The present and future of Russian anti-submarine aircraft

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An important element of the aviation of the navy is the anti-submarine patrol aircraft. Machines of different types, carrying special search equipment and weapons, should conduct patrols, search for enemy submarines and, if necessary, attack them. The existing grouping of anti-submarine aircraft in the Russian naval aviation no longer fully meets the requirements, and therefore the existing equipment is being modernized. In addition, the aviation industry is creating new samples.

According to known data, at present the Russian Navy has several units, which are equipped with anti-submarine aircraft of a number of types. So, the reference book The Military Balance from the International Institute for Strategic Studies for the past year indicates the existence of three squadrons, manned by Il-38 aircraft. Two more squadrons are used by Tu-142 type vehicles. Also, one of the divisions continues the operation of several anti-submarine amphibian aircraft of the Be-12 model.

Upgraded Il-38N at the airbase of naval aviation

The same directory gave the following data on the number of Russian anti-submarine aircraft. It was pointed out that 16 Il-38s and 6 modernized Il-38Ns served in the fleet. The number of Tu-142 aircraft of different modifications was determined in 22 units. The presence of three Be-12s was also mentioned. In total, according to foreign estimates, at the beginning of last year Russian anti-submarine aircraft had less than fifty aircraft with special equipment and weapons. It should be noted that the data from domestic sources indicate a greater number of aircraft – at least 80 units.

Novella about IL-38

According to other sources, the Russian fleet has a large number of IL-38 aircraft. Until recently, naval aviation had about 50-55 such vehicles in the basic configuration. A significant part of such machines continues to serve, but a certain proportion of aircraft has undergone modernization and now shows higher performance, and also has a higher potential in the context of combat missions.

It should be noted that the development of the Il-38 aircraft modernization project started in the eighties of the last century. In the framework of the project with the code “Novella” some works were performed, but soon the new antisubmarine complex was left without a future. Due to economic problems, the Russian fleet could not order the construction of new aircraft or the modernization of existing equipment for a prospective project.

However, another customer was soon found. The modernization of the Il-38 was interested in the Indian Navy. A contract was signed, according to which six Indian planes were upgraded to the Il-38SD version (Sea Dragon – the name of the upgraded on-board equipment complex).

Only at the end of the two thousand years the Russian military leadership became interested in the new project for the modernization of anti-submarine aircraft. The result was the appearance of an order for a serial upgrade of existing aircraft to the Il-38N (Novella) state. By 2015, it was possible to repair and update 5 existing machines, and the work continues. Modernized aircraft are delivered annually.

Earlier it was stated that under the existing order until the end of the decade, the naval aviation would have to get 28 modernized Il-38N. In recent years, plans have been changed. Now we expect about 30 existing aircraft, but the work on such an order will last until 2025. One way or another, in the foreseeable future, a significant proportion of the Il-38s in service will undergo repairs with the restoration of technical readiness, and will also receive new equipment.

The essence of the modernization of IL-38 aircraft according to the project with the letter “N” is to replace the search and sighting complex “Berkut-38” with the new system Novella-P-38. The latter includes only modern components, which leads to clear results. According to the developers of the Il-38N project, the new search and sighting complex allows four times to improve the performance of the aircraft when searching for submarines. In addition, the main characteristics of airborne equipment have been improved, which affect the solution of basic problems.

Il-38 before repair and modernization

A characteristic feature of the IL-38N is the preservation of anti-submarine capabilities in the appearance or improvement of other functions. Thus, the presence of a radar station with a phased array allows you to search for and follow surface or air targets. Large surface ships can be seen at distances of up to 320 km, airplanes – up to 90 km. Automation is capable of supporting up to 32 targets at a time. It should be noted that the radar of the Novella-P-38 complex is the most noticeable innovation of the modernized aircraft. Its antennas are placed in a polygonal casing, located on the roof of the fuselage.

After modernization, the aircraft retains the ability to use sonar buoys of various classes and types. Depending on the task, the IL-38N is capable of carrying various torpedoes and anti-submarine bombs, both free-fall and corrected. The total mass of the combat load is up to 5 tons.

The modernization program for Il-38 aircraft continues and is bearing fruit. So, in July last year, the Chief of Naval Aviation of the Russian Navy, Major-General Igor Kozhin, said that by that time, 60% of the existing Il-38 fleet had been profoundly modernized.

Anti-submarine “Bears”

An important element of anti-submarine aircraft of the Russian navy are aircraft of different modifications of the Tu-142 family. In operation there are less than three dozen modifications of Tu-142MR and Tu-142M3. Aircraft of these types are equipped with a significant amount of special equipment used in the search for submarines. For this purpose, on-board devices and resettable sonar buoys are used. A typical feature of the TU-142MR aircraft, capable of communicating with its submarines, is a super long-wave radio station with a rope antenna length of 8600 m. A large flight range, enlarged by refueling in the air, is capable of ensuring the operation of aircraft far from bases.

In the spring of 2015, it was announced that the Ministry of Defense intends to repair and modernize the existing Tu-142 aircraft. It was reported that the new modernization project would primarily affect on-board radio electronic equipment. It was planned to replace the search and sighting complex, refine navigational equipment and install new weapons control devices.

According to reports of the recent past, the aircraft had to be upgraded with both modifications remaining in service. The updated technique was suggested to mark an additional “M” in the title. Thus, after modernization, Tu-142MR planes were to be called Tu-142MRM, and Tu-142M3 were turned into Tu-142M3M.

Tu-142 at the airport

In mid-2016, some details of the Tu-142MMM project became known. So, in accordance with the order of the Navy command, the upgraded aircraft should have been able to maintain communication with the submarines, as well as gain new functions. With the help of advanced equipment, it was proposed to provide the possibility of data transfer to ballistic missiles of the Bulava submarines, as well as to products of the Caliber family. First of all, these functions were planned to be used to give target designation to a flying rocket.

It was planned to spend about 4-5 years on repair and modernization of existing equipment. In this case, it was a question of modernizing the entire fleet of aircraft. Thus, by the beginning of the next decade, about 30 Tu-142 aircraft with extended life and new equipment could be used in naval aviation. The development of the modernization project was entrusted to several enterprises of the Russian aviation industry. Work with technology was entrusted to TANTK them. G.M. Beriev.

Antisubmarine aircraft of the future

In the middle of last year, the naval aviation chief of the fleet, Major-General I. Kozhin, talked about the plans of the military department to develop a grouping of anti-submarine aircraft. According to the existing plans, in the future the fleet will have to receive not only modernized machines, but also new types of equipment. Moreover, the development of a prospective antisubmarine patrol aircraft has already begun.

Earlier it was claimed that the Navy command wanted to get not just an aircraft with anti-submarine equipment and weapons, but a unified platform. On the basis of such a universal aircraft it will be possible to build cars of one or another purpose with a certain specialization. The appearance of such a multipurpose aircraft will make it possible to replace all existing equipment of several types. According to General Kozhin, in many issues a promising domestic aircraft will outperform foreign equipment of its class.

It is interesting that in July 2017 I. Kozhin spoke not only of the very fact of the development of a new project. The Chief of Naval Aviation also noted that the work to create a next-generation patrol aircraft is already nearing completion. However, no technical features of this project, which are of special interest to specialists and the public, were not specified.

The last time the development of a prospective anti-submarine patrol aircraft was mentioned by official sources a few weeks ago. Not long ago, the United Aircraft Corporation issued the next issue of the corporate magazine Horizons. It published a new article “Snoopers” of submarines “, dedicated to the current work on updating the IL-38 aircraft and the further development of anti-submarine aircraft.

In the context of updating the fleet of vehicles, the magazine again quoted the statements of Major-General I. Kozhin, made back in July last year. Quoting the commander, the publication “Horizons” did not give any new information about the project being developed. It recalled the command’s desire to create a unified platform and the expected completion of the design work. New information, as well as technical details of the project were not published. However, the mere reminder of a promising aircraft caused a certain revival in the respective circles.

Tu-142 in the air

The timing of the completion of development work and the start of deliveries of new type serial aircraft has not yet been specified. If in the middle of last year the aviation industry did complete the development of a new project, the first prototype machine of the prospective model could be launched into the air within the next few years – including the end of the decade. For testing and debugging the project will take several years, after which it will be possible to launch mass production.

A patrol aircraft of a new type will be able to go to the series not earlier than the mid-twenties. It is noteworthy that by this time it is expected to complete the update of most of the existing IL-38. Thus, within a certain time, a promising machine and the new IL-38N will serve together. Replacement of Il-38N and modernized Tu-142 will take place only in the distant future.

It’s too early to talk about the number of anti-submarine patrol planes required. At the moment, naval aviation, according to Russian data, has no less than 80-85 similar machines of several modifications. For their full replacement, mass production of new equipment will be needed, possibly in comparable quantities. It remains to be seen only at what time the aircraft industry will be able to transfer to the armed forces such a number of aircraft.

The dark past and bright future

Just a few years ago the current state of antisubmarine aviation of the Russian navy caused justifiable fears. The basis of the grouping of such equipment was the IL-38, equipped with the obsolete search and sighting complex “Berkut-38”. The modernization planned in the eighties was not carried out in a timely manner, which markedly worsened the anti-submarine defense potential in general. The situation with Tu-142 aircraft deteriorated mainly due to a gradual reduction in the number of such vehicles.

Fortunately, the Ministry of Defense was able to find opportunities and resources to update the most important component of the Navy. A move was made to the Novella project, which provided for a profound modernization of the existing Il-38. A little later, the development of projects for updating the Tu-142 family aircraft started. Finally, the development of a new aircraft is already under way, which must first be supplemented and then replaced by existing vehicles.

Currently, there is a gradual modernization of the fleet of anti-submarine aircraft, carried out through the repair and renovation of available equipment. This approach will be used, at least, until the mid-twenties. Later, the construction of completely new machines will begin. It can not be ruled out that for some time the construction of new ones and the renovation of existing aircraft will go on in parallel. Then all the efforts of industry will be concentrated only on the construction of advanced technology.

The events of recent years and plans for the near future visually show the attitude of the command to the development of anti-submarine aircraft. A number of important projects have already been launched, and a list of further works has been determined. Thus, every year the potential of the Russian group of anti-submarine aircraft will grow. After a long period of dubious prospects, a bright future opens before this component of naval aviation.

On the materials:
“Snoopers” of submarines // Horizons . United Aircraft Corporation, 2017. №4.

Author: Ryabov Kirill

Photos used: “United Aircraft Corporation” /, Wikimedia Commons

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