Two winners in one defense tender

Russian government is about to reconsider the conditions of the tender on the engine for the 5th generation combat aircraft PAK FA. Salyut (Moscow) and Saturn (Rybinsk) have been competing in this sphere with a different degree of technical and PR success. Now it seems that the state seeks ways to combine the efforts of both. It may be either parallel development of two engines and their further tests or splitting the job.

Time shows that combining efforts, which earlier the head of the innovation dept of Salyut mentioned to the correspondent of Pravda.Ru, wins. Just few months ago nearly nobody believed that such a thing were possible between the state run Salyut and private Saturn. Similar situation is developing with the 5th generation civil engine.

According to some unofficial sources the government plans to ask each of the four holdings to present their development and pick up the most successful. The winner will get 70% of the state financing. At the same time although the winner will have to use most successful achievements of the second party, which will get 30% of the state financing. Development of the fifth generation engine in Russia is estimated at 2-3 billion dollars.

It is evident that the government does its best to speed up the process. Earlier President Putin publicly mentioned that the development of the perspective engines hinder the development of the PAK FA and other perspective aircraft. Russian engine builders have to solve a lot of technical and organizational problems to correct the situation.

Technical problems appeared as far back as in the USSR. Some experts think that the bottle neck is the technologies of processing heat resistant steels and other special materials. The period of the privatization and reforms in 90s aggravated the situation. Today Russia has the technologies of processing heat resistant steels, but only on experimental level. There are some difficulties in organizing serial production. Organizationally Russia suffers from the lack of proper liaison between the designers, manufacturers and operators of engines. Insiders criticize the existing regulations which limit the number of the working hours of the gas turbine engines, but not the lifetime. It leads to a situation when poor engines guarantee jobs for the industry.

Changes gain pace quite slowly. For the first time the auxiliary power units of the aircraft Il and Tu and helicopter based AI-9 got limitations on working hours. This is not enough as a minor part forces the operators to decommission the whole engine. However, the approach is welcome in principle.

Other insiders voice so to say more usual accusations demanding more purpose oriented financing instead of uniting everybody with everybody. However, shortage of money is leaving the top list of problems, even keeping in mind that today the industry requires accelerated financing, as for the past 20 years it was underfinanced. Politically Russia is ready to contemplate licensed manufacturing of engines, but only as a temporary way out. More concerns are expressed over the risk of loosing the technologies due to the unfriendly mergers. The nation does not want to have more precedents like with the production of carbon composites, which was bought by a foreign company and de factor ceased its existence.

Yuri Seleznev

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Author`s name Alex Naumov