Russia’s UAC Dreams of Civil, Banks on Military

By Richard Pettibone, Aerospace & Defense Companies Analyst, Forecast International.

United Aircraft Corporation is ever so slowly coming into its own.  Following its formation, the firm struggled to combine the disparate entities and Russia’s aerospace industry into a cohesive whole.  While the firm still has a way to go, it has made substantial progress.

With the conflict in Ukraine, UAC has pulled back on its international defense marketing to a degree – at least to new customers.  Instead, the company is focusing on its nascent commercial programs, the Sukhoi Superjet 100 and the under-development Irkut MC-21.

The market for the Superjet is primarily in Russia.  Sukhoi sought out partnerships with Western component manufacturers to make the aircraft more attractive on the international market, and the program has had some international success. However, Russian makers have traditionally had a poor reputation for aftersales support.  This will reduce demand from many operators around the world, particularly those in Europe and North America, until Sukhoi Civil Aircraft Company (SCAC) can prove that its aftersales support is competitive with that of competing manufacturers.

The next big commercial project is the MC-21 (also called the MS-21), a narrowbody airliner derived from the now-defunct Yak‑242.  In mid-2010, a Malaysian investment firm became the program’s launch customer with a $3 billion order for 50 aircraft.  First flight of the 181-passenger MC-21-300, the lead variant in the series, is scheduled for mid-2016.  Service entry of the MC-21-300 is planned for 2017.  The plane will compete directly with Boeing’s 737 and Airbus’ A320, and should those firms become involved in new narrowbody efforts, the MS-21 program could find itself marginalized.

While the firm would eventually like to see a majority of its sales in commercial markets, military aircraft is where the money is at currently.  Russia’s Ministry of Defense is moving ahead on its plans to acquire more than 150 new aircraft and helicopters as part of plans to bolster and modernize the country’s Air Force.  Under the plan, the new aircraft will include Sukhoi Su‑34 bombers; Su-30SM and Su-35S fighters; Kamov Ka-52 and Ka-226 and Mil Mi-8AMTSh, Mi-28N and Mi-35 helicopters; Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced jet trainers; and Ilyushin Il-76MD-90 transport aircraft.

In addition, UAC’s subsidiary Sukhoi scored a major win with China in late 2015, landing a $2 billion order for 24 Su-35 fighters.  Also, RAC MiG landed an export deal with Egypt, reportedly in negotiations, to purchase 46 MiG-35s in a deal worth some $2.2 billion. At home, the Russian Air Force finally went ahead with its own, long-awaited buy of the MiG-35.

This recent spate of orders couldn’t come at better time for the firm and its subsidiaries. For a while now, its factories have been running well below capacity.  This new production should be a welcome shot in the arm for the whole of UAC’s operations for some time to come.

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