After several years of starting and stopping negotiations the Russian Air Force has decided to go ahead and buy 39 of the new Il-476 transports. While similar in appearance to the Il-76, the 476 is basically a new aircraft, with numerous new structural and electronic components as well as new engines. The Il-476 recently had its first test flights and is to enter service in two years. The Il-476 can carry up to 60 tons and is about 15 percent more fuel efficient. Its introduction of the Il-476 has been delayed several times. But now the government has invested a lot of money to get development completed and production underway. The Il-476 is seen as an excellent candidate for export sales.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the viability of existing Il-76s. All 110 Russian Il-76 have been grounded several times in the past few years because of problems. In one case the engine fell off an Il-76 while it was preparing to takeoff.
It was only five years ago that Russia rolled out an upgraded Il-76. New engines and electronics give the Il-76MD-90 eight percent better fuel efficiency and the ability to lift up to 60 tons of cargo. Further improvements, in development, will increase fuel efficiency another 14 percent. Russia is trying to make the Il-76/Il-476 a contender in the military air transport market and the new Il-476 is being showcased to make that happen.
The Il-76 is somewhat similar in capability to the U.S. C-17 but uses older technology, more similar to the recently retired U.S. C-141. The Russians have also been buying a stretched version of the Il-76 (the Il-76MF). This version first flew in 1995, and has become popular with users of earlier Il-76 models. The Il-76MF has better engines and can carry 50 tons of cargo over 4,000 kilometers. Another popular Il-76 is the tanker version (called the Il-78).
There are far more Il-76's in use than all of America's four engine jet transports (C-5, C-141, C-17) put together. Over 900 Il-76s were manufactured over the last thirty years, with nearly a hundred exported, so far, mainly to Cuba, Iraq, China, India, Libya, and Syria. With few foreign or domestic sales in the last decade, the Il-76 manufacturer (Chkalov) was surviving by manufacturing wings and other components for the An-124, An-70, and An-225 transports. In addition, it made replacement parts for the Il-76 and Il-114 aircraft.
The new models of the Il-76 indicate a substantial R&D investment and an effort to make the Il-76 a serious competitor (mainly on price, at about $60 million each) with the C-17 (which costs about four times as much and is able to carry up to 100 tons). What the C-17 is best at is carrying about half that weight, half way around the world, non-stop. The Il-76 has a hard time matching that. The C-17 is also easier to maintain and more reliable. But the fuel-efficient Il-476 that can be refueled in the air has a price that's tough to beat.