Russian airlifter aviation faces problems – Part 1

Claims about a crisis in the Russian airlifter construction were confirmed by a meeting in Sochi in late May chaired by President Vladimir Putin with top military brass and the leadership of defense enterprises.

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Ilyushin Il 76MD 90A Rostec Marina Lystseva 1

Ilyushin Il-76MD-90A (Picture source : Rostec/Marina Lystseva)

“It is clear that our armed forces must have sufficient airlifters and heavy helicopters. There are certain achievements and potential in the sphere. Thus, super heavy An-124 airlifters are maintained in a proper state with Russian-made components. Light Il-112V is completing acceptance trials and two airlifters have to be supplied this year. Il-76 production is resumed on a new technological basis. Five serial Il-76MD-90A have to be supplied to the troops by the end of the year. However, the submitted data show that the Defense Ministry needs much more airlifters and helicopters,” Putin said.

The Vzglyad business newspaper believes the main problems of airlifter aviation include a shortage of aircraft and the absence of air refueling system.

The main Russian airlifter programs include heavy Il-76MD-90A and light Il-112V. As the design of a heavy airlifter to replace An-124 is at an early stage, the upgrade of the aircraft remains vital.

The Military Balance 1990-1991 said the Soviet Union operated 435 Il-76M/MD, 29 An-124 and a big number of An-26 in 1990. Russia currently has 99 Il-76MD and three upgraded Il-76MD-M, as well as five Il-78 and ten Il-78M air tankers, 11 An-124 and 114 An-26 (another 24 An-26 operate in the Navy aviation). Thus, the airlifter fleet considerably decreased in the post-Soviet period. In the 2010s, the Russian Aerospace Forces received a big number of new and upgraded tactical and long-range aircraft, but the airlifter fleet remained Soviet-built.

The necessity to renew the fleet was evident in the early 2010s. Aviastar-SP enterprise in Ulyanovsk prepared the production of upgraded Il-76MD-90A. The project began in 2006 under Il-476 designation and called to annually produce 39 aircraft up to 2020. However, the enterprise produced only eleven Il-786MD-90A aircraft in the past years, including three of the development batch.

The Aerospace Forces received nine airlifters. One aircraft is used by the Ilyushin Company for trials. Another one is operated by the Beriev Aircraft Plant to develop A-100 AEW aircraft. One aircraft was built by the Il-78M-90A program.

Another contract for Il-76MD-90A was signed at the Army-2020 forum. UAC CEO Yuri Slyusar said the corporation planned to increase production to 18 Il-76 a year. A contract for ten Il-78M-90A air tankers developed from Il-76MD-90A was signed in December 2020. Aviastar-SP will begin to produce ten air tankers for the Defense Ministry in 2021.

Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu visited Aviastar-SP in March 2021. “In 2020, we received three aircraft and five are planned in 2021. It is necessary to produce ten aircraft a year,” he said. He called to further raise production to 20 new and upgraded Il-76MD-90A so that their fleet exceeds 250 aircraft by 2030.

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