Carrier upgrade, MiG-31K and the Korsar UAV


Admiral Kuznetsov has been plagued by persistent problems with its powerplant using steam boilers running on heavy oil fuel. Its refurbishment is set to remove this high-profile shortcoming.
UK Ministry of Defence

THE RUSSIAN MoD’s effort to procure a pair of Ilyushin Il-96-400TZ long-range tanker-transport aircraft has reportedly failed due to a lack of agreement with the type’s design authority, Ilyushin, on the scope of development and price.

Two existing Il-96-400T cargo aircraft, built at the VAS plant in Voronezh, were on contract for conversion to strategic tankers, a mission required to support worldwide operations of the Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear-H fleets. Between 2009 and 2011, both Il-96 aircraft were operated by Polet, the now bankrupt Russian air operator, and are currently owned by lessor Ilyushin Finance Co (IFC).

In January 2015, both Il-96s were contracted for conversion to tanker-transport aircraft for the Russian Air and Space Force; the contract price has not been disclosed.

During the development work, however, Ilyushin realised the price agreed was insuffcient to fulfil the cost of installing, testing and certification of all new mission equipment. Conversion to tanker was intended to enable the Il-96- 400TZ to transfer up to 65 tonnes of fuel at up to 3,500km (1,888 nautical miles) range.

According to the Russian daily Izvestiya, Ilyushin has off ered a shortened and accelerated development, retrofit and testing programme for the two jets in an effort to reduce costs, but the Russian MoD was not happy with the minimum-change proposal and refused to accept it. The list of conversion requirements included a self-protection suite and escape systems for the aircrew. The Russian MoD confirmed the contract termination, but declined any further comment.

According to the Moscowbased defence think-tank Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, the Il-96-400TZ programme became a victim of the constantly changing and growing military requirements. The MoD’s most recent version, dating back to 2016, called for a tanker boasting a significant airlift capability, including passengers and cargo containers accommodated on the main deck.

These requirements, however, were never accepted by Ilyushin, leading to a prompt demise of the ambitious conversion programme. IFC inherited four former Polet Il-96-400Ts: one was converted into a VIP transport for the Russian MoD, to be operated by the Russian Air and Space Force, while a second was retrofitted as an Il-96-400VPU aerial command post for the all-powerful Federal Security Service.

Carrier upgrade

A budget and a technical specification for the long-delayed refurbishment and upgrade of the sole and long-troubled Russian Navy aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov have been approved, with a firm contract signed in mid-April.

According to Russian Navy Deputy Commander in Chief Vice- Admiral Vladimir Barsuk, work commenced in early May and is planned for completion before the end of 2020. Recommissioning the ship in the Russian Northern Fleet is slated for the first half of 2021. There are, however, serious concerns that the deadline will not be met, taking into consideration the long history of delayed naval projects (building of new ships and refurbishment and upgrade of existing ones) in the last two decades.

Work on Admiral Kuznetsov is being carried out at the 35th Ship Repair Plant in Murmansk, a subsidiary of the United Ship- Building Corporation.

A budget for the programme – which would render the ship good for at least 20 more years of service – has been set at RUB 60 billion. The upgrade component covers installation of new steam boilers in the ship’s troublesome powerplant, together with new radar systems, aircraft landing aids and servicing equipment. The ship is also slated to receive allnew communication, navigation, electronic warfare and air defence systems, including a naval version of the KBP Pantsir closein system. At the same time, according to the Russian daily Komersant, Admiral Kuznetsov is set to retain its P-700 Granit (SSN- 19 Shipwreck) anti-ship cruise missiles housed in 12 launchers under the flight desk. The P-700 system was originally earmarked for replacement with the newer, and much more compact, Kalibr- NK system with 3S14 vertical launchers, but plans were shelved in order to trim costs.

The Korsar UAS is a fully funded Russian MoD programme designed for military use. Production is expected to be launched in the second half of 2018 and fielding into service next year.
Russian MoD
The Kinzhal (Dagger) hypersonic air-tosurface missile, seen here loaded under a MiG-31K, weighs about 4,000kg.
Russian MoD
A pair of productionstandard MiG-31Ks each toting a Kunzhal missile at the V-Day parade in Moscow on May 9.
Russian MoD

MiG-31K unveiled

An upgrade programme for the MiG-31 Foxhound designed to provide a launch capability of the new Kinzhal air-to-surface hypersonic missile has made rapid progress. It was unveiled by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a state of the nation address on March 1, when he claimed the new and feared weapon had been put on experimental quick reaction alert (QRA) duty in the Southern Military District.

Weighing 4,000kg (8,818lb), the air-launched Kinzhal missile features a solid-fuel motor, boasts a nuclear capability and is advertised as flying with a top speed of between Mach 6 and Mach 10, with a range of about 2,000km (1,079 nautical miles). On May 5, the Russian Deputy Minister of Defence responsible for the procurement of new armament systems, Yury Borisov, told the press that ten MiG-31s have been upgraded to launch the Kinzhal missile. He said these aircraft are held on experimental QRA duty, and remain ready for deployment on an as needed basis. The QRA was set up on December 1, 2017, at an undisclosed location within Russia’s Southern Military District, believed to be the 929nd State Flight-Research Centre at Akhtubinsk.

On May 3, while commenting on the types that would appear in the V-Day military parade on Red Square in Moscow, Russian Minister of Defence Sergey Shoigu disclosed the upgraded version of the Foxhound has been officially designated as the MiG-31K.

Korsar on Red Square

The Korsar UAS made a surprise public debut on the V-Day parade. It uses an air vehicle with a highwing/ twin-boom design layout with inverted V-tails, powered by a pusher piston engine, with take- off and landing performed from a conventional runway.

Developed by the Rybinsk-based KB Luch design bureau, a subsidiary of the Russian Electronics holding company, controlled by the Rostec industrial conglomerate, it was previously kept under wraps, with little information revealed to the public. According to Yury Borisov, the Korsar has just completed its state flight testing programme and production launch is to follow, based on a commitment by the Russian MoD to place orders.

The Korsar system comprises one ground control station and several UAVs, which in the current configuration are equipped with electro-optical payloads for the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance role and for targeting of guided weapons.

Work is in progress for enhancing the Korsar’s mission capabilities by extending the datalink range to 250km (135 nautical miles) and integrating additional mission payloads for new applications, such as electronic warfare.

The MiG-31K was a fasttrack development under a classified programme to field a system with an air-launched missile capability able to strike ground and sea surface targets with conventional or nuclear warheads.
Russian MoD