2019 marked the lowest combat aircraft delivery rate to VKS since 2008.
Last year the Russian Air Force received just 14 combat aircraft to its frontline units, which marks the lowest delivery rate since 2009. At a stretch, if two pre-production MiG-35s and four Russian Knights’ Su-35s are counted in the total, 20 aircraft were delivered, which still is the fourth lowest year since 2008.
In 2019, six Su-35S were handed over to the 790th fighter aviation regiment based in Khotilovo in Western Military District (MD). There are now nine Su-35S deployed within the regiment.
Another major delivery, at least by 2019 standards, occurred in June and October when a total of six Su-34s were handed over to the 2nd Guards Composite Aviation Regiment deployed at Chelyabinsk Shagol in Central MD. The unit therefore now fields 24 Su-34s (two squadrons). Another two Su-34s were handed over to the air force in December, but it is unclear where they were sent to.
Undeniably, the domestic industry reached its medium-range delivery peak in 2014 when 88 aircraft were handed over to the air force. Post-Ukraine sanctions and a gradual decrease in defence spending (and presumably the state defence order:SDO) had an immediate impact on deliveries. However, although a reasonable good level was maintained in 2015-16, this pace could not be sustained in 2017-18, which ultimately delivered a near collapse in 2019.
It remains to be seen whether the 2014-15 figures will be repeated in the near-term. At the moment this seems unlikely for several reasons.
In her recent interview with Krasnaya Zvezda, Tatiana Shevtsova, who generally speaking is responsible for MoD finances, stated that “the increase in defence spending in previous years was due to the comprehensive re-equipment of the army” and that “this peak has been passed”. This indicates that the top brass is happy with what the rearmament has delivered and that is it unnecessary to maintain elevated defence spending (perhaps it is also unaffordable).
The defence industry is also struggling with debt burden and is unable to produce aircraft at prices negotiated in 2012 as was the case with Su-34s. This decreases the yearly production rate as new contracts are negotiated.
Concurrently, there is a gradual decrease in defence spending, which impacts the SDO, as well as how funds within the SDO are managed and which programs receive priorities. Fixed-wing aircraft, therefore, do not seem to be prioritised, which could a sign of a gradual decrease in obtaining such aircraft in the longer-term. Indeed, Vedomosti reported in October 2019 that whereas a new contract for the production of 48 Su-34s is expected in 2020, aircraft’s production at the Novosibirsk plant may cease as it is uneconomical to produce just 48 airframes at two plants (Su-34s main production site is located in Komsomolsk-on-Amur).
The rapid modernisation of 2009-2018 is now expected to slow take and take a more sustainable pace, especially when it comes to fixed-wing combat aircraft.