Russia Opens Competition for Medium Airlifter

 - August 21, 2019, 7:18 AM
This model depicts the Ilyushin Il-276 design configured for the transport of military vehicles and large equipment. (photo: Vladimir Karnozov)

The Russian defense ministry has opened a competition for the design of a “Medium Military Transport Aircraft”, local abbreviation SVTS, that will replace the Antonov An-12 tactical airlifter. According to industry insiders, Ilyushin, Tupolev and Beriev are preparing to bid. Requirements for the SVTS were put together in November last year. Although details are yet to emerge, it is expected that the future aircraft is likely be a twinjet able to carry a payload of 20 tonnes (44,092 lb) over a distance of several thousand kilometers.

The fact that the MoD is subjecting the SVTS to a selection process must be bitter news for Ilyushin. This company has been designated as a center of competence for airlifters, according to the corporate policy of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) that controls all aircraft manufacturers in the country. Commenting on the situation, UAC has confirmed that not just the Il-276, but “several other designs,” are being considered in the ongoing competition.

Ilyushin began studies into a next-generation twinjet tactical airlifter back in the mid-1990s. Initially referred to as the Il-214, the design changed designation to the Il-276 for PR reasons, so that it is percieved as a "half” of the larger Il-76MD-90A strategic four-jet airlifter being developed under Project 476. An exportable version designated as the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) was in development from 2001 as a joint project between Russia and India. New Delhi closed it down in 2015. The following year, Ilyushin promised to complete development of the Il-214 on its own hoping to win a Russian MoD order for 100 such aircraft.

The project has suffered repeated delays. Recently the target dates for the completion of the initial design, maiden flight, and entry into service were postponed until 2019, 2023, and 2026, respectively. Until more recently, however, there had been little evidence of the defense ministry’s desire to award an SVTS contract to another developer. It may well be that the customer changed its mind following a number of failures Ilyushin has experienced in making meaningful progress on teething problems, with the early production examples of Il-76MD-90As and its special-mission derivatives. Additionally, the design house is overloaded with many other projects, including the Il-114-300 regional turboprop, Il-96-400M widebody airliner, and its twin-engine derivative.

Earlier this month, Tupolev CEO Aleksandr Konyukhov said that his company is working on a medium airlifter. He also announced the opening of an MRO station specializing in the Tu-204/214 jetliner family at the end of this year. There is a significant connection, since Tupolev once offered the Tu-330 airlifter as a high-wing, wide-fuselage derivative of the Tu-204/214. They would share avionics, onboard systems, and outer wing sections. Should the Tu-330 be resurrected, it would benefit from using the technologies and facilities—including a full flight simulator—created for the Tu-204SM, which received its type certificate in 2010. This would cut costs, reduce development time, and ease production preparations.

Both the Tu-330 and Il-276 are offered with two Aviadvigatel PS-90A turbofans, each developing a maximum thrust of 157 kN (35,270 pounds). Development of this engine commenced 40 years ago and culminated in type certification in 1992. In the future, the PS-90A might be replaced by growth derivatives of the 137-kN class (30,860-pound) PD-14, which was certified in October last year. The Aviadvigatel design house has reported that it has held negotiations with Ilyushin, Tupolev, Irkut and Beriev concerning the PD-14M, PD-16 and PD-18R, producing 155, 172 and 183 kN thrust, respectively. The engine house promises to certify them within six years of receiving a go-ahead.

With a gross weight of 102-112 metric tonnes (225,000-247,000 pounds), the Tu-330 is considerably larger than the 68-tonne Il-276. Range with a typical 20-tonne payload is 5,700-7,000 km (3,076-3,778 nm) for the Tu-330 compared with 2,250 km for the Il-276. The ongoing selection process is likely, however, to be driven by cost and time considerations rather than technical performance.