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Outside View: Russia helo plans -- Part 1

Recall the killing ability of Black Sharks (pictured) and the two-seater Alligator, which has a strike potential unequalled anywhere else in the world. It has an onboard digital computer, while pilots are provided with helmet-mounted target designators, thermal imagers and ejection seats.
by Alexander Peslyak
Moscow (UPI) Oct 13, 2008
A hundred years ago, the two Breguet brothers from France, taking a leaf out of the book of the two Wright brothers from across the Channel, lifted off in their flying apparatus for the first time. This marked the birth of a vertical ascent plane.

In Russia, it was Nikolai Kamov and Alexander Mil who designed helicopters. Kamov's company marks its 60 anniversary today. Mil's is a year older.

By competing and vying with each other, the two design bureaus have gained world fame: Their 5,200 helicopters have flown in more than 80 countries; they also sport the flags of the United Nations and the Red Cross.

The Mil outfit has produced 15 basic models and more than 200 versions. The Mi-28N Night Hunter is not an upgrade, but the first military helicopter in the post-Soviet space and the main combat system for Russia's Defense Ministry -- Russian combat helicopters.

The Kamov firm, starting with systems for the Russian navy, has become the only company in the world to launch a serial production of coaxial helicopters -- two counter-rotating blades give increased maneuverability and stability to the craft.

Recall the killing ability of Black Sharks and the two-seater Alligator, which has a strike potential unequalled anywhere else in the world. It has an onboard digital computer, while pilots are provided with helmet-mounted target designators, thermal imagers and ejection seats.

In the post-Soviet period the two firms experienced dumps and bumps on their way toward the market. They paid exorbitant prices for materials and parts, and suffered arrears from customers. Meanwhile, the profit-bringing export flow must never flag, and besides Russian oil workers, rescue services, businesses and the military also need helicopters as good as those supplied to the West. The current demand for civilian helicopters alone is more than 2,000 units.

But the industry has its specifics, Mikhail Kazachkov from the Helicopter Industry Association told RIA Novosti in an interview. Its bane is long lead times: The period from the idea to the finished product is on average 12 years.

The authorities have decided to restructure the helicopter industry, to optimize its cash flows and make it more competitive. For that purpose they brought its separate branches under one umbrella, creating the holding Helicopters of Russia.

Reformers from the Industry and Trade Ministry and the Oboronprom Corp. are currently integrating the design bureaus, manufacturing facilities and service centers more vigorously than in aircraft building.

Things are moving toward the unification of research, technical and production policies. And in order to lay good groundwork for continued efforts, a unified scientific and engineering council and an innovation engineering center have been set up. According to Sergei Mikheyev, Kamov's general designer, a competitive and creative spirit, emphasis on extra-corporate aims and the merging of the two teams, although seemingly paradoxical, have produced excellent results.

The reform pursues strategic aims: to make Russia the world leader in seven years, bring the output of helicopters to 450-500 units per year by 2015 -- the current figure is 120 -- and to corner 15 percent of the world market, while increasing sales to 400 billion rubles. Asset concentration, effective management and optimization of intellectual resources, production facilities and costs are the overriding objectives.

(Next: The coming generation of Russian military helicopters)

(Alexander Peslyak is a commentator for RIA Novosti. This article is reprinted by permission of RIA Novosti. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.)

(United Press International's "Outside View" commentaries are written by outside contributors who specialize in a variety of important issues. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of United Press International. In the interests of creating an open forum, original submissions are invited.)

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