Air force to concentrate budget on upgrading strategic and tactical aircraft and SAMs

Russia has again cast doubt on the future of Antonov's An-70 project, with a senior air force official claiming that the transport aircraft's D-27 propfan propulsion powerplant "may never attain maturity". The developmental system has still undergone insufficient testing, says air force commander Col Gen Vladimir Mikhailov, who adds that Western firms have also failed to perfect such an engine design.

The air force had regular contact with Ukraine on the project last year, but Mikhailov says Moscow will provide only limited funding to Russian industry to support the An-70 in 2004. A joint investment of around $80 million is needed for design development work.

Mikhailov says the air force will concentrate its limited 2004 budget on upgrading its strategic and tactical aircraft and surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems, and acquiring a limited amount of new equipment for evaluation by combat units.

The air force intends to equip one aviation regiment with the upgraded Sukhoi Su-27SM fighter this year. The service received its first five modernised aircraft last December, and will hand over a further 20 airframes for conversion at Sukhoi's KnAAPO plant. It will begin operational trials later this year with the developmental Su-34 (Su-27IB) strike aircraft, which made its flight debut last month. An upgrade to the air force's Su-25 ground-attack aircraft is unlikely to extend beyond re-equipping one regiment. "Su-25s are able to perform current tasks, but it is time to think of a new design," says Mikhailov.

The air force's Tupolev Tu-95MS and Tu-160 bombers will receive navigation, targeting and weapon systems improvements, with a focus on air-launched weapons.

Mikhailov says the air force remains under-resourced, having been allocated around 15% of the national defence budget. The service raised additional funds last year through the sale or lease of redundant and excess hardware.

The air force is also considering other options for its redundant and excess aircraft.

Source: Flight International