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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Force Sees No Use for An-70s

Even if Russian and Ukrainian producers build the beleaguered An-70 military transport aircraft, the Russian air force will not buy the planes, its commander-in-chief said Friday.

"Let anyone who wants buy the An-70, but it will not be the air force while Mikhailov is at its wheel," Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov told reporters Friday.

The government has repeatedly reassured Ukrainian colleagues that it still supports the highly political program.

"Next year the technical development of the project will be completed to incorporate existing comments," Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov was quoted by Interfax as saying last month.

The An-70 project has suffered continual setbacks since design work began in 1986.

Originally touted by Ukrainian design firm Antonov as the future transport aircraft for NATO countries, Europe spurned it in 2000 in favor of the Airbus A-400M airlifter.

In 2001, two of the sole prototype's four engines died shortly after takeoff in Omsk. A snowy crash landing saved the pilots but seriously damaged the aircraft.

In February 2003, Russian and Ukrainian sides agreed that test flights of the aircraft would not resume until malfunctions are eliminated.

Mikhailov said he strongly opposes allowing the "underdeveloped and unsafe" aircraft to take part in demonstration flights at the Moscow Air Show, or MAKS, which kicks off Aug. 19.

"If somebody takes that decision, let it be then. I will be praying at night so that the following day nothing happens at MAKS," Mikhailov said.

Mikhailov said he favors the Il-76MF, an upgrade on the Il-76, the workhorse of the transport sector. The Il-76MF costs half as much as the An-70.

The An-70 has a maximum payload of 47 metric tons and needs a mere 600 meters for takeoff. The first craft is slated for assembly in 2004.

But while the Ukrainian government has tentatively committed to 65 aircraft and Russia to 164, both sides have failed to come up with the required financing.

Russia has contributed $20.8 million and Ukraine has contributed $28 million, while the designers have invested about $130 million of their own money, Vedomosti reported.

Boris Alyoshin, Kasyanov's deputy in charge of industry, said earlier this month that $48.2 million owed by the Defense Ministry under the An-70 program will be included in the state arms procurement budget.

Overall, another $85 million is needed to complete the test program.

Deputy Defense Minister Alexei Moskovsky last week called for research and development works to be completed.

"Whatever is holding this work back, or sabotaging it, is categorically wrong," Interfax quoted Moskovsky as saying.

Leonid Terentyev, head of the Moscow-based Medium Transport Aircraft Consortium of Ukrainian and Russian designers and manufacturers, blamed the air force for sabotaging the project.

"Mikhailov has not even seen the aircraft, yet maintains it is faulty. Meanwhile, all the drawbacks have been eliminated," Terentyev said by telephone. "They are holding it back."

Politics aside, the air force cannot afford the $50 million price tag per An-70, said Konstantin Makiyenko at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

"There will not be any en masse purchase of the craft," Makiyenko said. The money should be spent instead on the armed forces in Chechnya, he added.

"Soldiers and officers fighting in Chechnya should know the names of each government official who throws his support behind this program. Helicopters will continue to crash, they will get neither new re-equipped nor small arms because money will be spent instead to finance the An-70," he said.