The discussion on the need for suspended sighting containers for fighters and fighter-bombers of the Russian Air Force began a long time ago and continues to this day. A paradoxical situation has arisen when the Su-34 complex “Platan” is hidden in the fuselage of the vehicle, and on the Su-35 it will be installed in a hanging container.
Suspended Aiming Containers (PPKs) first appeared in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War. They were used to apply aviation bombs with a laser guidance system. The F-10 Phantom-153 fighter-bombers were equipped with the first serial AN / AVQ-23 Pave Knife anti-aircraft guns and the AN / ASQ-4-AN / AVQ-2 Pave Spike that replaced them. The containers included high-resolution optoelectronic systems, as well as a laser illuminating the target for the bomb's homing head (GOS). It is noteworthy that aiming containers did not interact with airborne weapons (AAS) equipped with a television guidance system, for example, with bombs of the GBU-15 family. Therefore, the crew had to choose a target and adjust their flight to the target, using a video picture from the seeker of the ASP itself.
Optical fighter "eyes"
Until the beginning of the 90s, a debate among NATO aviation specialists continued on the need for such systems. If in Vietnam PPK proved to be excellent, then during the Iran-Iraq war, the Iranian air force did not achieve noticeable results using the Pave Knife received from the Americans during the era of the Shah. Sighting containers also showed bad results on US Air Force F-111 Aadvark fighter-bombers that participated in strikes on Libya in April 1986 of the year as part of Operation Eldorado Canyon. Due to the massive failure of the AN / AVQ-26 Pave Tack and related software, only two F-111 were able to hit the targets, while the rest of the machines of this type that participated in the raid, threw the bombs wherever they went. In particular, the fighter-bomber with the call sign "Lyudzhak-24", which struck the airport "Tripoli", because of the failure of the control panel dropped bombs at a distance of more than one and a half kilometers from the target.
But in 1991, during the operation “Desert Storm”, the same F-111 Aadvark and F-15E Strike Eagle with the latest LANTIRN control panels achieved very good results. Suffice it to say that according to statistics, these machines, as well as F-117, accounted for about 95 percent of all precision-bombs dropped by the anti-Iraqi coalition. From this point on, suspended sighting containers have become an indispensable attribute of most fighter and fighter-bombers of the Air Force not only of the NATO countries, but also of India, China, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Morocco. Currently, the Sniper-XR control panel is not only installed on the B-1 submarine bomber of the US air force, but is also being tested on the B-52 strategic bomber (Buff). The air operation against Syria, which was planned last year, was to become a kind of “presentation” of the updated Buff equipped with Sniper-XR. It should be noted that the PPK, however, not domestic development, is already included in the sighting systems of the Su-30 multifunctional fighter-bombers of the Air Forces of Indonesia, China and India. It is noteworthy that the revision was carried out at the request of customers.
Do I need a hanging container?
Against the background of a triumphal procession of sighting containers on the air fleets of countries of the world in Russia, the debate about their necessity continues to this day. The Russian Air Force has not yet decided whether they need PPK strike machines or better with the same complexes, but installed directly on the aircraft.
The main arguments of opponents of the PPK are as follows.
Suspended container affects the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft, increases the weight of the machine. In a military conflict with countries with modern combat aircraft, fighter-bomber will have to act at low altitude, carrying out a low-altitude breakthrough in rounding the terrain. This is the only way to escape from airborne early warning aircraft. In such conditions, installing a container that degrades aerodynamics and increases the weight of the bursting aircraft is simply a crime.
There are more arguments. “To fight the partisans, when the possibility of a collision with a high-tech aviation threat is unlikely, it is possible with a suspended target container. But against a serious adversary, such as the United States Air Force, we need embedded systems that do not degrade the performance of the combat vehicle, ”the head of the enterprise involved in the development of sighting systems and aviation weapons told a VPC correspondent.
According to the publication interlocutor, only two options are acceptable - when the sighting system is installed in the aircraft itself, as has already been done on the Su-34 fighter-bomber, or when the control panel, if necessary, is advanced before striking the target from the plane. In this case, according to the interlocutor, the deterioration of the aerodynamics of the shock machine will be short and minimal.
“Look at the latest fifth-generation American fighter, the F-35. A special optical-electronic complex, a thermal imager, and a laser for target illumination are installed in his nose in a special container. True, it is not entirely clear whether this container is being pushed or fixedly mounted. But all the same, its placement and dimensions cannot be compared with LANTIRN and Sniper-XR, ”says the head of the company.
For the Lightning-2 created using the Stealth technology, installing a suspended sighting container will worsen not only the aerodynamics, but also its radar stealth.
“The technical solution for installing the Platan sighting system, implemented at Su-34, is now the most optimal solution offered by aircraft manufacturers. In the future, these developments will be used on the T-50 aircraft, ”the interlocutor of the Military-Industrial Courier concluded.
At the same time, not all aviation specialists support such a position on the use of outboard containers.
“If the plane on the outer suspension carries a large number of bombs and missiles, especially if they are mounted on multi-lock holders, there will be no problems at all at either low or medium altitudes,” a TsAGI representative familiar with the problem believes.
True, according to him, if the combat load of a fighter-bomber will consist of only two or three bombs, then the control panel will worsen aerodynamics, but uncritically.
“When a container is wrapped around it, shock waves will arise, it is possible that withdrawal will occur due to an asymmetrically located load. But all this is offset by the introduction of amendments to the aircraft control system. It is enough to perform a couple of flights with the control panel in order to obtain the empirical material necessary for this. Modern fighters have such thrust-carrying capacity that the stool will fly with it. Therefore, there will be no significant problems and loss of speed when piloting an aircraft with a container, ”the TsAGI official stressed.
Support their colleague from TsAGI and aircraft engineers involved in the development of promising samples of aircraft. “I will say this - it all depends on how the plane was created. For example, on the Su-25 attack aircraft, its developers experimented with a large number of overhead containers. The thermal station, the Spear and Dagger containers with radar stations were suspended. No problems with the aerodynamics of the aircraft have never arisen, ”an aircraft engineer involved in the work told a VPK correspondent.
According to the interlocutor, the main problem of the Su-25 is in the absence of the ventral suspension point. True, at present this shortcoming is eliminated.
“Now there are experiments on installation of a container with an overhead radar. At the Su-25 in the bow is set laser station "Maple". There are enough places to install instead of it new optical, thermal imaging and laser systems, and there are no problems with their connection and power supply. Therefore, the radar will stand in a container under the fuselage, and the aiming equipment is traditionally in the nose, ”the aircraft engineer concluded.
It is noteworthy that on the American attack aircraft A-10 Thunderbolt-2, the 2005 of the year was equipped with LANTIRN sighting containers, later replaced with Sniper-XR. True, in the opinion of domestic specialists, for an aircraft that performs direct support to the troops and is often under fire from rifle fire. weapons from the ground, such accommodation is impractical. But because of the GAU-8 cannon located in the nose, American aircraft manufacturers had to confine themselves to a container. Although so far, according to the US Air Force, there has not been a single case of failure, not to mention the destruction of the control panel on the A-10 with the direct support of the troops.
“Until the end of the year, the Su-35 will be put to the test with a Russian-designed CEP suspended sighting container. It will be attached under one of the ventral suspension units. A similar design is being implemented on MiG-29 aircraft. True, due to the smaller overall dimensions and suspension assemblies of the twenty-ninths compared to the Su-27 family, the sighting system will not be installed under the fuselage or wing, but in a conformal container, ”the competent officer of the Air Force believes.
According to the interlocutor "VPK", the tests performed show that in some flight modes PPK create aerodynamic resistance and loss of speed, but these indicators are quite small and almost not felt by pilots.
“The container is the maximum 200 kilograms of weight. Compare with a mass of conventional aviation weapons, for example with the Kab-Xnumx 500-kilogram bombs. But there is also KAB-500. So, in my opinion, all these problems with increasing resistance, loss of speed, inability to perform a flight in the rounding mode of the terrain with a hanging container are “far-fetched”, said the interlocutor of “VPK”.
True, all defenders and opponents of outboard containers converge in one thing - for a promising T-50, an aiming complex similar to that installed on the American F-35 should be installed. Otherwise, there can be no talk about the implementation of radio-electronic stealth at the PAK FA. But now the aviation fleet of the Russian Air Force consists of Su-25 attack aircraft, Su-27, MiG-29, Su-30 and Su-35 fighters and Su-34 fighter-bombers, created not by Stealth technology, therefore the problem with radar inconspicuous for them, in contrast to the T-50, it is not a priority, but the installation of sighting systems integrated into the design of the aircraft requires a significant rework of the machines.
"Mercedes" on the background of "Zaporozhets"
“It is impossible to compare the Platan sighting system installed on the Su-34 with the American Sniper-XR. It is the same as comparing the “hunchbacked” Zaporozhets with the brand-new Mercedes. But “humpbacked”, unlike “Planan,” sometimes works, ”said an experienced aircraft engineer.
About the problems with the aiming complex of the newest fighter-bomber Su-34, recently adopted by the Air Force of Russia, the newspaper "VPK" has already written. These problems are well understood by the Ministry of Defense. But if in the case of using PPK it was possible to simply change the container to a more advanced one, as the US Air Force did, changing the LANTIRN to Sniper-XR, then for the stationary Platan to Su-34 you will have to make changes to the aircraft fuselage design.
“Of course, there is a place to install new equipment on the Su-34. But you have to re-provide power, connection. Change the design, conduct strength tests. There is a chance that you have to blow it. Everything seems to be simple, but it’s time and money, ”the aircraft engineer told the MIC correspondent.
It can be argued that the developers of the Su-25 also chose to leave the opto-electronic system, the thermal imager and the laser rangefinder in the bow in place of the old "Maple". But in the case of the Su-34, it will be necessary to redo the mobile part of the “Platan” that is moving out from the bottom of the fuselage. Change not only the complex itself, its components and mechanisms, but also part of the fuselage. Located between the air intakes, “Platan” has limited viewing angles compared to the Sniper-XR suspended on a special pylon, which is very clearly seen when comparing photos of the Su-34 and F-15. Therefore, if foreign buyers have a desire to put a new sight, it will be necessary to open development work, carry out refinements, research, etc.
“In the modern world, customers are buying, in fact, not a turnkey aircraft, but a platform that can be improved during the life cycle through various systems and not necessarily offered by the aircraft manufacturer itself. For example, the Indian Air Force uses for the Su-30 MKI American sighting containers LANTIRN. Therefore, the aircraft, which requires the introduction of changes in the design and modification of the project for the implementation of the complexes chosen by the customer, is unlikely to be in great export demand. There are two options - either to make an aircraft that does not require processing of the project, or to set up an aiming system that does not lose its relevance for the entire service life of the vehicle. But, as we understand, the second option in the modern world of high technologies is generally unrealizable. Therefore, there is such a high demand for PPK in the world, ”says Andrei Frolov, editor-in-chief of the Arms Export magazine.
But one should not assume that such a situation has developed only through the fault of aircraft manufacturers. The enterprises responsible for the development and production of optical-electronic systems are also to blame. “The Ural Optical and Mechanical Plant (UOMZ) has been developing the sapsan sighting container since 1998. It was made both for the Ministry of Defense and for export deliveries not only complete with domestic aircraft, but also separately. Container proudly drove to exhibitions. But alas, neither we nor the Sapsan Air Force of Russia have ever seen them in working condition, ”an aircraft engineer involved in the development of advanced aviation equipment told the MIC correspondent.
In 2010, the UOMZ had legal proceedings with its former employees due to disagreements over the patenting of components and assemblies that were part of the container. It was about the ball bearing, which allows compact devices to be placed on the aircraft suspension. During the trial, according to a number of media reports, the UOMZ management, in its official response to the lawsuit, stated that it had never produced the Sapsan device, that there were no valid samples of such an instrument and had not been tested. According to the UOMZ representatives, at the moment, only a model of the device, which is not a functioning model, has been manufactured.
How the situation with the Sapsan actually evolved is still unknown. But in fact, domestic sighting containers aviation developers have received recently.
“Now we already have a working target container. But in 2000-s, many foreign customers of the Russian aviation technology demanded such devices, and, alas, they were not, ”complained the aircraft engineer.
Lost in three pines
History introduction of overhead sighting containers to Russian aviation technology is amazing. Here there are fundamental disagreements between the military and aircraft technology developers, not only on technical issues, but also on the use of PPK in modern wars and military conflicts, and the mysterious history of the Sapsan that has not appeared yet. Adoption of the Su-34 with an integrated "Plane". Export shipments of Su-30 for the Air Forces of India, Indonesia, China with foreign sighting containers. Plus, the work on the creation of the fifth generation aircraft. For all the absurdities of the situation, the aircraft engineering developers, in particular, the designers Su-25, Su-30 and Su-35, understand what a machine should be in the modern world in order not only to meet the requirements of the Russian Air Force, but also to attract foreign customers. It seems to have appeared and a decent domestic PPK. It remains to hope that the warring parties in the face of apologists and opponents of suspended sighting containers will reconcile and find a reasonable compromise, and the Russian Air Force will receive truly universal and high-tech combat vehicles. After all, the Russian aircraft industry did not always go only along its own unique path, maybe it sometimes makes sense to look back on foreign experience?