Sergey Mikheev, Kamov JSC - ОАО «КАМОВ»
Release Date: 2009-04-17Before we start discussing the helicopter market, we would like to know more about the role of General Designer in a company like Kamov since the initial management model in Russia differed greatly from the western one…
The system in the Soviet Union actually differed from the rest of the world – in USA, for example, such position was called Chief Engineer. As a matter of fact, after World War II, Stalin introduced a new position in aviation, that of General Designer, who was in charge of all designs and constructions and to which everyone else was strictly subordinated, whereas the Prototype Production Director was responsible for the organization work. That meant that the position of General Designer was higher. At that time the economy was completely state-run and the main task of the General Designer was to gain the world leadership in creating new aircraft. This task was performed brilliantly. If we view this historically, the aircraft that we had by the end of World War II were not new because the entire industry was focused on providing for the front and that withheld prospective projects, unlike the USA where a lot of new developments for different applications appeared at that time.
In 1952, when the Korean War broke out, the aviation participated with the Mig-15 fighter that was recognized as the best fighter at the time. Just imagine - fully military-oriented economy and plants – and a brand new generation of aircraft appeared seven years after the World War II. This was the result of the efforts of the Soviet people in creating a new industry, the progress of science and the creativity of the designers. And here the role of the General Designer was crucially important. By the way, they were, and are, to a large extent, charismatic personalities and legendary people.
How has the situation changed since then?
Among other things, what has changed is also the social structure. The Russian economy and the Russian enterprises are becoming similar to western-type enterprises. Today, the Director is in charge of the general management and the General Designer is responsible for the technical policy. It is important that this duo plays the same tune because economy and technology are two aspects of the same process.
From your perspective, and given your long relationship with the company, do you believe that the current situation is giving better results for Kamov and the helicopter industry in Russia?
We have survived a complete breakdown of the industry management in the 90s, and today I can confidently say that this is behind us now, and the new structure that we are developing is bringing satisfactory results.
One of the decisions made regarding the consolidation of the Russian helicopter industry, has been to regroup two companies - Mil and Kamov - under a new structure, the ‘Russian Helicopters’ holding. What are the advantages and disadvantages of this process?
‘Russian Helicopters’ is a very young structure, in contrast to creative teams of both design bureaus which are 60 years old. It features fluctuations in terms of the directions of its development; however it already becomes obvious that the joint activity of the two design bureaus and production plants is by all means a positive phenomenon that corresponds to the current processes in the world aviation.
There are three fundamental processes that guarantee the success: firstly, to work out the current situation; secondly, to provide rational and well-planned progress during the transition period based on our capabilities, and, thirdly, to have a clear picture of future trends.
If we start with the future trends, the main task for the whole helicopter industry is to replace completely the helicopter fleet created during the Soviet times. The task that the Russian helicopter designers and manufacturers are facing is to produce new helicopters having fight performance competitive to western rotorcraft. This is our market and we’re not going to give any piece of our cake to foreign companies. I would like to emphasize that we will fight for our market. Such fight is typical for all western manufacturers. For example, when we were introducing Kamov Ka-32 helicopter in Canada, everyone kept asking the same question: doesn’t Canada have its own helicopters? As of now, Ka-32s that have been operating in Canada for over 10 years, have flown over 50,000 hours and perform certain tasks better than the others. We accept the work on such conditions including inside our country.
In spite of all the evident difficulties, the helicopter industry companies keep close contact between each others and my statement won’t come as a surprise: integration allows using synergy effect both in terms of production, setting up competence centres, providing complete technical re-equipment, and distributing the model range among design bureaus using all the scientific and technical developments. There should be no competition and the strategy should be absolutely agreed and supported by all parties.
Do the Mil and Kamov brands risk to lose their brand identity after their merge?
Yes, today they do. I think that everybody who knows the market economy understands that the image that Mil and Kamov have formed over 60 years is very important. It is something that creates brand awareness based on the successful design solutions that are already established on the market. The world knows that Russian helicopters - represented by Mil and Kamov - are famous for their simplicity, reliability and capability to operate in harsh conditions. For example, today Mil-17 and Mil-8 helicopters are preferred for the operation in Afghanistan. For those working in such conditions no advertisement is required. Moreover we are well aware of our drawbacks and I am sure that we shall manage to eliminate them by way of sane evaluation of the market situation.
Some specialists argue that the power of engines of Russian helicopters is weak and the after-sale service is not developed. How can this be improved?
The engine industry is a separate subject for discussion.
The insufficiently developed system of logistic support is another problem that we know quite well. To my mind, the standards accepted today in the world should be taken as a matter of fact. There is nothing to invent here.
All the greatest technical breakthroughs were made in Soviet times. What does it take in present times to make an innovative breakthrough? Is state funding of paramount importance?
Breakthroughs require state support and allocation of assets for advanced developments. State support is something that is required for aviation or rocket industry in any country. What is impressive is the role that aviation was playing in the Soviet Union. There are legendary stories about the attention attributed to the aviation development. What we are now proud of was laid down in the 70s and 80s.
Now, it is hard to expect that private capital would make high-risk investments which will bring returns on investments 20 or 30 years later. But if the state sets a social task of developing the country, drastic capital investments are particularly required for the helicopter industry.
I give you an example: the USSR made energetic efforts in developing oil and gas fields in Siberia and Northern regions that are crucial for the economy today. It was a mission set by the state which required massive usage of helicopters - 80% of the fleet was poured in for the development of oil and gas regions. And it turned out that being designed mainly for military purposes they became a good tool of civil economy sector.
Apart from financial support, human capital should play a great role… How difficult is it to bring the young generation to work in the industry?
Unfortunately, today the salary of an engineer is lower than that of a bank officer. One of our most important tasks is to bring back the prestige of the work of engineers. Social importance of engineering today is as important as it was when we were starting industrialization back in the 30s. Of course, we want engineers to gain according to their contribution to the progressive society development. The world is literally rotating faster producing colossal changes - you can see how fast new inventions and developments appear. And these changes require well-trained professionals.
For me, “engineer” is the most important title. This is a lifestyle that implies a certain psychology and attitude in life. Young people should realize that.
In what shape would you like to see Kamov in future?
Firstly, I would like to see the strengthening of our partnership. I want Kamov team to pursue non-standard way of thinking, to assume challenges fearlessly and to be capable of achieving the set objectives.
I want that working at Kamov means prestige.
I personally do not wish another destiny as to design 2 or 3 more helicopter models. Whether I succeed in doing this is in the hands of God.
Mr. Mikheev, thank you for having talked to us!
|Company:||Kamov JSC - ОАО «КАМОВ»|