25.12.2013 — Analysis
Ideas of defense designers sink in the swamp of Russian bureaucracy
In the next few years the Russian Navy intends to put into service ships equipped with long-range hypersonic cruise missiles capable of penetrating multi-echeloned missile defense systems. Experts anticipate problems with fulfilment of this intention: The Russian military industrial enterprises are operating at the end of tether, experiencing shortage of skilled personnel and having to rely on the low-level technological base of the country.
In the meantime, manufacturers say that the situation is improving and there are all intellectual and financial resources required for accomplishment of the objective. However, as the RusBusinessNews columnist has found it out, the defense "intentions" may trip a mine charged with Russian bureaucracy: The strategic armament development gap that has widened over the past decades results from the lack of mechanism that would cast ideas in iron.
Over the past twenty years Russia has been far behind the world leaders in the armament race. In his annual public address, President Vladimir Putin honestly admitted his concerns about hypersonic non-nuclear precision systems developed by a number of countries and designed for striking a fast and long-range blow. The military strategists who provided their commander-in-chief with the respective information argue that Russia’s combat capabilities are far inferior to those of the USA; therefore, they believe that the defense problems can be solved only by creating long-range precision nuclear weapons that will be invulnerable to the enemy.
During the 18th Makeyevsky Conference in Ekaterinburg, Valery Silov, a representative of the Navy Academy, offered his concept of accomplishment of the objective. He thinks that designers should give up uncontrolled rocket stages, the pathway of which is easy to compute, and should focus on the stages capable of maneuvering along the final leg of the flight. The expert believes that this solution, together with autonomous guidance and protection of the missile against electro-optical acquisition systems of the enemy, will make the operation of any present-day anti-missile system substantially difficult.
Employees of NPO Avtomatiki (Automatic Equipment Research and Production Enterprise), a federal state unitary enterprise, which hosted the scientific and technical conference, say that they see nothing revolutionary in the concept of the Navy: the recommendations of V. Silov are not new to missile engineers who classify them as “idle intentions”. The attempts to implement a number of related projects have come to nothing.
For example, when General Vladimir Popovkin was the Chief of Armaments of the Armed Forces, NPO Avtomatiki offered him their project of the guided projectile. The missile engineers were sent to the Russian flagship enterprise in artillery armament – the Central Research Institute – Burevestnik – a member of the Uralvagonzavod Corporation. As anticipated, due to the competing interests the idea was buried.
Soon after, NPO Avtomatiki – Russia’s leading enterprise in space and missile technology embarked on manufacturing control systems for electric freight locomotives. In contrast to the RF Armed Forces, Russian Railways, OJSC is getting reequipped much faster, and today missile engineers equip one cabin a day with automatic controls. Besides, many of the employees are engaged in the projects of equatorial launches of commercial payloads, laser-assisted ice cutting and a number of other projects. Leonid Shalimov, General Director of NPO Avtomatiki, states that the employees work to the best of their abilities and cannot take on new responsibilities. There is no inflow of qualified professionals.
Sergey Makhnovich, the deputy head of the Airborne Vehicle Department at the South Ural State University, speaks about the lack of buoyancy in the education system: The number of industry-related graduates of the department is insufficient, and the graduates are heavily recruited. Future graduates are already headhunted when they are first-year students; they are lured with creative work prospects, but the problem of staff scarcity at defense enterprises remains unsolved.
Mikhail Trapeznikov, First Deputy General Director for Science at NPO Avtomatiki, says that young people do not realize that they should look for a job in the manufacturing sector; they still prefer to cave in the service field. NPO Avtomatiki tries to change the situation: Three years ago the company opened the Department of Automatic Controls at the Ural Federal University, which has been enrolling applicants for the second year running. After their third year, students are offered part-time employment at the enterprise so that they could acquire specialist knowledge that cannot be given by any Russian university to the fullest extent. However, not everyone can make it: According to M. Trapeznikov, only 2-3 people out of 10 newly recruited employees stay with the company after five years. The rest of them are sifted out as misfits who are not geared to this profession.
The situation with components is even worse. The money allocated for creating the national electronic component base does not produce the expected effect, as the “advanced level” of components depends on the overall technological level of the country. With the present-day level existing in Russia, even pure industrial gases or powders have often to be purchased from other countries. To do this is extremely difficult: Powerful foreign suppliers are not interested in such purchases because of their small amounts required to Russian manufacturers.
Today, enterprises manufacturing electronic components are making up for what was neglected in 1990-2000. However, the growth rate is too low to close the gap in the development of strategic armaments and military equipment.
Experts, in particular, state that changes in the parameters of the rocket stage plume exhaust, which can make the “cigar” less visible during its powered flight leg, will require a much more sophisticated design of the engine. The solution of the problem can take years in Russia – the problem itself can become irretrievably obsolete while it is being solved.
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