Catch up the West, ahead of China

Catch up the West, ahead of China
Helicopter industry, which has more than half a century in Russia history, remains one of the few domestic high-tech industries, whose products retains steady demand in the global market. For a long time, the export of our cars was significantly higher than the supply for the domestic, first and foremost state consumers.

As a result, the existing domestic fleet of helicopters is heavily worn out, morally obsolete, and the number of civilian helicopters only per capita in the Russian Federation is many times smaller than in developed countries. And this is in a state that occupies a little less than 1 / 6 parts of land.


Were proud too long ...

Meanwhile, the importance of rotary-wing machines for any country is largely determined by its geographic features and the level of infrastructure development. The larger the territory of the state and the less developed its transport infrastructure, the greater the need for helicopter technology. But even for completely perfect land transport systems, glut occurs sooner or later, when neither cars nor railways can cope with passenger and cargo traffic. Regarding the unification of all these problems, Russia is clearly in the group of leaders: Moscow and St. Petersburg and even most large cities, despite the roads under construction and expanding, are suffocating from traffic jams, and the rest of the country is not going anywhere because of the lack of communications.

The number of helicopters needed by the state is difficult to determine. For example, during emergencies caused by natural disasters or man-made disasters, the need for rotary-wing machines increases by orders of magnitude. A local military conflict always reveals the insufficiency of the equipment of the troops, the late implementation of the plans for rearmament, including helicopter technology. The painful reflections of “Where is our aviation?” Also cover, in peacetime, the leadership confronted with natural disasters. Even in such a rich and highly developed country as Japan, during the period of eliminating the consequences of the tsunami and the accident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, there was an acute shortage of specialized helicopters of heavy payload.

The domestic industry is rightly proud of many products, including the Mi-8 / 17 helicopter, which is compared in popularity with the Kalashnikov assault rifle. Both are truly masterpieces of their time and reproduced by fantastic circulations. High maintainability, unpretentiousness, simplicity of design, low requirements for the qualifications of service personnel, as well as relatively low cost, have made them popular for decades in their market segment. True, this segment, which was dominated by "Kalashnikov", an SUV from Ulyanovsk and Mi-8, is very specific. The poor countries will not take much, for the fuel has become more expensive. And there, where suddenly there will be hydrocarbons desired by the West or China or some other raw material, fighters for democracy with more advanced military equipment or heirs of the Celestial Empire with cheap goods will immediately appear.

So not too many decades, we are proud of what our fathers and teachers created? Yes, we still sell in bulk to India and Venezuela Mi-17. We also buy Mi-35 and Ka-32. But a natural question arises: what will happen when the most replicated helicopter samples become obsolete? And this day, believe me, is not far off. Moreover, the Chinese are already advancing on our heels, who learn from our and Western mistakes, have unlimited human and unexplored material resources.

Who is up to the task?

Obviously, this problem cannot be solved in the forehead. This requires consolidation of efforts, development of uniform technological processes, adoption of unified solutions for civil and military products with the unconditional participation of the state. However, budgeted resources for helicopter construction, as a rule, are limited. Unfortunately, government orders are not dominant in the total volume of helicopter industry contracts, despite their recent significant growth. In this regard, the helicopter fleet always and everywhere will be insufficient.

Now the theory that helicopter building will save commercial orders is fashionable. The question of the need for technology transfer from the military-industrial complex to civilian industries and back is initially clear and correct. Virtually any multi-purpose helicopter has civil and military professions, this is a well-established global practice. That is why there are no more informed, professionally fit and interested people in the implementation of the unification of military and civilian projects than the developers of helicopter technology. But the point is not the developers, but the requirements of the ordering organizations and, most importantly, the existing standards.

Deadline, cost of the project and the corresponding amount of testing are directly proportional to the list of tasks and the level of requirements. If it is prescribed to attack helicopter according to the technical task to use all installed types of weapons for various purposes, in different conditions, etc., then at all points it is necessary to confirm their implementation. And it is long and expensive, and here no civil project will help. Indeed, for many and many technical problems, borrowing from civilian to military spheres of application can be so far only at the level of ideas.

It is possible to achieve compliance with the most diverse requirements or their combination only if the allocated resources are sufficient. But the high gap between the potential needs of the state and its real possibilities, of course, requires more responsible decisions in the implementation of technical re-equipment.

In order to make optimal weighted decisions, you need to have access to the entire list of tasks at the level of technical requirements, have the necessary level of competence, be able to execute decisions, be interested in the optimal solution according to the principle of minimum sufficiency over the whole front of tasks, take full responsibility for the decisions made.

Andrei Sedykh collage (photo by ITAR-TASS)
At all stages of the implementation of the tasks of the helicopter industry - from the idea and intention to create a sample to the completion of its life cycle - there is only one structure that meets all the requirements. This is the institute of the general designer with his personal responsibility. According to these principles, the aviation industry has been created and still exists, by the way, not only in the Russian Federation, as many think, and how it is sometimes inspired not only to the average man, but even to the leadership of our country.


In Russia, with its historical burden, the charismatic leaders are still more visible. For a breakthrough that will only allow overcoming the lagging behind the West and returning the lead over China, we need a leader who is “responsible for everything,” as the late Yuri German said. And the “answer for everything” can be the one for whom this “everything” is destiny. In the era of widespread monopolization, it is the fate of the developer that is directly related to the success of his design activities. A designer who fails to cope with the problem will lose the ability to create. And this is a terrible loss of salary. These factors determine the sense of responsibility of the head, the general designer in the first place.

And now it is the general designers together with the top management of the industry who are obliged to find the answer with which models to meet the needs of the state. After all, helicopter technology in the world practice has dozens of established professions. Many are still being formulated, while the existing ones can increase by several orders of magnitude their effectiveness in the short term.

Growing demands

In the field of military tasks since the first combat use of helicopters, their importance has increased continuously, and in recent decades, at an increasing rate. For example, rotorcraft play a dominant role in aviation. This is primarily due to the rapid development of electronic technology, which has provided the military helicopter with numerous functions that significantly increased its combat effectiveness. The increasing number of local armed conflicts, which have a “strange” pattern to arise in regions with difficult terrain and poorly developed infrastructure, also increased the demand for military helicopters.


A similar picture in civil aviation. Previously, everything was easier. The West created light helicopters to transport rich people from point A to point B under the conditions of the mega-cities' land transport collapse. The Soviet Union needed helicopters in order to transport dozens of oilmen, drillers, geologists, and simply people from Siberia and the Far North, for whom sometimes there was no other way of transport than the helicopter and the ship. Now we also have wealthy citizens, in particular, managers of prosperous companies, who want to comfortably and quickly move from place to place, from office to office, despite traffic jams and lack of roads. And in the West, as it turned out, sometimes fires rage that can be extinguished only with powerful and unpretentious rotary-winged heavy-duty machines. Yes, and all remote watches should be sent to remote drilling rigs. And everyone needs helicopters for police needs, for inspecting long lines of gas and oil pipelines, for emergency evacuation of victims. In general, the requirements for multi-functionality, on the one hand, and specialization, on the other, are growing at the same time.

And yet the process is on

Ways of eliminating from the agenda of purely Russian problems coincide with the trends of the world helicopter industry and most importantly, that we correctly understand and anticipate promising projects, do not drop out of the format of world standards. Optimal steps are needed to minimize the range of helicopters being created and to ensure the required functional qualities. The tasks of providing multifunctionality should be solved systemically.

At the level of onboard systems. Digital technologies, including such as software-controlled radio, allowing to change the operating parameters of radio equipment at the level of software from the digital complexes of radio-electronic equipment.

At the level of plug-ins of targeted use. This allows you to create modifications of helicopters quickly or at low cost by creating a nomenclature, such as transport cabins, or quickly reorient the car depending on the needs of the consumer.

At the level of the helicopter group. The organization of groups for a specific task, consisting of a balanced set of specialized helicopters. Moreover, each machine must have a range of multifunctional properties that are not sacrificed for quality indicators. For example, when carrying out a rescue operation in the coastal zone, the group could, if necessary, include search-and-rescue helicopters, sanitary helicopters, relay support, etc. Or, for example, during a military operation, the group could consist of the following specialized helicopters: radio relay, reconnaissance, radar patrol, radio countermeasures, reconnaissance, percussion, assault, paratroop, fire support, transport and sanitary, trans ortnyh logistics and so on.

Based on the above problems, it is clear that the creation of aircraft, including helicopters, cannot be carried out without state support, without participation in the process of specialized research institutes. Recently, there has been a positive trend in combining the efforts of specialists in this field of aviation technology. The ongoing state programs give the first results. For example, the program for creating integrated modular avionics, despite many critical remarks, showed the capabilities of existing enterprises, it became possible to consolidate the actions of the leaders of this process.

So far, the rules of participation in it of research, developing and producing enterprises of the industry are only being discussed. It remains to determine or clarify the rules of interaction, to realize and align its own structures, to develop long-term development programs.

It is very important that in Russia it became possible to use advanced technologies in the field of aircraft technology development, truly innovative (not only having novelty, but also giving maximum economic return) and therefore having an avalanche demand in world practice. But innovation is not defined by directives. They need to find and select - and this is the task of the general designer. Evaluate in terms of economic feasibility and implement - and this is the task of management. Individually, calls for an innovative economy will either remain well-intentioned or open the doors to technical and commercial adventurers.

An increasing number of enterprises are gradually being drawn into the complex process of introducing and developing an innovative economy. New technological rules and standards are being developed. The participants in this process are actually forming a new cooperation of participants that meet the new standards. Enterprises that are not aware of the dynamics of the process, are at risk of being sidelined.

In general, the process is underway. It is necessary to look for optimal solutions to ensure the functioning of the industry and not to step on a rake, at least twice.
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