July 17, 2008

Site Says Ukraine’s Ruslan Plane Stands Out in NATO SALIS Programme

A specialist Ukrainian military website has described the success of the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) programme, where NATO has been using Ukraine's An-124 military transport aircraft. The website said it regards the programme as an example of mutually beneficial and pragmatic cooperation between Ukraine and NATO and the way forward in furthering this cooperation. The following is the text of the article by Volodymyr Kopchak, entitled "Salis: To retain and multiply" posted on the Defense-Express website on 7 July; subheadings are as published:

It is no secret that the subject of the prospects of Ukrainian membership of the North Atlantic Alliance is covered by deeply rooted myths that have been skillfully exploited for political purposes. The most widely disseminated of these is the one that NATO will force us to abandon our hardware and to move to western types of armaments, which will, as a consequence, lead to the collapse of the Ukrainian defence sector. However, even present-day experience of partnership in a number of joint projects debunks these stereotypes in a convincing manner. Among them, the strategic air transport sector stand apart, and namely, the use of An-124 planes within the framework of the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) programme, which is an example of a sensible, mutually beneficial business and a pragmatic approach.

Indeed, when speaking about the SALIS project, it is important to emphasize that these are not ephemeral plans, but actual cooperation along the line of Ukraine - Russia - NATO and EU countries at the present time. Participation of the Russian party is very revealing here as to pragmatism and economic feasibility prevailing over political factors.

Success story

Generally speaking, the history of interaction between Ukraine, or to be more precise, the Antonov design bureau, with European countries and air transport is more than 10 years old now. Orders to transport humanitarian cargo and peacekeeping contingents by air to hot spots have been carried out in their time. An-124 Ruslan aircraft were used first and foremost. In the period from 2002 to 2005 alone, Antonov Airlines planes delivered around 80,000 t of cargo in the course of strategic air transport in the interests of the European Union and NATO. It is precisely this positive implementation experience that has made many European countries draw a conclusion as regards the need to expand cooperation as to the use of An-124 planes. Entry on the market of foreign players, primarily of the Volga-Dnepr company from Russia, which operated Ruslan planes [that is, An-124], also has an influence on the expansion of strategic air transport in the interests of NATO countries.

The implementation of the SALIS project in its present form began in late 2004. It was then when, within the framework of the SALIS programme, the Ruslan SALIS GmbH joint venture, representing the interests of the Antonov Airlines Company from Ukraine and the Volga- Dnepr group of companies from Russia, won the NATO tender for ensuring cargo transport in the interests of the North Atlantic Alliance, which was announced in November 2004. It should be noted that in this tender it won a competition with the Boeing Company from the USA which offered the S-17 cargo plane, as well as several air broker companies which offered their services in freighting the same An-124 Ruslan.

As we can see, customers from NATO countries have presently made a pragmatic choice in favour of the Antonov plane. Despite the fact that the S-17 is a more recent development with the use of more different novelties, achievements of science and technologies, but nevertheless, according to a number of key criteria, first of all, its freight-carrying capacity, the An-124 aircraft substantially surpasses it.

Undoubtedly, the following fact was the determining one: experts could be persuaded during the testing that the plane and the systems installed on it fully complied with the standards accepted in European countries, both from the point of view of military technical tactical requirements and the possibility of its use for civilian purposes. This also concerned the precision of navigation and compliance with noise levels and chemical characteristics.

Therefore, the European Union and NATO currently use the An-124- 100 Ruslan heavy transport planes with freight-carrying capacity of 120 t, in accordance with the contract signed in January 2006 between the NATO Maintenance and Support Agency (NAMSA) representing NATO interests and the Ruslan SALIS GmbH Company representing the interests of the Antonov design bureau and the Volga-Dnepr group of companies. The three-year contract, the value of which has not been announced, includes a provision on contract renewal. Experts estimate the value of the contract as approximately 600m dollars for six years.

The first two leased An-124-100 planes arrived at the Leipzig- Halle airport, Germany, on 23 March 2006. One of them belongs to Antonov Airlines as a subsidiary of the Antonov design bureau, while the other belongs to the Volga-Dnepr company. These are the biggest operators of Ruslan airplanes in the world and are equal parties in the programme. A ceremony took place in Leipzig exactly at that time, during which the start of use of Ruslan planes within the framework of the NATO's SALIS programme was formally announced.

In accordance with the aforementioned contract, two An-124-100 planes shall be based permanently at Leipzig airport, ready for departure within 72 hours for transporting cargo and personnel within the framework of NATO missions or European Union armed forces, which are parties to this contract. Another four aircraft are in reserve to be provided on demand. These planes can be based in Ukraine or in Russia. Two of them should be provided at the demand of western countries with a period of six days, while two others - within nine days.

In addition, an An-124 operations support centre (the first one in Europe) was established in the same city of Leipzig at the request of the customer.

Let us note that the dynamics of increasing volumes of transported cargo and expanding transport geography within the framework of the SALIS programme are being observed on a permanent basis. Thus, the Antonov Airlines airline increased cargo transport in the interests of NATO and EU by 15 per cent to 7,030 t in 2007 compared with 2006. Overall, the volume of cargo transported by Ukrainian heavy carriers in 2007 compared with 2006, saw a 12.9-per- cent increase to 28,100 t, and the number of flights saw a rise of 17.6 per cent.

As regards flight geography, let us provide you with just one particular example. Immediately after the signing of the contract, during the period of 23 March till 4 May 2006 alone, the Antonov Airlines airline carried out 14 flights within the framework of the SALIS programme. Flights during this period were carried out between France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Norway, Iceland, Afghanistan and Lithuania. Let us remind you that the number of NATO member stats that have joined the SALIS programme stands currently at 18 (the initial number of countries was 12).

Non-illusory prospects

Cooperation with NATO within the framework of the SALIS project can serve as an impetus for promotion of other joint aviation programmes in which Ukraine is interested. For example, the experience and the scheme according to which the operation of the An- 124 aircraft has been organized can be implemented using another Antonov project, the An-32P, in the interests of European countries. Thus, the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre was recently established. The centre is known to need aircraft to fulfill a number of tasks, and namely: transporting humanitarian cargo, evacuation of victims from disaster areas and fire extinguishing. The An-32P plane has already been certified, and it fully complies with all three Ukrainian requirements. A customer will have no problems related to aircraft ownership, supplying it with spare parts, training of crew members, positioning, etc. Actually, there is no need for this: the main aim is to carry out transportation from time to time. In other words, participating countries will own the necessary means on the one hand while, on the other hand, they will minimize their ownership-related expenses, as actually happens in the SALIS programme.

We can assert with confidence at the present time that European partners are satisfied with cooperation within the An-124 operation programme. On 28 May 2008, during the ILA 2008 international aviation show (Berlin, Germany), participants of the First European Transport Aviation Congress highly appreciated the efficient work of the Antonov Airlines and Volga-Dnepr air companies, which carried out transportation involving Ruslan planes within the framework of the SALIS (Strategic Airlift Interim Solution) programme. It was noted that no alternatives to this plane actually exist. These are not just standard protocol words.

It is no secret that the SALIS programme was adopted by European NATO member states as a necessary provisional measure until a European medium-range A400M transport plane from the Airbus Corporation appears on the market. However, a number of factors, and namely, the fruitful experience of the An-124's operation in the interests of European customers "on business principles" and tangible difference in the class of these planes (first of all, their freight-carrying capacity) enable us to draw the grounded conclusion that the planned appearance of the A400M on the market should not have an effect on demand for the Ruslan aircraft. One should not forget about the problems and numerous delays in the launching of serial production of the A400M either.

Interaction with European countries on the An-124 is presently the most significant programme for the Antonov design bureau within its global cooperation framework. It should be noted that the Ukrainian and Russian parties are working on the issues of renewing serial production of a modernized version of the An-124-100. In the course of certification tests, the plane's new modification An-124- 100M-150 with a load capacity of 150 t has proved its compliance with the P-RNAV Eurocontrol zone navigation requirements, along with those related to the precision requirements of the P-RNP-1 air navigation system. It should be noted that in August 2007 the Volga- Dnepr company, the Antonov design bureau and the Motor Sich OJSC (Zaporizhzhya, Ukraine) signed an agreement on the renewal of serial production and modernization of the operable fleet of An-124-100M- 150 planes.

Cooperation within the framework of the SALIS project only confirms the expediency of implementation of these plans in view of the permanently growing demand for the plane's services. The An-124 air transport sector is that niche of the market niche where both Ukraine and Russia do not actually have any competitors. The participants of the SALIS programme are satisfied with the leased An- 124-100 Ruslan planes, and on condition of the renewal of serial production of these aircraft, the signing of a contract with NATO for an indefinite period on cargo transportation cannot be ruled out.

Originally published by Defense-Express website, Kiev, in Russian 7 Jul 08.

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