Comments by a top Russian industry executive have widened the scope of a planned development programme for a new large military transport aircraft, but critical details remain undecided.

In comments reported by state-run news agency TASS, Ilyushin chief executive Sergei Velmozhkin said research and development work will begin next year on a future transport with a scheduled in-service date of 2027.

Vemozhkin said the new aircraft – officially termed the prospective aviation complex for military transport aircraft (PAK VTA) – will carry the designation “IL-106”, which was previously applied to a cancelled Ilyushin transport design in the 1990s.

But many details about the PAK VTA are still unclear, including the crucial parameter of payload size. Vemozhkin says designers have proposed concepts with payloads ranging between 80-120t, which roughly brackets the airlift capability provided today by the 60t payload of the newly-delivered Il-76MD-90A and the 120t capacity of the Antonov An-124.

Vemozhkin’s comments significantly expand the project beyond the official plans revealed in last year’s annual report from United Aircraft (UAC), which counts the Ilyushin design bureau as a subsidiary. The UAC report describes the PAK VTA as a project to replace Ukrainian-built powerplants on the An-124 with Russia’s Kuznetsov NK-23Ds.

But the An-124’s Ukrainian manufacturer, Antonov, has objected to any attempt by Russian industry to tamper with the certificated configuration of the An-124, saying as the design authority it alone is allowed to approve the airworthiness of major changes.

A UAC spokesman confirms the An-124 re-engining “is no longer on the table due to a number of reasons”.

The Russian air force has recently re-committed to modernising an ageing, Soviet-era transport fleet. Last year, UAC restarted deliveries of a new version of the Il-76, which is equipped with high-bypass Aviadvigatel PS-90A-76 engines, replacing low-bypass D30s. The PAK VTA appears aimed at freeing the Russian air force from dependence upon a Ukrainian-built aircraft for the heavy airlift mission. But the timeline for developing such a replacement is likely to be long.

“The military have not yet voiced their requirements for the plane,” UAC says, “and between 80t and 120t there is a big difference.”