Russia’s military flight training system is undergoing radical change. Alexander Mladenov tells us what is going on and what the future will bring
RUSSIAN AIRPOWER PART 2: FLIGHT TRAINING
Russia’s military flight training system is working flat out to answer a call for more pilots. At the same time, it is suffering from a severe shortage of aircraft and instructors. The present high operational tempo is aimed at beefing up Russian Air and Space Force (RuASF) front-line units, where branches flying fixed-wing aircraft are short of no fewer than 1,000 pilots. At the same time, the recently redesigned training system has at last begun to receive significant numbers of the newgeneration Yak-130 jet trainer.
The main fixed-wing aircrew training organisation for the RuASF is the Krasnodar Military Higher Aviation Pilot School named after Hero of Soviet Union A K Serov (known by its Russian-language abbreviation KVVAUL – Krasnodarskoe Vyshee Voennoe Aviatsionnoe Uchilishte Letchikov). It was re-established in June 2015 as an independent structure and placed under the direct command and control of the RuASF HQ in Balashikha near Moscow. Between 2011 nd 2015, the Krasnodar training school existed as a branch of the Russian MoD’s Military Training-Scientific Centre in the city of Voronezh.
In addition to meeting the needs of the RuASF and Russian Naval Aviation (RNA) for new off cer pilots to fly the entire spectrum of fixed-wing types, the KVVAUL also provides newly trained aircrews to three other Russian government military and paramilitary organisations operating their own air services with multi-engine transport and special mission aircraft, the Ministry of Interior, the Federal Security Service and the Ministry of Emergency Situations. The KVVAUL also provides flight training to aircrews from international customers that operate Russian-made aircraft that undertake their conversion-to-type training on the Su- 25, Su-27 and MiG-29.
The RuASF fields a three-phase flight training system preceded by extensive academic and simulator work, with fast-jet and long-range bomber courses using jet trainers from the very beginning. The KVVAUL controls four flight training centres (known as facilities) used for theoretical and simulator training and a total of nine training air bases; its fleet comprises around 1,000 aircraft of some 20 different types.
The ageing Czech-built Aero Vodochody L-39C Albatros is still the most numerous type used for initial flight training. The jet is also used for the basic training of students entering the fast-jet frontal bomber/attack and long-range bomber streams. Some trainees destined to fly transports are trained on multi-engine turboprops from the very beginning. The ageing twin-engine Let L-410UVP turboprop is used for initial training and some of the basic training part of the long-range bomber/military transport course, which also covers training of aircrews for special-mission, maritime patrol and tanker aircraft. Another part of basic and advanced training on this multi-engine course is carried out on the equally elderly, but much larger Antonov An-26.
The Yakovlev Yak-130 twin-engine jet trainer is set to become the mainstay of Russia’s military flight training system. It is used in conjunction with computerised classrooms, synthetic flight training devices, integrated flight data recording and computerised debriefing aids. The type entered service with the 209th Uchebnaya Aviatsionnaya Basa (UAB or Training Air Base) at Borisoglebsk in 2011 and began training student pilots for the frontal bomber/attack stream two years later. It joined the 200th Aviatsionnaya Basa (AB or Air Base) at Armavir in 2014, with the first student training there reported in April 2016.
Slow and painful recovery
Between 2011 and 2015, the RuASF aircrew training system underwent a slow and painful recovery from its collapse in the mid/late 1990s and early 2000s caused by underfunding and chaotic restructuring and downsizing efforts. The most important result of this crisis was the sharp reduction in the number of trainees, down to only 15 Russian fast-jet graduates posted to frontline units per year, and those with under 50 flying hours each. The first improvements were reported in the mid/late 2000s, when graduates received 150 to 170 flying hours, while between 2010 and 2012 hours were increased to about 200. However, between 2009 and 2011 there was a massive reduction in the number of newly recruited students beginning their five-year off cer and flight training courses. This was a result of poor planning by the then MoD leadership. In 2012, the system’s output numbered 254 fixed-wing lieutenant aviators, in 2013 the figure fell to about 200, and then output fell sharply in 2014 to fewer than 30! Even worse was to come and in 2016 only 13 students graduated. In 2017, the number rose to 65.
In order to bridge the gap as soon as possible, a selected group of 77 student pilots underwent an accelerated second flight training phase and completed their flight training in the fighter stream one year early, in October 2017, logging about 180 to 190 flight hours. After that, they underwent thorough final theoretical training and exams at the Krasnodar school and graduated as newly promoted lieutenants in March 2018 instead of September. In September 2018, 230 to 240 more newly fledged lieutenant pilots are set to graduate from the regular training course.
To compensate for the earlier poor planning that caused the present acute pilot shortage, since 2013 the KVVAUL has moved to increase recruitment. While 2013 saw 321 newly recruited students, in 2014 their number jumped to 374; numbers increased again to 530 in 2014, 661 in 2015 and 525 in 2017.
To cope with the large number of students currently going through the flight training pipeline, a new training plan (likely to be implemented in 2018), foresees the start of flight training immediately after completion of the second academic year. This change would enable students to undergo four training phases or periods, instead of three in the current syllabus.
Five-year training course
Today’s Russian military pilot training system can be described as rather conservative compared to most of the leading systems in the western world. It still closely follows a Soviet-era rigid off cer education and training approach over a protracted five-year course. At the conclusion of their studies students are awarded civilian-standard university (higher) Masters degrees. As young off cers, they also leave the academy having been imbued with the military ethos considered a must by Russia’s military leadership.
Students are recruited from highschool graduates and those who started at university but left before graduation to pursue a military career. Serving career soldiers and conscripts from all branches of the military can also apply. Typically, candidates are aged between 16 and 22 years, but for career off cers the age limit is 27. Candidates undergo a rigorous selection process to pick those with a high degree of physical and mental fitness and a good level of general education. In 2016, for example, the KVVAUL recruited 661 new students from about 3,000 applicants; it is expected that 580 to 600 of them will graduate as lieutenants in 2021.
For many years, only male candidates were accepted for military flight training in Russia, but that changed in 2016. In 2017, the first class of 16 female pilots (in addition to 509 male students) was recruited; they are set to graduate in 2022.
The first two years (four terms) of study at the KVVAUL are dedicated to military training and fundamental subjects such as mathematics, physics and history, in addition to extensive English language training. At the end of the second year, students are streamed into the different aviation branches depending on their performance up to and including their results in psychological and physiological examinations, their own preferences and the decision of the KVVAUL’s academic council.
In their third year, future Russian military pilots disperse among the three aviation training centres: to Armavir for the fighter course, Borisoglebsk for the frontal bomber/ attack course and Balashov for the longrange bomber/military transport course.
There they are introduced to flight theory which is covered in one term. At the same time, the trainees practise their handling skills on flight simulators. They are each required to amass some 10 to 15 hours of synthetic flight training before commencing initial flying training.
The first flight training phase begins in the spring of their fourth year. This intense four month-long ab initio training programme provides the students with vital stick and rudder skills. It continues until the end of the summer and until 2015 provided 50 to 60 flight hours on the L-39C or about 20 hours on the L-410, including familiarisation, general handling drills and circuits. From 2016, future fast-jet pilots undergoing their initial flight training are said to have logged 80 flight hours in a much more intense programme.
The fighter stream undertakes its initial flight training on the L-39C at the 192nd UAB at Tikhoretsk and the 272nd UAB at Maikop, while the frontal bomber/attack stream beginner students fly at the 219th UAB at Michurinsk. Each of the bases has two squadrons and trains about 80 students a year, increasing to 100 in surge periods such as those in 2016 and 2017.
The 195th UAB in Kuschtyevskaya provides the initial training for foreign students set to be trained as fast-jet pilots in addition to a small number of RuASF students, also using the L-39C.
Students destined for the long-range bomber branch also receive their initial flight training on the L-39C at the 213th UAB in Kotel’nikovo. The 217th UAB in Rtishtevo the L-410UVP-E3 twin-engine turboprop the students aiming for the military transport aircraft stream.
As a rule, a first solo flight in the fast-jet streams is authorised after about 75 landings with an instructor in the back seat, which usually happens after 20 to 25 hours of circuit practice.
In 2016, some 350 pilots at the KVVAUL were cycled through their first flight training phase, amassing 80 hours each. In March 2017, 200 fighter-branch students were posted to Tikhoretsk and Maikop, while 100 more of their colleagues on the frontal bomber/attack course commenced initial flight training in Michurinsk. In addition, Kotel’nikovo took 107 beginner student pilots, all of them posted to the bomber stream of the long-range bomber/ military transport aircraft course, plus 123 more trained in Rtishtevo.
The massive increase in students in the first phase of the fast-jet stream and the shortage of serviceable L-39Cs led in 2017 to 20 students being sent, after 19 hours training on the simulator, directly to the 200th UAB in Armavir and the highperformance Yak-130. Using the rather expensive new twin-engine jet for ab initio training is a good example of a Russian-style surge effort, where only the result matters and it must be achieved at any price!
Students on the fast-jet course continue their second training phase that takes place between April and September after completion of the fourth academic year at the training facilities at Armavir and Borisoglebsk. The fighter stream’s basic and part of its advanced training takes another four to five months. During that time, it practises navigation and aerobatics as well as formation flying (in pairs) and initial weapons training tasks as well as some night flying. This typically takes another 80 hours and is carried out at the 200th UAB in Armavir. From 2017, all students on the fighter course at Armavir use the Yak-130 for their second training phase.
All basic and some advanced attack/ bomber aviation stream training in the second phase is now carried out at the 209th UAB at Borisoglebsk, also on the Yak-130. When the basic training phase has finished, student pilots from the fast-jet streams typically have a total of 160 to 170 hours flying experience under their belts, about 30 of which have been on solo sorties.
The long-range bomber/transport stream receives its ground training at the 5th Training Facility at Balashov, while basic training on the L-410UVP-E3 during the second training phase is carried out at the 217th UAB in Rtishtevo and on the An-26 at the 205th UAB in Balashov. In the early 2010s, trainees in this stream flew 35 hours on the L-410UVP-E3 or 38 hours on the An-26; since 2015, flying hours are believed to have been increased to about 80. The students destined to fly longrange bombers continue their second training phase on the L-39C at Kotel’nikovo, logging 70 to 80 flight hours.
The third training phase in the two streams of the fast-jet course, covering the remaining part of the advanced and the entire lead-in fighter training (LIFT) course (combat flying), begins immediately after completion of the fifth academic year and runs from January to August, including the state final flight examination. The graduation date for newly appointed off cers is in September.
The third phase requires students to master all the basic and some advanced combat manoeuvres and tactics in single ships and pairs, as well as some night-flying training.
In the early and mid-2010s, the fast-jet course used combat jets for some of the students in both of its streams, while other students flew the L-39C throughout. The fighter stream syllabus in particular called for 12 hours in the simulator and then 60 to 70 hours on either the MiG-29 or the L-39C at the 200th UAB in Armavir. In the recent past, students in the attack/bomber stream typically amassed 60 to 70 hours flying either the Su- 25 – including 30 hours in a two-seater and another 30 hours in a single-seater – or the L-39C at the 209th UAB in Borisoglebsk.
Since 2013, the 209th UAB has been using the Yak-130, with full transition to the type reported in 2014. The jet replaced both the L-39C and Su-25. The 200th UAB followed suit in 2016, with the Yak-130 used to replace both the L-39C and MiG-29 in the advanced training and LIFT roles, while in 2017 its use was extended to initial and basic training.
The most complex drills mastered by students in the fighter stream at the 200th UAB include one-vs-one air combat (basic fighter manoeuvres) and clear-weather day one-vs-one intercepts at low and medium level. Students in the frontal bomber/attack stream hone their air-to-ground skills in complex attack manoeuvres for strafing and dropping bombs from the Yak-130, using the sophisticated simulation of weapons delivery off ered by the new jet’s advanced avionics suite.
Some students in the long-range bomber/ transport aviation course continue their advanced flight training phase on the An-26 at the 205th UAB in Balashov, flying about 50 hours. Other students are posted to continue their third phase flight training at the VTA’s (Military Transport Command’s) 610th Combat Training and Aircrew Conversion Centre (CTAAC) in Ivanono, undergoing a conversion course to the Il-76MD fourengine jet transport. Students destined for the long-range bomber branch are posted to the 27th SAP, a composite aviation regiment based in Tambov and subordinated to the 43rd CTAAC in Ryazan. For four months they fly the Tu-134UBL and Tu-134UBSh passenger jets, converted as trainers for pilots destined to fly long-range jet bombers. Those set to be posted to anti-submarine and maritime patrol aircraft carry out this phase at the RNA’s combat training centre, the 859th CTAAC in Yeisk, converting to the Tu-134UBL, An-26 and Il-38.
On completion of flight training in the fast-jet stream, new lieutenants destined for the RuASF are posted to their front-line units, while a small number are retained as instructors at KVVAUL bases. Those beginning their service with the front-line units are typically cycled through the 4th TsPAPVI, the aviation personnel training and field testing centre of the RuASF’s Frontal Aviation branch in Lipetsk, where they convert to their assigned combat jet type with the 968th IISAP, a composite instructor-research aviation regiment. The Borisoglebsk Facility’s newly produced lieutenants convert to the Su-25, Su-34 and Su-24M/MR, while their colleagues graduating at the Armavir Facility undergo conversion-to-type training courses on the MiG-29SMT, Su-27SM, Su-30M, Su-30SM and Su-35 or on the MiG-31/BM at the centre’s branch in Savastleika. Fast-jet lieutenant pilots for the RNA continue with conversion-to-type training on the Su-24M/MR and Su-30SM at Lipetsk or on the MiG-31/BM at Savastleika.
However, those lieutenants, destined to fly RNA shipborne fighters, the Su-33 and MiG- 29KUB/KR, are required first to undergo some additional training, also at Yeisk, on the L-39C and Su-25UTG (and after 2020 on the Yak- 130) at the 859th CTAAC before converting to their combat jet type.
License-built DA42Ts for initial training
In late 2017, the RuASF began taking delivery of the long-delayed Diamond DA42T twin-engine training aircraft produced under license in Russia and fitted with Russian-made avionics. According to deputy minister of defence Yury Borisov who is responsible for their procurement, a firm order was placed for 35 such aircraft, powered by Astro Engine’s AE 300 diesel running on aviation jet fuel, to be produced by the UZGA company in Yekaterinburg, Russia. In 2017, three DA42Ts were delivered for testing and evaluation by the RuASF, while 17 are expected in 2018 and 15 more in 2019. Borisov also said that the RuASF is set to complete state testing of the DA42T in 2018.
The DA42T will be used for initial and basic training of student pilots for the transport and long-range bomber branches, replacing Czech-made L-410UVP Turbolets. Most likely, the newly delivered DA42Ts will be operated by the KVVAUL’s 217th UAB in Rtishtevo, beginning student training in March 2019. The DA42T is a derivative of the Austrian-built Diamond DA42NG Twin Star reconfigured to meet RuASF airworthiness requirements. All redesign work and the integration of the new avionics was undertaken at UZGA from 2013. It was originally intended that the full Russification of DA42T production would be achieved in 2016.
However, according to UZGA’s managing director, Vadim Badekha, delays have meant that by late 2017 the DA42T’s Russification effort was at only 30%, with the 100% target not expected to be achieved before 2019. The RuASF is also interested in the procurement of a DA42T derivative equipped for ISR mission. Two such aircraft equipped with multi-sensor payloads are reported to have been delivered in 2016 to the Russian Federal Security Service.
Yak-130 – a training revolution
The RuASF received its first Yak-130s in 2010, but its introduction to service was protracted and plagued with difficulties and students didn’t get their hands on it until March 2013. Today, the type is in regular use with the two fast-jet course streams, off ering Russian student pilots destined to convert to fourthgeneration fighters a true 21st-century training environment. It boasts a contemporary modern glass cockpit with multifunction displays and a head-up display similar to these found in the latest front-line types, combined with advanced aerodynamics that give it high-performance and great handling conferred by its fly-by-wire system. It is fitted with the tried and tested Zvezda K-36LT-3.5 zero-zero ejection seat. The Yak-130 is certified for -3 to +8g and it is advertised as being capable of sustaining 7g turning at a speed of 450kts (830km/h). Service life is 10,000 flight hours or 30 years.
The built-in sophisticated weapons simulation capability allows students to practise using every modern guided missile and bomb, with electro-optical, infrared and laser seekers, in the Russian inventory, as well as guns and self-protection suites. It is not known if live weapons are used during the LIFT phase of the frontal bomber/attack stream, but with the Yak-130 there is no real need to.
The first Yak-130s, built at the NAZ Sokol plant in Nizhni Novgorod, were delivered to the 209th UAB in April 2011, and the first instructor training flights took place in August 2011. Yak-130s commenced flight operations from Borisoglebsk with jets it received from Irkutsk in mid-November 2012. The 200th UAB at Armavir got its new aircraft in November 2014 and started using them for student training for the first time in April 2016.
Between February 2010 and December 2017, the RuASF accepted 95 Yak-130s, including 83 assembled at IAZ in Irkutsk (of which 81 remain in service). Some 35 of that batch were eventually assigned to the 209th UAB and the rest equip the 200th UAB. Fourteen more examples, from a contract for 30 aircraft signed in April 2016, are expected to be delivered before the end of 2018. A follow-on Yak-130 order is expected later this year for 20 or 30 more with deliveries spread between 2019 and 2020.
So far, three RuASF Yak-130s have been lost in accidents, one built at NAZ Sokol and two at Irkutsk. Another, operated by the Yakovlev Design Bureau, has also been written off All 11 survivors of the NAZ Sokol-built batch have been grounded and relegated to use as ground instruction airframes.
The new RuASF military flight training system is predicated on using only Yakovlev-built aircraft. The Yak-152 prop-driven trainer, which made its maiden flight on September 29, 2016 from Irkutsk will join the RuASF fleet soon as part of a new-generation aircrew initial training system that also includes procedural trainers, computer training aids and flight data analysis facilities.
End is near for L-39C
The Czech-made Aero L-39C single-engine jet still forms a significant part of Russia’s training fleet and it is set to remain in service until about 2025. It has a reputation of being a rugged and forgiving machine, able to withstand rough handling at the hands of inexperienced students, the most common error being hard landings. The type’s chief shortcoming is that it is somewhat underpowered, especially for the basic and advanced training phases. It is also plagued by many performance and aerobatics limitations; for instance, since the late 1980s spinning practice on the L-39C has been prohibited because of controllability issues. Another serious drawback of the Czech-made machine is related to the poor performance and reliability of its VS1-BRI ejection seats.
In 1994, the RuASF had a fleet of some 1,200 L-39Cs, the youngest of which were four years old. By 2012, the fleet is believed to have shrunk to about 700, with fewer than 200 of those maintained in airworthy status at any one time. By 2016 the number of airworthy L-39Cs in RuASF service had slumped to about 100. In 2017, for example, the 219th UAB at Michurinsk had only 16 serviceable L-39Cs out of a total fleet of 40 aircraft used to train some 100 beginner student pilots; it is believed that the situation at the other three bases still operating the type is not much different.
The original service life of the L-39C was set at 4,500 hours or 30 years, whichever occurred first, but the RuASF will most likely undertake a life-extension programme (by years) for a small number of machines to enable them to fly until the mid-2020s. The aircraft currently flying still have plenty of hours remaining and there is still a high demand for the L-39C’s services.
The type is maintained entirely in Russia and the original manufacturer, Czech company Aero Vodochody, no longer assists with spare parts or repair services. Depot-level inspections are undertaken at two aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul plants – the 275 ARZ in Krasnodar and 570th ARZ in Yeisk. There are also locally established repair facilities and the most important and frequently used spares and consumables are made in Russia and the large number of grounded machines are used as spare parts donors.
The Yak-152 was ordered by the Russian MoD in 2014 under a RUB 300 million programme. The contract awarded to Yakovlev called for design, development and manufacture of four aircraft – two for ground and two for flight testing – to be built at the IAZ plant in Irkutsk.
The basic design of the Yak-152 dates to the early 1990s. It is a low-wing monoplane, with a tandem two-seat cockpit and retractable landing gear with low-pressure tyres for operations from non-paved runways. It is powered by a German-made Raikhlin A03TV12 diesel engine rated at 500shp (372kW) driving a three-blade, constant-speed MTV-9-E-C propeller; for Russian aircraft, the engine will be assembled and serviced in Russia. It has a maximum speed of 270kts (500km/h) and a service ceiling of 13,120ft, a maximum range of 810 nautical miles (1,500km) and is certified for +9 to -7g. Its service life will be 10,000 flight hours, 30 years or 30,000 landings.
The aircraft boasts Zvezda SKS-94M lightweight aircrew ejection systems, enabling safe bail-out at a minimum altitude of 33ft at speeds between 38 and 216kts (70 and 400km/h). In its production version, the Yak-152 will share a high degree of cockpit similarity with the Yak-130.
The RuASF’s requirements call for no fewer than 150 aircraft for the KVVAUL, where the Yak-152 will replace the L-39C in the initial flight training phase. According to the Russian deputy defence minister responsible for procurement, Yury Borisov, on successful completion of the test effort – expected in 2018 – an order for the RuASF will be placed, with every aircraft being delivered by the end of 2020.
In July 2017, it was revealed that in a bid to accelerate the Yak-152’s induction into service, an order had been placed by the Russian MoD for three more aircraft, to be delivered that year to accelerate the pace of the flight test programme.
There is another type competing to replace the L-39C in the basic flight training phase, to bridge a perceived gap between the Yak-152 and the high-performance Yak-130. This is the SR-10, a lightweight jet-powered trainer, designed as a private venture by the KB SAT design company. It made its maiden flight on December 25, 2015, but is still in the very early stages of development.
The SR-10’s airframe is manufactured almost entirely from composite materials; only those parts bearing the highest loads are made from aluminium. The aircraft features a mid-mounted wing swept forward by 10°. This unique layout is advertised as providing some weighty advantages when flying at high angles of attack and is said to allow lower take-off and landing speeds, an important consideration for training aircraft.
There have been no off cial announcements from the Russian MoD and the RuASF about any orders for the SR-10, but the Russian press hinted in July 2017 that a development contract was being coordinated and was nearly ready to be signed. By late April 2018, however, no progress in the SR-10 programme had been announced. If there ever is off cial interest, a contract would most likely cover a design and development effort to meet the RuASF’s stringent airworthiness standards and then the production of a small batch for testing and evaluation purposes would follow.
The sole SR-10 prototype built by KB SAT is powered by a single AI-25TL turbofan engine as used by the L-39C and rated at 1,700kgf (16,68kN) maximum thrust. For serial production, however, the more modern Saturn AL-55 rated at 1,760kgf (17,27kN) could be used. Maximum takeoff weight is 7,068lb (3,100kg) and its range is 431 nautical miles (800km) while the airframe is expected to be cleared for manoeuvres from +9 to -6g.