Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

Senior Russian defence-ministry officials are advocating cutting the vast majority of combat-aircraft and helicopter development projects now under way in Russia, in an attempt to protect a handful of core programmes.

In early September, defence-ministry acquisition chief Col Gen Anatoly Sitnov told a special Government meeting examining the plight of the military and civil aerospace sector that the Russian military could finance only two next-generation combat-aircraft programmes at a time. The defence ministry can identify some 19 upgrade and next-generation projects it is being asked to support.

Sitnov also warns that a choice needs to be made between competing Kamov and Mil attack helicopters. Mil is pushing the Mi-28N Havoc, and Kamov the Ka-52 variant of the Hokum, to meet an army requirement for an all-weather attack capability.

Russia's army aviation faces swingeing cuts in numbers over the next couple of years. Helicopter numbers will be reduced from 2,000 to 900, while some 2,000 flightcrew will be made redundant by the beginning of 1999.

Sitnov also indicates that the air force may withdraw its handful of Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjacks from service. Five of the strategic nuclear bombers are based at Engels. He re-iterates, however, the importance of the Sukhoi Su-27IB (Su-34) strike aircraft now in development to replace the Su-24 Fencer in the strike role.

The withdrawal of the Blackjack would leave Russia's long-range strategic strike forces dependent on the Tu-95 Bear and Tu-22M3 Backfire long-range bombers.

Criticising the air force's attempts to pursue a fifth-generation-fighter programme, Sitnov says: "What is the use of developing, for instance, the Sukhoi fifth-generation fighter, if the aircraft's cockpit dates back to a second- or third-generation design?"

MAPO MIG and Sukhoi are vying to meet the air force's requirement for a successor to the Su-27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum. MAPO's Article 1.42 fifth-generation fighter is expected to be flown by the end of 1997. The 35t-class fighter is likely to be, at best, a technology demonstrator for a fifth-generation fighter in the 20t class, however.

Sukhoi is pushing its S-32 (possibly redesignated the S-37) forward-swept-wing design as an alternative to the 1.42. It remains unclear whether the air force can afford to pursue heavy and medium fifth-generation-fighter projects. It may have to decide between a Sukhoi or a MAPOMIG design, but not both.

Source: Flight International