Mi-817 helicopters. Photo courtesy of Russian Helicopters
The Russian helicopter market is on the verge of big changes, thanks to ever-recovering domestic production and increasing interests of foreign investors to localize production within the nation.
As a spokesman of Russian Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov has recently said, the production of helicopters in Russia in 2017, both military and civilian, reached pre-crisis figures of 2013.
Despite the fact that production of civilian helicopters has never been a strong point of the Russian helicopter industry, the state and OEMs have increasingly turned attention to this market segment in 2017.
The segment is currently dominated by Russian Helicopters, as well as some major global players, which have successfully commissioned their productions in Russia in recent years.
One of them is Bell Helicopter, which currently produces its Bell 407GXP in Russia at the Ural Works of Civil Aviation plant in the Ekaterinburg region (Russian Urals). The company believes localization of production in Russia allows it to better meet the needs of local customers.
In addition to the 407GXP, the company plans to launch the production of its 505 at the capacities of the same plant in the midterm. Most of Bell’s Russian-made helicopters are sold to Russian state agencies, local flying schools, as well as representatives of local private business, and generally see big demand in the local market.
“In the last few months, interest in the Bell 505 from Russian customers has significantly increased. The delivery of the first helicopters of this type to Russia is scheduled for March 2018. It is expected this will substantially stimulate the demand for the Bell 505,” said Sergey Filatov, regional director of Bell Helicopter in Russia and Common Wealth of Independent States (CIS).
At the same time, Bell Helicopter is not the only major helicopter OEM that has a strong presence in Russia. The list of major foreign players also includes Leonardo. Currently the company operates its own production of the 15-seat, medium twin-engine AW139 in the city of Tomilino.
Production is carried out at the capacities of HeliVert enterprise, a joint venture between Leonardo and Russian Helicopters.
During the next stage of the project, the partners plan to start building the heavy-lift AW189 at the same plant.
The AW189 twin engine will be positioned for Russian offshore operations and expected to see high demand among local oil and gas companies.
In fact, the agreement for AW189 production was reached between the two sides several years ago. However, due to Western sanctions, implementation of the project was suspended. Still, according to latest statements from the manufacturers, production should launch in 2019 at the capacities of the Kazan Helicopter Plant, which is part of Russian Helicopters, and will have an annual volume output of 160 helicopters per year.
According to a Leonardo spokesman, the level of localization of its Russian production will reach 90% to 95% by 2025.
Still, despite the growing presence of global majors in the Russian helicopter market, it is still dominated by Russian Helicopters, Russia’s state-owned monopoly in the field of helicopters.
Prior to the financial crisis in Russia, the company targeted the production of 300 helicopters per year, both civilian and domestic. However, these forecasts were revised after 2014.
Despite the fact that Russian Helicopters has traditionally been focused on the production of military helicopters, next year it plans to focus on the development in the civilian segment.
Previously, the focus had been on serving the military sector. In 2016, the company supplied almost 90 new combat helicopters to the Russian army and only 16 for its civilian customers.
“We need to take into account gradual changes in the global market toward civilian equipment and the growth of global demand for civilian helicopters, which is predicted by the majority of experts for coming years," said Andrey Boginsky, general director of Russian Helicopters. "For example, in the civilian segment, the biggest demand is predicted for light gas turbine helicopters. In contrast, the demand for medium-sized and heavy helicopters will decline. Our company plans to significantly increase its share in the segment of civilian helicopters in the coming years."
Still, in addition to civilian helicopters, the company plans to continue expansion of its fleet of military helicopters. That will take place through the design of new combat models and modernization of existing ones.
As part of these plans, the company has recently presented a modernized version of its Mi-171Sh-VN model, one of the most combat-effective helicopters in the Russian Air Force. The new version of Mi-171Sh-VN is equipped with the President-S defense complex, which is capable of automatically detecting the launch of missiles targeting the helicopter. It has a cruising speed of 260 kph and the maximum speed of 280 kph. Take-off weight of the helicopter is 13,500 kg. The new helicopter has already been used by the Russian army in its operations in Syria.
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Yury Borisov said the Ministry of Defense of Russia plans to purchase up to 15 Mi-38 helicopters by 2020. These medium multipurpose transport helicopters will be used in the execution of missions both in Russia and abroad.
Borisov also said the Ministry of Defense plans to place an order for the production of a new high-speed combat helicopter that will have a speed of more than 450 kph.
The new helicopter will be built based on the the Mi-24, with series production to begin by 2020. It is expected that it will be an analogue of the high-speed reconnaissance S-97 Raider currently in development in the U.S.
The new helicopter will be equipped with a unique rotor system designed by Russian Helicopters and is expected to be patented by the company soon. The use of the new system significantly reduces the possibility of airflow breakdown and increases the speed of the helicopter, while maintaining its classic layout.
The majority of existing helicopters are designed for the maximum speed of about 350 kph. The new helicopter will be designed for speed, capable of flying up to two times as fast as the existing Mi-8/Mi-17. It will be equipped with the VC-2500M engine with the capacity of 3,000 hp. The engine was developed on the basis of the Klimov VK-2500 turboshaft engine, which is currently used for the production of the Russian Mi-8/Mi-17 helicopters. The engine replaces one that had been manufactured in Ukraine.
The Russian army puts big hopes on the new helicopter, despite the fact that its fuel consumption will probably be the highest among the existing analogues. Leading Russian military analysts believe the role of helicopters in modern wars is constantly growing, which is especially obvious in the case of local conflicts and anti-terrorist operations.
"Future prospects for high-speed attack helicopters are very good," said Col. Gen. Nikolai Antoshkin, a former deputy commander of the Russian Air Force. "High speed is a very big advantage for a helicopter, especially at the front, which allows it to quickly move over the battlefield, after the completion of the mission. In addition, these helicopters are less vulnerable for small arms and the majority of other weapons.”
Next year the Russian Ministry of Defense plans to sign a contract on the supplies of Ka-52 Katran helicopters, which is a ship-based version of the Ka-52 Alligator reconnaissance and combat helicopter.
These helicopters are designed for patrolling, fire support for landing and anti-landing defense on the front line. The main distinctive feature of the Katran from the Alligator is a shortened folding wing, which was modified for the placement of heavy weapons. There is also a new blade-folding mechanism.
Next year the Russian Ministry of Defense also has plans to increase purchases of the modernized version of Mi-28N Night Hunter, a two-seat anti-armor attack helicopter. The improved version of the helicopter will receive a fundamentally new radar surveyor and control system. It is expected that the helicopter will go into service at the beginning of 2018 and will be equipped with some high-precision weapons.