Antonov’s Odyssey: AN-70 Program Taking Flight
June 17/13: The AN-70 prototype will be part of the flying display at the 50th Paris Air Show, but what Antonov needs is orders. So far, they have a contract for 3 planes for the Ukraine, and an iffy order from Russia. Volga-Dnepr Airlines, who has a long history with Antonov and performs contract heavy lift around the world, has reportedly shown interest in a commercial An-70T freighter. Flight International.
Antonov’s AN-70 has had a long and difficult development history from its first studies and concepts in 1979. Roadblocks have included the dissolution of its sponsoring state in 1991, the crash of the initial prototype aircraft in a 1995 collision with its chase plane, and the selection of the EADS A400M development project as the basis of Europe’s Future Large Aircraft (FLA). Antonov’s project has been kept alive on a shoestring budget by the participating companies, who believe that they have a winner on their hands if they can just bring it into production. The A400M’s struggles and cost escalation, and the C-130J‘s 20-ton limitations, have validated that assessment – but assessments don’t meet payroll, or pay for equipment.
The FLA loss was indeed a bitter blow to a Ukrainian program that had already seen many setbacks. As the program inched along in limbo for many years, it even looked like the FLA loss might turn out to be fatal, consigning the AN-70 to “what if” status on par with Canada’s fabled CF-105 Avro Arrow fighter. Recent developments, more than 30 years after the project first began, have finally changed that status.
Team Antonov’s AN-70
The AN-70 aimed to offer A400M class operational performance or better, for about 40% less cost per aircraft. Total cargo weight is touted as 35-47 tonnes, and depending on the load carried, range is touted as 3,000 – 5,100 km at cruising speed of 700 – 750 km/h. If flown empty in ferry configuration, that range extends to 8,000 km. Redundant fly-by-wire controls and “glass cockpit” avionics, pioneered on the AN-124-100 Ruslan, have been added to the AN-70 as well. Its 14,000 shp Progress/Motor Sich D-27 turboprop engines use Aerosila’s CV-27 8+6 blade configuration of contra-rotating, reversible-pitch propellers, allowing STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) capabilities from unpaved runways only 600-800m long at a reduced 20t cargo weight. At full load, the aircraft can use 1550-1800 meter runways.
A spacious 15,000 sq. foot/ 425 sq. meter cargo area can be used to deliver up to 300 soldiers at absolute maximum capacity, or evacuate up to 200 or so casualties requiring minimal support. More likely scenarios would involve about 130-170 fully-equipped troops. Onboard loading equipment consists of 4 overhead rail electric motor hoists with a total cargo lifting capacity of 12 tonnes, and 2 onboard electric winches with 1.5 tonne traction. An easily removable upper deck and/or roller conveyers, can be added as options to simplify container handling.
By comparison, the A400M will have a maximum capacity of 37 tonnes if it lives up to its full specifications, something that has become less probable due to airframe weight gains. The A400M’s range is also imperiled, though specifications give it about 3,300 km range at full payload. This would give the AN-70 an advantage of over 1,500 km at a similar load. Compared to the AN-70, the A400M is about 4.6 meters longer (45.1m vs. 40.55m), with a wingspan that’s 1.6 meters shorter (42.4m vs. 44.06m). A400M active cargo space is less tall (3.85m vs. 4.1m) and 0.9m shorter than the AN-70 (17.71m vs. 18.6m), though overall internal space is slightly longer (23.11m vs. 22.4m) due to a ramp that’s 1.6m longer.
Both aircraft significantly outclass the smaller C-130J Hercules, which is limited to a load of 21 tonnes. That’s an issue in an era where survivable armored vehicles tend to be at least 25 tonnes, and are often 30-35 tonnes. On the other hand, the C-130J’s flyaway price tag of $65-80 million/ EUR 56 million is less than either the A400M (EUR 120-140 million est.) or the intended cost of the AN-70 (at 40% less than the A400M, EUR 72-86 million).
While all 3 aircraft are considered to be medium tactical transports, new programs for 20t class transports (Embraer KC-390, Irkut/HAL MRTA) and the closure of the USA’s C-17 line, will leave the A400M and AN-70 turboprops, and the turbofan-powered IL-76MF, segmented in a different “medium-heavy” class of strategic transports.
The European FLA/A400M program has been criticized for its rejection of the AN-70, but there are always considerations beyond the base financials. Development of domestic aerospace industries and technologies, albeit at greater expense, is always a factor. Then there’s the longer-term market forecast that saw the American C-17 program reaching its end, leaving a decade or 2 of dominance for a transport that could bridge the gap between strategic and tactical transport options. Who would produce it? Financing the development and refinement of a critical power projection tool that would be likely to see service with Russia is a project not to be undertaken lightly, especially if it means that Ukrainian and/or Russian firms would also be able to compete for future production business in a key aerospace segment.
They almost succeeded in killing their rival. Unfortunately, “almost” doesn’t count.
The AN-70 has kept to its goal of 40% lower costs than the A400M’s original projections, but the A400M’s price has shot upward, leading to a difference that makes an A400M almost 3 times as expensive: $67 million vs. about $180 million, at current exchange rates. What’s emerging is a plane that can be bought for a price close to the C-130J’s, but with base cargo performance that will beat the A400M. If Russia manages to repair its growing image as an unreliable supplier of poor-quality equipment, the AN-70′s performance and cost could make it an attractive competitor for a number of customers around the world.
Past AN-70 projections have involved around 60 aircraft for the Ukraine, and 160 or so for Russia. So far, only 5 aircraft have been ordered by the Ukraine, but Russia’s 60-plane order is a huge step forward for the platform. It remains to be seen whether actual contracts from the 2 countries come close to those past projections.
Contracts & Key Events
2010 – 2013
June 17/13: The AN-70 prototype will be part of the flying display at the 50th Paris Air Show, but what Antonov needs is orders. So far, they have a contract for 3 planes for the Ukraine, and an iffy order from Russia. Antonov President Dmytro Kiva says that joint state testing with Russia will be finished soon.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov is on hand to tout the aircraft, but a fast survey of the potential customer pool shows that this will be a challenging task. Volga-Dnepr Airlines, who has a long history with Antonov and performs contract heavy lift around the world, has reportedly shown interest in a commercial An-70T freighter. Proving itself in their service might be the platform’s best long-term advertisement. Flight International | Kyiv Post | Ukrainian News.
April 12/13: Antonov President Dmytro Kyva tells reporters at the Latin American LAAD 2013 exhibition that they’ve had to suspend An-70 trials, because the Russian Defense Ministry has cast doubt on its participation (vid. Feb 11/13). Antonov is a state-owned firm, so Kyva must be reassured by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov’s public support:
“We agreed [with Russia] to resume cooperation on the An-70 project and started working on it. Now certain Russian officials are saying that they are going to build their own military transport aircraft. In these circumstances, Ukraine will be forced to continue working, to continue bearing expenses on its own, but we will build this aircraft…. The plane is currently undergoing flight testing. This is the final stage of the project…”
It is, but reconciling full support for an expensive aircraft program, with the President’s recent pledge not to cut social programs even if the economy falters, could take some work. Russia’s RIA Novosti | Kyiv Post | Ukranian President.
March 1/13: Antonov JSC announces that the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense has just finished supervising a series of static load tests on a full-scale AN-70:
“…static tests of the high lift devices, control surface, engine installation, landing gear struts and doors, radome and other construction units were carried out. Tests included loading of the construction with design loads, and in several cases with heavier loads up to destructing loads…. The aircraft fatigue and static tests were carried out with main standardized loading conditions…. Basing on the test results, TsAGI (Centerl Aerohydrodynamic Institute) issued conclusion to static strength of the AN?70 construction. The performed tests allowed removing strength restrictions to complete joint state flight tests.”
The AN-70 has completed 670 flights with over 710 flying hours, but only 30 flights and 50 hours have been done since the design’s “deep modernization.” Completing those flight tests, and having structural strength certified, are important to the program. Whether Russia’s VVS will accept the tests as being done on a “production model” remains to be seen.
Feb 11/13: Russia’s VVS may be about to recommend withdrawal from the AN-70 program, in favor of the new IL-476 jet transport:
“The Russian Air Force is preparing to brief against the country’s proposed acquisition of the An-70 transport aircraft, according to Russian media reports…. drew particular attention to production delays in the programme, with production models of the aircraft still not ready for static testing…. also cited criticisms about the aircraft’s wings, developed in the 1980s and built by the now-defunct Tashkent Aircraft Production Organization (TAPO) based in Uzbekistan; the electronic control systems; and avionics.
The first An-70 fuselage was completed in December 2012, but work at the Russian plant in the city of Kazan has yet to commence. The delays have caused concerns in Russia…”
Jan 24/13: Ukraine’s government approves Resolution 28, enacting amendments and supplements to a 1997 aerospace cooperation agreement between the governments of Ukraine and Russia. The original amendments were agreed upon in June 2012. That will help because, as the Kyiv Post explains:
“In December 2012, President and General Designer of the Antonov State Enterprise Dmytro Kiva said that the enterprise was preparing proposals for Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) to establish joint ventures in major projects… production of the An-124 heavy transport aircraft, the An-140 short-haul aircraft and the An-148 new generation regional jet aircraft. Another key project in the two countries’ cooperation in aviation industry is the construction of the An-70 military transport aircraft.”
Ukraine & Russia update aerospace cooperation agreement
Aug 20/12: Russia. The Russian defense ministry has reportedly placed an order for 60 AN-70 aircraft, at just $67 million apiece (TL: $4.02 billion). That compares exceptionally well to the similar Airbus A400M’s EUR 145 million (about $180 million), or the larger C-17′s $220+ million per plane. On the other hand, it appears to leave industrial investment off of the books, which could significantly change the cost per plane in a 60 plane run.
Antonov will provide the AN-70′s wings, including panels, wing flap systems, pylons, and nacelles, to Russia’s Voronezh Aircraft Production Association (VASO). UAC’s VASO manufactures the airframe components, and final assembly will take place at UAC’s new JSC Gorbunov Kazan Aviation Production Association plant, located in Kazan, Russia.
The 3-shaft Progress D-27 turbofan engines will finish testing by the end of August 2012, and will be produced by PJSC Motor Sich in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. The aircraft will be certified to Interstate Aviation Committee AP-25 standards, which will allow civil certification in Europe and North America. Voice of Russia | Forecast International | Logistics Week.
60 for Russia
Aug 17/12: Avionics. Antonov and its partners have finalized the An-70′s avionics. Jets with the new electronic systems will be tested before the final stage of joint state tests, and the first serial An-70 jets to be built at the Kiev Antonov Aircraft Plant for the Ukrainian Defense Ministry will include the new equipment. Antonov | Russia’s ITAR-TASS.
June 27/12: Russia. Russia’s RIA Novosti reports that the country could buy up to 60 aircraft, but there’s a catch:
“Russia will buy Ukrainian-designed Antonov An-70 propfan tactical transport aircraft when Ukraine fixes all flaws in the design indicated by Russia experts, Air Force Commander Maj. Gen Viktor Bogdanov said on Wednesday.”
Oct 5/11: Ukraine. RIA Novosti: says that the Ukraine has bought 3:
“The Ukrainian Air Force will take delivery of three An-70 military transport aircraft… in the very near future,” [said Ukrainian Defense Minister Mikhaylo Yezhel]. Asked whether Ukraine would be able to make An-70s without Russia, the minister said: “It’s already making them.” He stressed, however, that he did not mean series production and this was a question not for the Defense Ministry, but for the Antonov design bureau.”
May 12/11: Negotiations. A delegation from Russia’s UAC JS visits Antonov, and discusses several programs including the AN-70 and AN-124, but no agreements are signed.
April 19/11: Negotiations. Russian and Ukrainian defense ministers meet at Antonov:
“Discussing fulfillment of the joint programmes in a sphere of the military-transport aviation, they paid especial attention to the AN-70 STOL military-transport airplane and to the AN-124 heavy transport. In particular, A.E. Serdiukov said that the Ministry of Defense of Russian Federation plans to procure the AN-70 serial airplanes starting from 2015-16. The Russian Military department plans to order 60 AN-70s… “We need this machine very much”, – emphasized he. During the nearest years it is also planned to complete modernization of the AN-124 and to start procurements of the new modernized “Ruslans” approximately from the 2015.”
Nov 21/10: The AN-70 is marketed at China’s 2010 air show, alongside the smaller AN-74 and various civil aircraft. Antonov.
Oct 27/10: UAC JV. Antonov and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp. sign a joint venture agreement in Kiev:
“The joint venture will be engaged in coordination of activity of enterprises of ANTONOV and UAC in directions of vendor items purchase, production, marketing and sales, as well as after-sale support and design of new modifications of ANTONOV aircraft. The list of programs to be realized by the JV includes: further development of AN-148 regional jet of a new generation, AN-70 STOL military transport, assumption of new versions of AN-124-100 RUSLAN freighter… This agreement stipulates equal participation of the parties – 50:50 and does not mean handing over the participants’ assets and incorporeal rights.”
The 12-member board will be split 50/50 with the 2-year chairman terms rotated between Antonov and UAC representatives, with Antonov chairing first. The Director General and First Deputy will follow the same protocol, with the DG initially from UAC, and the deputy from Antonov ASTC. Antonov.
Antonov/ UAC joint venture
Aug 3/10: Ukraine. Flight International reports that Ukraine’s air force will receive its first 2 AN-70s in 2011 and 2012. Engine stand testing is complete, flight testing continues with the lone prototype aircraft, and all testing is scheduled to be done in 2012, including upgrades to a fully digital cockpit. The magazine adds that:
“…In addition to the interest shown by the Ukrainian and Russian militaries, cargo specialist Volga-Dnepr has also recently signed a memorandum of understanding to acquire up to five commercial-standard An-70Ts.”
July 31/10: Development. Slow funding equals slow development and production. Kyiv Post:
“… board chairman of OJSC Motor Sich, Vyacheslav Bohuslaev said. The An-70 program is financed by the Russian Defense Ministry and Ukrainian budget. We receive orders, but the financing is small, it’s not as we expected,” he told the press at a press conference in Zaporizhia.”
2009 and Earlier
Aug 19/09: Development. ANTONOV ASTC’s General Designer Dmytro Kiva discusses the AN-70 STOL’s program status during a conference at the MAKS 2009 airshow. The Joint State Test is nearing its final stages, and the AN-70 has confirmed its ability to use unpaved runways 600m long, and to carry 20 tonnes of cargo over a distance of 3,000 km.
The partners continue to work on refining the An-70 and its systems, while launching serial production of the initial batch of 5 airplanes, which were ordered in November 2005. Construction of the first 2 aircraft for the Ukrainian Air Force is to be complete in 2010-2011. Antonov.
Aug 18/09: Russia had bowed out of the AN-70 program in April 2006, but an agreement signed at the MAKS 2009 airshow seems to reverse that decision. Russia and Ukraine will continue joint work on the AN-70 STOL military transport and its modifications, including a civil version. Production cooperation will involve 2 state concerns: Russia’s United Aircraft Building Corporation JSC, and Ukrainian State Aircraft’s ANTONOV.
This modifies the June 24/93 “Agreement on further cooperation in design, joint serial production and delivery into operation of AN-70 operative-tactical military transport and AN-70T transport with D-27 engines between Government of Russian Federation and Government of Ukraine.” The parties will finance the joint works on development of AN-70 and its modifications from the national budget of Ukraine and federal budget of Russian Federation.
The agreement is significant, because the Ukraine’s expected demand level and budgets would make it difficult for the AN-70 to establish itself as a serious contender in the global marketplace. As resource price rebound with the global economy, the added Russian demand can be expected to give the AN-70 program the production volume and in-service foothold it needs. Antonov release | Defense News.
May 29/09: Russia. RIA Novosti quotes Lt. Gen. Viktor Kachalkin, commander of Russia’s 61st Air Army, as saying that Russia intends to step up buys of modern military transports beginning in 2012. Kachalkin specifically states that there is a need for the AN-70.
Feb 20/08: Russia. StrategyPage reports that Russia has reconsidered, and agreed to put up the needed $300 million to revive the An-70 transport aircraft development program.
April 5/06: Dosvydanya, Russia. Russia announces that it’s pulling out of the AN-70 partnership, in favor of the IL-76MF. BBC Russia [in Russian].