The Ilyushin design bureau and the Russian navy have revealed details of a mission systems upgrade and airframe refurbishment of the Il-38 antisubmarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. At a ceremony on January 31 at Ramenskoye airbase south of Moscow, Russian naval aviation commander Gen. Igor Kozhin said that “about 30” of the 54 Il-38s in the inventory will be modernized, in a program that will continue until 2025.
Nikolai Stolyarov, director for special aviation programs with United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), said Ilyushin and its sister companies Myasischev and Aircraft Repair Plant No.20 have fulfilled “the second defense ministry order for Il-38Ns” (for five and three aircraft, respectively). He added that these companies continue lifetime-extension and modernization work on other military versions of the baseline Il-18 in service with Russia's Air and Space Force. “This platform has proved itself as very reliable, durable and robust airplane. We hope the Il-38N program would resume…after successful completion of special flight trials that will commence shortly.”
The N version of the Il-38 features the Novella P-38 search and sighting system from St.-Petersburg-based Leninets, which replaces the outdated Berkut-38 on the original Il-38, 65 of which were delivered from 1967 to 1972. The system can track 32 targets simultaneously and has detection range against aircraft of 90 km (50 nm) and sea-going targets of 320 km (173 nm). The Indian Navy was the only export customer, and it still operates five Il-38SD with the Sea Dragon sensor suite, which is an exportable version of the Novella.
With all-up weight of 68 tons, the Il-38 has a crew of seven and a range of 9,500 km (5,126nm). It is broadly similar to the P-3 Orion, which has filled a similar ASW role with the U.S. Navy. According to Ilyushin, the Il-38N is intended for long-endurance anti-submarine patrols over sea, with simultaneous search for aerial and sea-going targets. In addition, the aircraft can set mine fields and perform search-and-rescue and ecological monitoring duties. Its arsenal of torpedoes, mines, depth charges and buoys has been extended though addition of the PL250-120 Zagon anti-submarine guided bombs. Indian Il-38SDs can fire the Kh-35, whereas the Russian navy decided not to equip its aircraft with anti-ship missiles.
The Il-38N that was accepted during the January 31 ceremony (RF-755345) was the eighth to be upgraded. It is the second Il-38N to be delivered to the Russian navy's 859 Center in Yeisk on the Black Sea coast for combat use, flight training and type conversion. Commander Gen. Alexei Serdyuk said his center will use these airplanes to train Pacific and Northern Fleet aircrews. “We will employ them on special trials and working out new tactics,” he added
After the ceremony, Gen. Kozhin told journalists that the Il-38 and Tu-142 will continue the primary ASW types in the Russian inventory. “These are old platforms, but we expect a substantial increase in their capabilities through the renewal of their mission equipment. Other maritime nations will be surprised at the new capabilities these types will demonstrate after modernization,” he declared.
Kozhin described the Il-38 as “the first indigenous ASW aircraft capable of long-duration flights over ocean, and it is still capable of search and annihilation of submarines.” He praised Ilyushin for producing “such a uniquely durable and reliable machine.” It has been operational with the navy for more than 50years with minimal attrition. “Despite its rather serious age, this aircraft is made very capable through yet another modernization program. The President and defense minister have set the goal to bring the share of new and modernized aircraft in the Russian naval aviation inventory up to 70 percent. We are on track with that.”