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03-04/2010 Fast search  

Air defense missile shield
Igor Ashurbeili

Director General of GSKB Almaz-Antei Igor R. Ashurbeili welcomed VIP-Premier journalists in the headquarters of the famous enterprise of the military-defense complex. The representative office building was erected in the end of the Lenin Avenue yet in Stalin times. Distinguished air defense missile designer, Hero of the Socialist Labor and Academician Alexander Raspletin used to work in the company. Today the design bureau dealing with air defense missile systems is named after him. Ashurbeili met journalists when his business hours were over. The headquarters have strict security. The interview was businesslike with little interruptions. There was a feeling the rule to save time has long been a must here.

Igor R. Ashurbeili has been Director General of the Head Systemic Design Bureau (GSKB) of the Raspletin air defense Almaz-Antei Corporation since 2000. He was born in 1963 in Baku and graduated from the Azerbaijani Oil and Chemistry Institute as an expert in computerized systems. He is a Candidate of Technical Sciences. He worked in the Pan-Soviet Gas Processing Research Institute and then switched to private business. From 1991 he was founder and director general of the International Bureau for Information and Telecommunications created jointly with Almaz design bureau. From 1994 he was deputy and from 1998 first deputy director general of Almaz, which is now called GKSB Almaz-Antei. Awarded the Order of Honor, orders of the Russian Orthodox Church, several medals and received the Russian Government Prize in the sphere of science and technology


– In one of your media interviews you called your enterprise an “Almaz nest” that brings up Russian falcons to ensure both air and missile, aerospace and geopolitical defense of the country. What did you mean?

– To answer the question I have to recall relatively recent developments. I am strongly convinced that in the second half of the XX century Almaz-designed systems helped both to solve the most important task of defending the country and at least thrice promoted peaceful resolution of acute geopolitical problems.

On May 1, 1960 S-75 interceptor missiles downed the U.S. Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet territory that was piloted by Powers. It signaled an end to genuine saturnalia that reigned in Soviet airspace. U.S. spy planes were free to do whatever the liked there, as they were flying at altitudes inaccessible for Russian interceptor aircraft. Only after our missiles were commissioned they helped stop the reconnaissance flights. And what if they continued? The development and upgrading of the domestic defense complex would be monitored by the potential adversary, while unpunished interventions of its flying spies would show that the sky over the Soviet Union is open and the country is incapable of cutting short other operations there as well.

We cannot but recall the Caribbean crisis that broke out in October 1962. At that time our S-75 missile that was deployed in Cuba in advance hit down yet another U.S. U-2 aircraft that was on a reconnaissance mission a day before a planned massive air raid. The downing of the spy forced Americans to cancel the air strike scheduled for next day. Otherwise we cannot rule out that the conflict could have developed into a nuclear war. Had it not been for our air defense systems the Americans would have bombed down most of Cuba and a retaliatory strike could follow.

The third time when our missiles played a decisive role in resolving a geopolitical problem was in Vietnam. The war there actually stopped after the number of downed American aircraft and helicopters exceeded from two to four thousand vehicles, according to various estimates. Such losses were unbearable for the United States and the war was stopped. The Vietnamese people won the victory also due to our S-75 and S-125 interceptor missiles. By the way, we still employ people who directly participated in those hostilities.

I cited three examples when our missiles have determined key developments related to geopolitics. The role was reflected in the anthem of our enterprise. The lyrics of Almaz anthem narrate the victory of S-300 missile without combat engagement. The S-300 system did not participate in combat operations, however its presence in potential conflict zones restrained air aggression.


– It is common knowledge the S-300 air defense missile system has been specifically popular among foreign buyers of Russian arms for a long time…

– The S-300 was disclosed to the world yet in 1991. Its mass production for export began at the time. Dozens of S-300 battalions have been sold abroad, mostly to China. The demand for it is enormous. The Vietnamese army is also armed with it. I shall not list all the countries, but would say the air defense of 38 states is armed with Almaz-designed systems.

– Do Almaz-designed systems differ by generations?

– Yes. There are principle differences between our air defense systems. S-300 belongs to the fourth generation. S-400 is the fourth generation plus new characteristics, while S-500, which we are actively designing at present, belongs to the fifth generation. I want to note that supplies of S-300 to the Russian troops have ceased since 1995. The Russian armed forces have been buying S-400s since 2007, which are not being exported so far. We have to first arm our own forces with them. The service life of S-300s will mostly be over by 2015 and they will have to be utilized after that (deliveries began at the threshold of the 1970-80s).

– Media sometimes say Russian armed forces have outdated equipment compared to the hardware we sell abroad. Do the statements concern you as well?

– Yes, they do. For 15 years beginning from 1994 we were selling new, i.e. modernized S-300 to foreign customers. The Russian troops were armed with S-300 produced before 1995, which resulted in a major gap. Their service life comprises 25 years. Now we began to supply S-400 at long last.

– What were the reasons?

– Financial capabilities of the Russian Defense ministry. In the 1990s they were very limited, as you know. The situation later improved. However by that time we have already designed S-400 and there was no sense in continued S-300 production. Today we produce S-400, which is a new system in principle. Two battalions are already on combat duty. In the coming months a third one has to be delivered followed by the fourth and so on.

There are no air defense systems in the world better than S-400. The Russian Defense ministry admitted that several types of domestic armaments are inferior to foreign analogues, but that has nothing to do with air defense missiles, as they surpass all foreign systems today.

– Almaz mostly designs surface-to-air missiles.

– Surface-to-air and higher. Our systems are designed both for air and aerospace defense. However the issue is confidential and I would not dwell in detail on it. I would only say that our missiles can reach maximum possible altitudes allowed by interstate agreements.

I have to say the following: today the domestic military-industrial complex operates according to the plan up to 2015. At present a plan up to 2020 is being prepared. Judging by the draft, specific attention is paid to the development and upgrading of air, missile, and aerospace defenses.


– Did the economic crisis affect Almaz operations?

– The crisis did not affect us because the Russian government and the Defense ministry clearly understand the necessity to re-arm the national air defense with S-400s. A big portfolio of orders also helped. Besides, we are engaged in R&D for S-500, small and medium-range missiles.

Yet another important circumstance is very helpful. If previously payments were deferred for a year and treasury bonds replaced real money, which triggered numerous problems, now their number has considerably decreased.

– In his annual message to parliament President Dmitry Medvedev set a major task of re-arming the troops with new armaments and hardware. Which targets and tasks do you set before Almaz-Antei in this connection? The head of state was evidently referring to S-400 and S-500.

– Not only, as there are other systems as well. We do not ignore any prospect. Even S-400 is a past day for us. We have designed it and produced all the necessary documentation. Now we help enterprises to master S-400 production while we march ahead ourselves. We deal with S-500 and other projects, including the design of weapons based on new physical principles.


– Some time ago it was announced that several air defense enterprises would merge. Has it happened already?

– Not yet. There were five meetings of shareholders who decided to unite five enterprises. Today we have Almaz-Antei Corporation, but it also includes the Head Systemic Design Bureau Almaz-Antei. Four enterprises that design air defense arms for the navy, ground forces, missile defense, and automatic control systems will join our bureau as the head air defense designer. A single entity is being created, a powerful think tank of several thousand people. It will be based on the enterprise which you are currently visiting – the Raspletin Head Systemic Design Bureau Almaz-Antei. The process was launched on February 2 and legal procedures will take some three months. After that the unification can be considered completed.

– Such concentrated capabilities will likely save money and resolve more complicated tasks. Is there a synergy effect?

– In late 1940s – early ‘50s only one facility created by Stalin was engaged in guided missiles design. It was Design Bureau-1. It was later called Almaz and named after Academician Raspletin. That is why I say “Almaz nest”. Many nestlings flew out from here. As soon as the workforce exceeded 12 thousand people a subsidiary would break off. Thus, Kometa, Fakel, Astofisica, Vympel, NIIRP and many others companies emerged.

When the country was developing it could throw stones around. Now it is time to gather stones due to new possibilities, economic realities and budget. Today we concentrate all tasks under the auspices of the head enterprise. After the four enterprises join GKSB the total workforce will comprise five thousand people. Equipment production has to be unified. Earlier each company created air defense units for its own type of the armed forces – for the navy, the ground forces, etc. Even screw nuts had different diameter. Today the country can no longer afford it.

There are other reasons as well. The national leadership has set us a task to design aerospace defense. You know that a new Russian military doctrine has been approved and declares the necessity of aerospace defense. Therefore, we have to produce a unified system suitable for all types and arms of troops.

Thus, intellectual, hum­­­an resources and financial centralization, as well as production unification are the reasons to pool efforts. Moscow has five design bureaus operating on five sites with five accountants and five security services, which is clearly too wasteful. What we are doing is a unique unification procedure which nobody in Russia has ever done. It is envisaged by the law, but nobody has ever implemented it. We are the pioneers. Everybody is watching us very attentively. The process causes a storm of emotions. It is only natural that the workforce of merging enterprises fears something horrible. However, we weigh everything very thoroughly and plan every step so that people and the business are not harmed. We shall do everything possible to promote higher production efficiency and better living and working conditions for the staff.


– Today the Russian leadership placed large-scale modernization high on the national political agenda. It concerns both production and public life. Judging by the developing dynamic of your enterprise it is nothing new for you, is it?

– Routine upgrading process has been going on since we recovered from the crisis of the 1990s. Since then modernization, re-equipment, technical upgrading have become an ordinary business. In the crisis period of 1992-1998 numerous problems emerged, there were huge debts, a three-day working week was introduced, people quit the company and professionals looked for other jobs. In 1998 we recovered from the crisis and today we progress by upgrading the technology and production, introducing computerized and automated processes, installing new equipment, creating new intellectual property, and rejuvenating human resources

– You enjoy major experience in modernizing and upgrading air defense missile armaments. What do you believe are the prospects for the mission in the framework of the whole military-industrial complex?

– We can say Almaz is a well-off island in the turbulent sea of the military-industrial complex in general. I would not like to criticize my colleagues from other enterprises, but I am pessimistic to a certain extent. Critical situations often emerge when you have to save unique technologies the loss of which can trigger major production problems that have to be resolved immediately.

For example, we succeeded to save pyroceram production. A certain U.S. company bought the only Russian enterprise that produced it. No wonder it was interested in the enterprise as a commercial realty object. However pyroceram is specific glass, to put it roughly. If you do not have it, you can make no proper antenna and no S-400 missile system. At the last moment we succeeded to hire seven experts, took over the equipment, build and start up a furnace. We have numerous similar examples. Unfortunately, we have to overcome difficulties all by ourselves. Nobody would help us in resolving that or another issue. We resolve problems with hardware components ourselves as well. In the past ten years we did not receive a single kopeck from the state for technical re-equipment, hardware component development, and the creation of new technologies.


– Human resources pose an acute problem for many industries. In early 1990s people quit once prestigious design bureaus to become managers and even the so-called “shuttle traders”. Did it affect you as well?

– Yes, it was very painstaking for us. The whole 30-year old generation quit in the 1990s. Only “grandfathers” remained, and now “grandchildren” have come. But the generation of “sons” is missing. That generation is absent among our designers. Many of them work for foreign companies operating in Russia: Nokia, Samsung, etc. and others went to work abroad. That is a major problem.

We launched a program to rejuvenate human resource and we achieved major results in the past year. Today we have two young design bureaus. One employs people close to 26 years of age, while the average age in the other is 32 years. The average age in the whole enterprise is 47 years. It is a good indicator for the present-day military-industrial complex.

During the crisis year of 2009 we hired 380 young specialists. I believe today we have good bench strength, as over 40 percent of employees are under 40 years of age and are mostly graduates from MIREA, MFTI, MAI. They have been trained at a good level, which the higher educational establishments provide. We hire four and five-year students and pay them scholarships.

Today we face two tasks: to engage young people and preserve “grandfathers” so that they share experience with youngsters who will replace them. We keep unique specialists as long as we can, up to 80 years of age and more. Let them be healthy.

– You said “engage the young”. Do you have a special social policy to encourage them?

– We have a good outpatient clinic. Free medical care is provided not only to the personnel, but also to pensioners who no longer work at the enterprise. The trade union is active and the administration is paying much attention to welfare. We arrange excursions on days-off and pay for fitness courses of the young. The staff of the enterprise and their children rest in sanatoria and health improvement centers with a 50 percent discount.

We pay bonuses for mentorship, post-graduate studies, academic degrees, and the service record. We do a lot of welfare work. In Moscow we occupied one of the leading places among socially-oriented enterprises.

– Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said average wages in the capital upped to 30 thousand rubles a month.

– We have 41 thousand rubles. In 2008 we were the third in the industry by the level of wages. The average wage increases 20-25 percent a year. We work to surpass inflation.

– Do you index wages?

– I do not call it indexation. We simply introduce new wage limits every year. We have been doing it for the past ten years. This year company budget stipulates an average wage of 45-46 thousand rubles.

– Administration of major enterprises, such as Gazprom, is closely cooperating with the trade union. They conclude general agreements…

– We sign collective labor contract. Last time we did it in 2009. There are a lot of positive things in it. For example, welfare appropriations for employees have upped 2.2 percent since 2009 to 5.3 percent of the payroll.

– It shows you are cooperating with trade unions.

– If the enterprise is operating properly the trade union is also well off as it receives a percent of the payroll. Practically all our employees are members of the trade union which finances trips to sanatoria and rest homes as well as medical treatment. The administration has its own welfare program.

– Do you fear your products can remain without any demand?

– After I read the new military doctrine I believe we have good prospects. Our products will be in demand. Naturally, as a human being I would prefer to stop arms production on Earth, but we are living in a complicated world with numerous dangers and threats and should not allow anyone take us aback. The 65th VE-Day anniversary marked by the whole people this year reminds us of that. We are developing defensive arms, protecting our borders and our country, and creating a reliable air defense shield.

Interviewed by Yevgeny KOSOV, Valentin ALEXANDROV

Moscow, Petrovka str. 26 bld.2