Naval Air: Russia Plays Catch Up

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June 13, 2013: A year after receiving its first upgraded Il-38N maritime reconnaissance aircraft, the Russian navy recently ordered more of its remaining IL-38s to be upgraded to the IL-38N standard. The Russian Navy only has about 18 IL-38s operational. These four engine aircraft are roughly equivalent to the American P-3s but have not had their sensors and communications equipment updated since the Cold War. Only 59 were built between 1967 and 1972. This upgrade has already been installed on five Indian IL-38s a decade ago, but it took until 2010 to get the upgrade working reliably. Getting the upgrade for more Russian aircraft was mainly a matter of finishing development and then getting the money. The Il-38N upgrade was first proposed in the 1980s, but the end of the Cold War and a shortage of money delayed work for decades.

There have been several more upgrades since the Il-38N was first proposed to India in 2001. These were major upgrades of an aircraft that had been in service since the 1960s. The latest upgrades enable the aircraft to detect ships within 320 kilometers. There is also a new thermal (heat) sensor, more powerful computers, and increased capability in all sensors.

Existing Il-38Ns can detect surface vessels and aircraft and submarines up to 150 kilometers away. Sensors carried include a synthetic aperture/inverse synthetic aperture radar (for night and fog operations), high-resolution FLIR (forward-looking infrared), LLTV (low light television) camera, ESM (electronic support measures) system, and a MAD (magnetic anomaly detector). The aircraft can carry anti-ship missiles in addition to torpedoes, bombs, depth charges, and electronic decoys.

The Il-38N is a 63 ton, four engine turboprop aircraft with a crew of ten, endurance of about ten hours, and it can carry nine tons of weapons. The 63 ton American P-3 has very similar characteristics. Russia built 176 Il-38s while the U.S. built over 600 P-3s. The Indians are replacing their Il-38s with the new American P-8, a twin engine jet based on the American B-737 transport. The P-8s are replacing all the American P-3s as well.

 

 


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