September 30, 2014: Strategy Page
Another casualty of the Russian war on Ukraine is the Russian plan to build new An-124 air transports and refurbish some of the existing ones. The An-124 is the world's largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of 120 tons. It first flew in 1986 and only 55 have been built so far. New ones will cost over $100 million each. Russia has been trying to get it back into production for over a decade but needed to work out a deal with Ukraine, where the An-124 is built.
All this is driven by Russian efforts to replace their aging Cold War era weapons and military equipment. In 2012 the Russian Air Force announced ambitious plans to invigorate their aging force of air transports. This was to be accomplished by ordering 170 new aircraft by the end of the decade. These included 20 An-124s, 39 Il-476s, 11 An-140s, 30 L-410s, 50 Il-214s and 20 An-148s. Currently the air force depends on a lot of Cold War era transports (An-124s, An-22s, Il-76s and An-12, An-72, An-24 and An-26s). A lot of the older transports cannot be used because of age, or cannot be used much because of the high cost of maintenance. Some of the older aircraft (An-124s and Il-76s) were to be refurbished, but most of the remainder will be scrapped as they become too old to be used (too expensive to maintain or simply too unreliable).
By 2103 Russia and Ukraine had worked out a deal to build 20 new commercial An-124s but the contract has not been signed yet. Apparently a contract to build ten new An-124s for the Russian Air Force was closer to signing but that deal is now on hold as well. The Ukrainian manufacturer wants to build new aircraft as An-124-150s and upgrade some existing ones to that standard. That would reduce crew size from six to four and increase carrying capacity to 150 tons. The An-124 has been very successful as a commercial transport, especially for military purposes. Even NATO leases six An-124s for moving military cargo. Ukraine needs the work and Russia needs the An-124s but until the current conflict is resolved that will all have to wait