2 min read
Part IV: New Aerospace Forces

The New Aerospace Forces – Air Dominance and Close Air Support 


In 2015, the Russian Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Defense Forces were merged to form the Russian Aerospace Forces, a single service consisting of 3 sub-services: Air Force, Air and Missile Defense Forces, and Space Forces.  The Russian Air Force is the primary inheritor of the Soviet Air Forces. The Air and Missile Defense Forces are responsible for aerospace defense and the operation of Russian military satellites. Russian Space Forces are responsible for aerospace warning, air sovereignty, and operation of the Plesetsk and Svobodny Cosmodromes. 

While the Soviet Air Force relied on a massive overmatch in forces and firepower to achieve air superiority, new Russian air power is designed to play a more precise role in modern combat. Ground Forces are still the centerpiece of Russian conventional military power, and Russian Ground Forces’ primary fire support will continue to be land-based artillery and MLRS, but the Americans have adequately demonstrated to military planners in Moscow what is possible through a sophisticated air force. Moreover, Russia’s new joint command structure will enable them to better wield air power in support of ground operations. 

Syria has been a proving ground for the new Russian Aerospace Forces, allowing officers to combat test new tactics, new munitions (smart-bombs, long-range missiles, etc.), ISR platforms (UAVs), and coordination with ground forces. Along with the Navy, Russian Aerospace Forces were the other clear winners of GPV 2020. Procurement has prioritized modernized versions of legacy platforms over altogether new systems (much like ground and naval forces) in fighter aircraft, transports, strategic bombers, and helicopters.   

The headlining procurement story of the Russian Aerospace Forces is the PAK FA/Su-57 5th generation multi-role fighter. Twelve demonstrator and proof-of-concept versions of the PAK FA/Su-57 were procured with the Saturn izdeliye 117 turbofan engines (an underpowered hand-me-down from the Su-35S) while new engines are under development (dubbed the izdeliye 30). Geopolitical fallout from the Crimean Annexation hampered much of this development process because originally, Ukrainian suppliers were slated to provide the Su-57 turbofan engines. In the meantime, the Russian MoD has increased orders for a modernized Su-35S, which has proven itself to be “good enough” in the Syrian intervention. 

GPV 2027 maintains the same priority capabilities outlined in its predecessor, filling the procurement gaps with updated versions of pre-existing systems. The Russian Ministry of Defense has signed an agreement with Sukhoi for 76 production versions of the Su-57. The first serial-produced version came off the assembly line (with the izdeliye 117 turbofan) in December 2020. It was deployed to an operational unit in the Southern Military District, and an additional four Su-57s will be delivered in 2021. The first production Su-57 equipped with the new izdeliye 30 turbofan engine was delivered in 2022, and they expect delivery of at least 22 Su-57s by the end of 2024.  

An export variant of the Su-57 was under development in a joint venture with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force, but India withdrew from the project due to cost overruns and technical challenges. Though India’s withdrawal may indicate that the Su-57 is not at technological or functional parity with Western counterparts like the F-22 Raptor or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Moscow is also appealing to potential customers in Turkey, Algeria, Brazil, and United Arab Emirates. President Erdogan of Turkey has expressed support for procurement, perhaps as leverage over the U.S. to sell Turkey the F-35. To compensate for the slow and expensive procurement of the Su-57, the generation 4++ Su-35S multirole air dominance fighter will remain the backbone of the Russian Aerospace Forces, with approximately 200 additional planes on order. A modernized version of the Su-30SM will also be produced at 12-15 per year, with a total production goal of 186 planes by 2027.  

The Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) Corporation, featured as the primary manufacturer of fighter jets flown by villains in American movies, is struggling to stay afloat. Therefore, the decision was made at the political level to support MiG by purchasing at least 24 MiG-35 generation 4++ multi-role fighters while the productive components of the company are absorbed by the United Aircraft Corporation (the owner of Ilyushin, Tupolev, and Sukhoi). Due to production delays, the MiG-29SMT will replace older variants of the MiG-29 currently fielded. Russian Ministry of Defense procurement officials also promoted increased specialization in fighter production, with Sukhoi supplying sophisticated multirole fighters (similar to the F-15, F-18, and F-22) and MiG supplying simpler, lighter fighters (similar to the American F-16). The Soviet-era Mig-31 will also be modernized for extended service life. 

Russian Ministry of Defense officials determined that the PAK TA, a military transport plane program, was out of reach for GPV 2020. Instead, the MoD is restarting production of the Soviet-era IL-76MD-90A heavy transport. Procurement of variants of IL-76MD-90A heavy transport variants will continue with 40 aircraft on order through 2027.  The Ka-52 and Mi-28N attack helicopters are also back in production, with Ukrainian turbine engines substituted by domestic Russian variants (lower quality variants). The Mi-35P, a modernized variant of the feared M—24 Hind gunship and troop transport, is currently in serial production. This includes both a domestic and export variant.