Three recent incidents highlight the extraordinary steps Russian military aviation and its providers have taken to try and survive in the bleak post-Soviet economic climate. One is to sell Russia’s top combat planes abroad. On November 30 Indian and Russian officials signed an agreement under which India will buy as many as 50 of Russia’s latest strike fighter, the Su-30MK. An official at the Rosvooruzheniye state arms export company said that deal was worth more than $1 billion. The aircraft is not yet in service with the Russian Air Force. The deal will provide stability at the Irkutsk plant where it will be built and will undoubtedly help subsidize domestic procurement. A Rosvooruzheniye source also indicated that Russia would provide six Ka-50 "Black Shark" attack helicopters worth $200 million to Slovakia to offset part of the Russian debt to that country. Only a handful of Ka-50s are in Russian service. (Itar-Tass, November 30, Komsomolskaya pravda, November 28)
Russian aircraft manufacturers are also trying gain access to Western technology. One such effort is the joint venture between the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Tupolev Design Bureau to develop a new generation of supersonic aircraft. Last Friday the Tu-144LL, a modified version of Tupolev’s "Concordski" jet liner, made its first test flight from the Zhukovski Flight Research Center outside Moscow. This flying laboratory is scheduled to make a total of 32 test flights over the next 6 months. (Interfax, November 29)
Finally, the Russian military has been forced to hire out its planes and crews for commercial purposes, although not always with the best results. On November 27 an Il-76 transport of the Air Force’s Military Transport Command crashed in Siberia soon after takeoff from the town of Abakan, killing all on board. It was carrying 13 passengers and 30 metric tons of commercial freight bound for Petropavlovsk on the Kamchatka Peninsula. (Interfax, November 28)
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