place on 18-20 September in Kiev. www.expoua.com

VLADIMIR KARNOZOV / MOSCOW