During the Soviet period Ukraine was a distant second to Russia in terms aerospace system design bureaus. While the major aircraft, helicopter and missile design centers were almost all located in Moscow, the Ukrainian capital of Kiev was home to only one aircraft design bureau–Antonov. This disparity was reflected throughout the aerospace industry, with many of the developmental facilities for aircraft, missiles, radars, etc. concentrated in Moscow and only a few major defense development facilities located in Kiev.
The real capability that was resident in Ukraine was an extensive network of overhaul and repair plants. Many of these repair facilities soon began looking at the market opportunities presented by the considerable number of former Soviet-era aircraft, air defense systems and radars used by neighboring states and other former clients of the Soviet Union’s military assistance programs.
What they soon came to realize was that Russian firms were “fairly proficient at producing new models of weapon systems and aircraft. But those same Russian firms were not very well organized to be able to offer their existing customers upgrade options for products sold in years past,” said a Ukrainian aerospace executive who spoke to AIN on condition of anonymity.
Ukrainian firms have therefore made it their goal to improve on the basic designs originally developed in the Soviet period, to the point where the improvements that they are offering are functional equivalents to next-generation models of these aircraft and military systems.
Many of the examples are seen in the modernization programs that have been developed for legacy platforms like the SA-3 (S-125 Pechora) and SA-6 (Buk/Kvadrat) air defence systems by companies like Ukraine’s Aerotechnica. Another are the upgrades sold to users of the Mikoyan MiG-29 by the Kiev-based firm Radionix. The company has developed a package of solid-state replacement modules that replace the older generation analogue components in the MiG-29’s Phazotron N019 radar set.
“Perhaps above all we have the most experienced overhaul and repair centers for aircraft, such as the Mikoyan MiG-29 fighter,” said one Ukrainian air force official. “Russian enterprises, such as the Russian Aircraft Company MiG (RSK-MiG) plants in Moscow and Lukhovitsiy, are well-versed in producing new aircraft, but they do not have the personnel or organization to be able to carry out overhauls properly. In order to be able to perform these overhauls you need a full-spectrum of service shops on site to repair or replace the aircraft’s many subsystems.”
Ukrainian industry has also been called upon to provide major components to nations utilizing copies of Russian-designed weapon systems. In the People’s Republic of China (PRC) the Shenyang J-11B fighter aircraft, is a reverse-engineered analogue of the Sukhoi Su-27, utilizes a version of that aircraft’s NIIP N001 radar set that is produced in Ukraine.
Beyond the aircraft sector, Ukraine also had a specific capability in designing and building missile systems in the Soviet era that carries on to this day. Although many of the air-launched weapons used by Russian export clients were designed at the Vympel design bureau in Moscow, the production line for the air-to-air systems was always located in Kiev at the Artem plant. Seeker heads for these missiles were produced at the Radar plant in Kiev and the infrared seekers for those missile were designed by the Arsenal enterprise, also located in the capital.
These firms, aided by the Luch design bureau, have developed new modifications of these missile systems that include modifying air-to-air missiles into surface-to-air variants. Some of the solutions even involve the integration of foreign-made seeker heads into these missiles or the integration of those missiles into non-Ukrainian air defence systems.
In the past several years, however, Ukrainian industry has moved beyond incremental modernization packages and upgrades and is now developing solutions that make for new-generation modifications of existing platforms or the development of new ones.
The most active and one of the most famous Ukrainian firms in this category is the Motor Sich aeroengine firm that is based in Zaparozhye. The company has long been one of the only manufacturers of engines for the Mil Mi-17 and its predecessor, the Mi-8 series, helicopters. Motor Sich (Hall 6 Stand C27) has developed a program for full-scale revamping of these helicopter designs by installing new engines, new avionics and even new weapon systems.
One example is the Motor Sich re-manufactured model of the Mi-8, which is designated the Mi-8MSB-W. This modification installs the newer model Klimov TW-3-117WMA SBM1W series 4E engines into this air frame. These engines offer better performance and a much longer period between overhauls.
For the other famous Mil model, the Mi-24, Motor Sich has developed the Mi-24PU-1 with the Motor Sich-built TV3-117VMA-SBM1V-02 engine, with a power output of 2500hp. These engines increase the maximum take-off weight of the helicopter by almost 2000lb, and with this power plant it is possible to operate at altitudes exceeding 7,000 meters (23,000ft).
These engines also increase the top speed of the helicopter by up to 195 miles per hour. In comparison, the operational ceiling of the Boeing AH-64D Apache helicopter is 6,400 meters (21,000 feet), while its top speed is 183 miles per hour. The Ukrainian version also includes Western-made on-board systems and the introduction of options for additional weapons.
Ukraine’s most famous firm in the aerospace arena is the Antonov aircraft company, makers of the world’s two largest aircraft, the An-124 Ruslan and the An-225 Mriya, both of which have been seen at Le Bourget in previous years. At this year’s airshow the company is presenting smaller-model aircraft, but with some distinct differences from Antonov’s orientation in previous years.
More recently, Antonov (Hall 6 Stand A54) has developed a series of new, twin-engined aircraft that are designed to replace older-model Antonov aircraft already in use around the world.
• The An-178 is a short-range military transport aircraft based on the civilian An-148/158 regional jet (the An-158 is a stretched variant of the 85-seat An-148 regional jet with a payload of 99 passengers). Modifications for the aircraft to be used in military service include a wider fuselage and a rear-loading ramp. It is comparable to the Lockheed Martin C-130 in terms of lift capacity and is targeted to replace older model An-12 and An-26 aircraft.
• The An-132D is designed to replace older-model An-32 aircraft, but the main difference with this aircraft is that the entire fit of its on-board systems come from foreign suppliers–engines from Pratt & Whitney, for example. The aircraft’s main production line is going to be in Saudi Arabia rather than in Kiev, and it recently made its first flight.
• The company has also looked at a model that has been called the An-168MP, a variant of the An-148 that would be a maritime patrol aircraft. This aircraft would be proposed both as an MPA and as a ground surveillance and battle management platform.
Industry observers suggest that the An-132 program is a model for how Antonov intends to conduct part of its marketing strategy. “By moving the production off-shore to another country, Antonov avoids the problems that causes foreign firms to shy away from Ukrainian projects,” said a retired NATO nation military official.
“Many foreign firms do not want to have to get involved with the Ukrainian state arms export monopoly, UkrOboronProm [UOP],” he said. “Putting the production of their aircraft outside of Ukraine avoids the problems of the lack transparency that frequently are leveled at the UOP organization.”
“The additional benefit is to make their programs ‘international’ so that foreign suppliers can provide the on-board systems for these aircraft,” he continued. “Now you have aeroplanes that can be maintained anywhere in the world and an opportunity for a worldwide footprint–something that Ukrainian industry has aspired to for years but now could be close to achieving.”