Yuri Beliy, Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design - ОАО "НИИП им. В.В.Тихомирова"
Release Date: 2010-12-09Yuri Bely, General Director of Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design, has been interviewed by Russianavia.net to discuss the history of the company in the difficult post-communist era, its contribution in development of radar technologies for jet fighters, and its unique position on the Russian defense market as a developer of both radars to combat on-ground targets and air defense systems.
Mr. Bely, thank you very much for receiving us today. After a long military career, you became the head of Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design (NIIP) in 1998. As most companies in the Russian military industry, NIIP went through a very challenging time in the 1990ies. What were the main challenges?
The condition of our company at that time was far from being perfect, meaning delayed salaries and current debts to our providers. But the worst of all was the brain drain. Luckily for us, we managed to keep the very core of our think tank, major professionals who actually determine the design level. This is how we ensured the scientific potential of our research institute and our further development.
What were the first actions that you took?
We took the risk of developing a new radar. I say risk because we had neither a customer for it nor sufficient financing. Fortunately, we managed to get an investor and stakeholders to have the least backup to start the work. As soon as we did so, we were able to attract young specialist. Alongside with that, the Russian defense sector started a Su-30MKI project for India where NIIP acted as the head developer of BARS radar system. These two main projects were running in parallel and boosted our development so that in as few as 6 months’ time we managed to pay out all the salary debts and allocate some funds for overhaul of our facilities and equipment. The production kept growing and we were receiving new export orders because our customers made sure our developments were competitive enough.
As you have said in other interviews, the future is impossible without the past. What is the history of Fazotron, the holding that NIIP was part of?
Fazotron is a research and production unity that used to incorporate state companies such as the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Radio Engineering, Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design (NIIP) and Ryazan Instrument Plant – our mass production facility for aviation. For a few reasons, including various attempts of takeovers, this structure fell apart 18 years ago. Today, NIIP is part of Concern PVO "Almaz-Antey" (Air Defense Concern “Almaz-Antey”, with a 51% stake) and Russian Technologies State Corporation (with a 49% stake). As for other former members of Fazotron, Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Radio Engineering is now called Fazotron-NIIR although, both in legal and actual terms, it is the successor of Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Radio Engineering only and not the entire Fazotron.
However, it would be unfair not to mention good things about Fazotron. In early 1970ies, NIIR was working at a radar system for MiG-29 and NIIP was working at a similar radar system for Su-27. It was then that the former director of NIIP, Mr. Grishin, took charge of Fazotron and decided to unify the two systems. As a result, all devices for the two jets were 80% unified except for their mathematics due to different aircraft focus and developers. What’s important is that we managed to exchange know-how and people, and have got additional incentives.
At the same time, NIIP was fully responsible for development of fire control application for MiG-31 where a phased antenna array pioneered both in the USSR and in the world. Such fire control systems (for SU-27 and MiG-31) were fundamental for further development of radar systems for Su-30MKI, Su-35 and other jets.
One of the key achievements of Tikhomirov NIIP is development of BARS radar system for Su-30MKI. According to Flight magazine, Su-30MKI jets were acknowledged more efficient than F15. How does that relate to the implementation of BARS?
Firstly, frankly speaking, BARS was developed later than its analog for F15. But, most importantly, NIIP has unique experience (over 40 years) in development of phased antenna arrays as compared to any other Russian or foreign developer. Basing on this experience, we were creating the phased antenna array radar for Su-30MKI that got very high appraisals by experts worldwide. It provides electronic scanning that is distinguished for its longer range, more targets, better precision and capacity to combine on-ground target attacks with wide visual surveying of the surrounding airspace while mechanical scanning radars envisage lock-on for one target only. Moreover, Su-30MKI was the first jet fighter in the world practice to combine electronic scanning and mechanical scanning which significantly improves its fighting characteristics.
Nevertheless, according to assumptions made last year, BARS needs technological improvements, namely, for the number of the fought targets. What are your plans in this regard?
We’re negotiating modernization of the jets with our Indian partners in the frame of the license that India bought for production of 140 jets. It is natural that at the mass production stage it would be unreasonable to have just one technical side. Obviously, at some point it becomes necessary to manufacture better products and modernize the older ones. We expect to sign this agreement for modernization very soon.
Developments by NIIP have made a few important technological breakthroughs. What new technologies, in your opinion, will be the next to revolutionize the radar systems? What prospects do you see for NIIP in development of radar systems with active phased antenna arrays?
First of all, radar technologies with active phased antenna arrays - the most advanced and promising on-board radar systems - are applied worldwide, with our U.S. colleagues the first to implement them. In the future, these systems will be improved to create the so-called “intellectual covering” – an antenna aperture with an all-around visual survey.
Secondly, we will improve the efficiency of the computing aids and, respectively, implement more efficient radar systems and processing in order to increase the range, jamming resistance and other features.
One of the most sophisticated factors for scientific research institutes in Russia over the last 20 years was brain drain. It seems evident that NIIP also had to face the challenge of attracting young people as the military industry has lost some of its glow that it used to have in the Soviet times. How did you manage to solve that?
Firstly, many people who had left during harder times are coming back. They are aging, of course, but their knowledge and experience are invaluable. To attract younger people, we have developed a special program five years ago: we hire students of the 3rd year of University for part-time jobs to work with us till they graduate, present their graduation paper and come to us for a full-time job with the necessary basic training. From the student’s viewpoint, it’s an opportunity to understand whether this industry interests him or her. The graduates that manage to prove their excellence get special incentives such as an interest-free 10 year loan to buy housing. If we sum up the years that I mentioned, it’s a 15 year span starting with their 3rd year of University till the loan is repaid. As such conditions are provided to the best only, today we are constructing our own hotel for young people from the other regions at the expense of our profit. Our shareholders support this initiative. As a result, 25% of our staff is currently under 30 years old. We also have a free post-graduation course for people wishing to get a PhD degree, grants by Air Defense Concern “Almaz-Antey”, presidential grants and young specialist competitions.
So, is it true to say that you have managed to attract the best Russian specialists in this area?
We indeed have a lot of talented young people who today are the leading experts with the corresponding compensations. Moreover, our program for young people has been acknowledged one of the best in the sector and in Moscow however it is does not solve all the issues and, unless the government provides a state support program, especially for residential construction, a lot of defense enterprises might get in a disastrous condition.
The history of NIIP is also the history of cooperation between the producers and developers…
Our two main mass production facilities are Ryazan Instrument Plant for aviation (part of Russian Technologies), and Ulyanovsk Mechanical Plant for air defense (part of Air Defense Concern “Almaz-Antey”). Thanks to the understanding between NIIP as the developer with the plants as the manufacturers, we have managed to balance our interests. The plants are aware that a developer ensures their future and we realize that we won’t have funds for new developments without mass production. Our royalties from the manufacturers are invested in modernization and new developments. Moreover, we also attract Ryazan Instrument Plant as a co-developer because they have a very strong scientific center.
R&D is your main product. Among the key features of the changes that took place in the 1960ies was implementation of computer technologies in radar systems along with cooperation with foreign developers. What is the current condition of NIIP’s scientific developments and what are the prospects of future partnerships?
R&D accounts for the main share in our work – both for the Ministry of Defense of Russia and for other customers. Besides, we invest our own assets in creating a scientific backlog in order to keep up with our competitors. As for joint developments, this is a legal issue: joint research is not backed by the legislation. It requires intellectual property agreements and technology transfer. Nevertheless, we are in pre-contract talks with a few foreign companies. Therefore, cooperation with foreign customers comes down mainly to documents preparation and product delivery or sale and purchase of finished systems.
These legal issues, related to the military component of developments, are common for most of the companies in the industry. However, NIIP is now making a diversification towards civil developments. Is this a matter of market situation or is this a high-potential direction for the company?
This is not our innovation. The largest companies worldwide diversify their business 50/50 between civil and military to have more stability on the market: very often, the military component is heavily dependent on politics. Of course, we did not start producing “saucepans instead of tanks”, as Gorbachev was offering, that would have been too drastic, but we did implement our current technological backlog in military developments - for instance, in fire control applications for aircraft and air defense systems. Thus, one of our first civil developments was control and diagnosis systems for metro trains and railway trains that have been applied for a few years now not only in Moscow but also in Sofia.
The second direction in civil developments is hydro location systems where we successfully apply our experience in signal processing in radar systems. Our sideview hydro radars, profile recorders and other hydroacoustic equipment are today demanded both in Russia and worldwide.
What is the ratio of the income coming from the military and civil developments?
Currently, the civil part gives about 15% of our profit, with an 11-12% share of the total production volume.
What else would you like to mention for the readers of www.Russianavia.net?
I would like to point out that NIIP is a unique company in the Russian defense sector as it combines development of fire control applications for MiG-31, Su-27, Su-33, Su-30, Su-35, and Т-50 – for shooting on-ground targets - and development of mid-range air defense systems (Kub, Kvadrat, Buk series) for protection of on-ground targets. This provides us a 360º view of our tasks and high quality solutions for both sides.
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