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Thread: Il-76 vs Il-96 for Awacs? why cargo transports instead of an airliner?

  1. #1
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    Il-76 vs Il-96 for Awacs? why cargo transports instead of an airliner?

    ive been wondering, why did the Soviets/Russians went with the Il-76 as the airframe for their AWACS rather than an airliner, like the Il-86/96 etc? (same applies for its customers like China and India)

    US designs tended to use airliners i.e. 707, 767, 737 (balance beam)

    Or conversely we could ask.. why not C-17 for awacs over 767 and 737s?

  2. #2
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    Soviet picked IL-76 as it's already in production and already build up good service records and reliability. That always a plus side.

    Chinese however specifically want Il-76 based platform for their aborted A-50I program.

    US pretty much the same requirements, already produced design, with good serviceability and availability.

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    When the U.S. AWACS was originated in the late 60s, an airliner was the logical...or only...choice. The Lockheed C-141 was out of production and obviously the C-5 was too big and expensive.

    Likewise the C-17 is a fairly expensive aircraft with capabilities (STOL /loading features) an AWACS just doesn't need.
    Besides, as previously pointed out, using an airliner makes major servicing much easier not to mention training and simulators, or as NATO did, use a ex-airliner as an inexpensive/unequipped "bounce bird".
    There are two sides to every story. The truth is usually somewhere between the two.

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    A-100 also has wingtip pods and larger antenna for the platform size.



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    ok so why not the il-86 if airliners are cheaper and easier to support.
    it was certainly available when the Soviets made the A-50

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    Perhaps the simple question is, what is Soviet/Russian airliner with the space and capacity of IL-76 that are more reliable or have population in service..?

    Soviet/Russian wide body airliner that potentially can match IL-76was and still is not reliable as Western airliner. Russian airliner that begin to match Western reliability is Sukhoi Superjet..and it's too small.

    Perhaps they will change the thinking when they see their new generation Airliner performance latter on (MS-21 or the C929 JV with Chinese COMAC). Until then, IL-76 family is their only choice..
    Last edited by ananda; 5th January 2018 at 08:35.

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    One advantage was that Il-76 could operate from more airfields than Soviet airliners.
    History and Military Technology blog

    alejandro-8en.blogspot.com

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    I agree with others that having the type already in service would be a major plus in terms of, spares, support etc, for what was going to be a small fleet.

    I also recall that the US did not want a T-tail as the radar dish would wash out the horizontal stab at higher angles of attack. Obviously others have made it work, but stil seems better to have a lower stab.

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    And the Russians did use a military aircraft before to be converted into an AWACS, the Tu-126 Moss. As did the USA who had experience with conversion of an airliner with the EC-121 Warning Star (Super constellation)

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    C-17 costs much more than a B737 or B767.

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    One advantage was that Il-76 could operate from more airfields than Soviet airliners.
    The only airfields that and A-50 (or E-3) AWACS aircraft can operate from are those airfields which are equipped to handle such an aircraft. Mostly big airfields, with long smooth runways.

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    Most of the points have been made on the forum before (don't look at me!), but let's summarize them once more in one spot.

    What you want from a good AWACS platform is:

    1) sufficient payload to carry the radar hardware
    2) sufficient cabin real estate to house the operators
    3) sufficient electrical generating capacity to power the electronics
    4) the highest possible service ceiling
    5) the longest possible endurance

    Some of these are conflicting to various degrees, such as cabin size (which causes drag) and endurance. 1) to 3) require a certain minimum aircraft size - how big depends on electronics technology level - so something like the U-2 (excellent ceiling and endurance!) is out altogether or requires you to accept a heavy radar performance penalty. Nowadays anything the size of a 737 upwards probably satisfies the first three points without compromising anymore - so for the aircraft mentioned so far it becomes a question of endurance and ceiling really. Ceiling (especially once fitted with a radome) is also too close to matter among these platforms, leaving endurance.

    For the USSR in the early 1980s (choosing the platform for what would become the A-50) the Il-76 is the airframe of choice based on that logic (the rough field capability does no harm, but I doubt it was actually a major consideration). Regarding potential alternatives, I can do no better than to quote what I wrote previously on that subject:

    "What else was there, back then? The Tu-114 was ideally suited on paper, but experience with the Tu-126 had just shown that radar interference from the huge counter-rotating props was prohibitive (which incidentally means the An-22 and Tu-95/142 are out too). The Tu-154M? Too short legged especially if saddled with bulky Soviet radar electronics. The Il-62M meanwhile was too small and starting to fade into obsolescence by then, same with the M-4 which wasn't even in production anymore.

    So what about the Il-86? Apart from the Il-76 the only serious contender and certainly large enough to carry a powerful radar system. However its range was actually a bit *shorter* than that of the Il-76 (from Wiki and the Ilyushin site: ~3360km vs. 3800km at max payload, 8200km vs. 8700km ferry)! With that major drawback in mind, its minor advantages in other respects could not outweigh the benefit of commonality with the Il-76 transport fleet. It must have nevertheless been a pretty close-run thing between the two, a number of Il-86s were selected for the similar airborne command post role along with Il-76s (crew comfort for the higher-ranking occupants may have been the decisive point)."

    So, I feel the Soviets made a prudent choice back then. India went on to adopt it out of a mixture of budget constraints and lack of alternatives - as US equipment was still out of reach at the time, IAI were pretty much the only available radar vendors and the Il-76 was the only large airframe with structural integration already done. That the IAF already operated transports and tankers based on the same aircraft helped, of course. China was even more constrained in their choices, unlike India they could not get another platform of comparable size for any money in the world (the same points about commonality apply as well) - they were even denied IAI as a radar supplier and had to go it alone.

    As for the recent selection of the platform for the next generation Russian A-100 AWACS however, not going for the Il-96 was almost criminally stupid in my opinion. Before the Il-76 final assembly line was moved to Russia from Uzbekistan at great cost, the Il-96 was already entirely indigenous and it absolutely wipes the floor with even the PS-90-engined Il-76 upgrades (we are talking a difference in the 30 to 40% ball park!) in terms of endurance. Same with not using it for refueling - operating costs should be considerably lower too thanks to the commercial heritage and mechanically simpler airframe.

    The only thing the Il-76 has going for it today is that it will form the mainstay of the Russian airlifter fleet for some time to come (commonality), but that's pretty much a fall out from the failure to adequately fund An-70 development and thus introduce it into service before the political split with Ukraine. Even then, the Il-96 would at least have engine commonality with the transport fleet - considering the vast gulf in performance between the two, having two airframe platforms rather than one would be a small price to pay. It would also keep the Il-96 line alive without attempting to resurrect the hopelessly outdated passenger model which is doomed to abject commercial failure in the era of 787s and A350s.
    Last edited by Trident; 5th January 2018 at 22:44.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by Levsha View Post
    The only airfields that and A-50 (or E-3) AWACS aircraft can operate from are those airfields which are equipped to handle such an aircraft. Mostly big airfields, with long smooth runways.
    Big AESA radar with various pods/electronics in wing, nose and tail make aircraft even more heavier and hence airlifter is needed for shorter runway. now headphone and confortable ergonomic chair is advanced enough that no need for civil airlines . AWACS also not have windows which is more common with transport . Off course too wide transport like C17/Y20 not suitable.

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    The Il-62M meanwhile was too small and starting to fade into obsolescence by then, same with the M-4 which wasn't even in production anymore.
    The Il-62M is bigger than the Boeing 707(E-3) surely - it's certainly more powerful? Also the Il-62 has a tremendous range, a lot better than the Il-76, and it was also still in production till the 1990s.
    But no doubt the Soviet military made the right choice.

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    Il-62M range is not that much better than the Il-76 for the purposes of an AWACS, because adding the heavy radar equipment (~20t on the A-50) brings it almost to the limits of its payload capacity. You then end up with about 8100km:

    http://www.ilyushin.org/images/air/1/IL-62m/002.jpg

    For the Il-76 you get about 7400km:

    http://www.ilyushin.org/images/air/2...L-76md/002.jpg

    That's not entirely insignificant, but neglects that with the Il-62M's centre of gravity issues it might not be possible to integrate such heavy equipment in a way that meets the requirements of the radar (radome location).

    For completeness' sake, here are the diagrams for the re-engined Il-76TD (the best case scenario - the military variants are actually slightly shorter-ranged due to heavier empty weight):

    http://www.ilyushin.org/images/air/2...d-90vd/002.jpg

    ... and the Il-96-400T (a bit of a non-optimum case, because for an AWACS version empty weight could be cut somewhat by using the shorter Il-96-300 fuselage, while keeping the 270t MTOW):

    http://www.ilyushin.org/images/air/2...6-400t/002.jpg

    It's obvious that the performance advantage is impressive to say the least - almost 13000km versus 8700km!

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    A-100 will I am sure used technologies developed for IL-478 that give enhanced range plus high production rate upto 21 a year for IL476/IL478/A100 make over all cost cheaper along with same pilot training.

  17. #17
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    Good comments

    The T-tail issue is something interesting. is it still a problem in Russian based AWACS as the Il-76 is a T-Tail design?


    And glad some one else also thinks the Il-96 would have served as a better basis for AWACS than the Il-76.
    I am also surprised the Il-76 had more range than the 86, although I still stand that the 86 would have been a better platform.
    Its just as big, same era, mass produced.

    With lighter radars and more forms now available, I suspect the MC-21 could also serve as another platform for a smaller AWACS.
    Similar to the balance beam awacs 737. Could be useful for export, especially countries like Kazakhstan.

  18. #18
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    its worth noting the il-86 airframe has been used for other military applications so I don't buy the (il-86 is not suited for military) use


  19. #19
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    its worth noting the il-86 airframe has been used for other military applications so I don't buy the (il-86 is not suited for military) use
    Chinese also use Tu-154M but it does not mean it is suitable for AWACS. small AWACS like Saab-2000 or E-7 are ineffective when you consider fighter radars power. fighter also fly higher than AWACS. MIG-35 is 19kim altitude.

    The antenna on E767 is 9 meter. 19 people on board.
    https://web.archive.org/web/20080213.../767specs.html

  20. #20
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    its several generational leap in capability.
    https://www.ainonline.com/aviation-n...-plans-new-one
    The defense ministry has presented us with its vision and specification. It calls for the new aircraft to be far better than any of the in-service types in Russia and abroad. We are working hard to meet their requirements,” Kobzev told AIN. The A-100 will use the Il-476 platform and an all-new active phased-array radar from the Vega company. This aircraft is expected to fly in 2016

  21. #21
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    Another possible reason is that. Since 1969 The Soviet Councils of Defense Ministry Commission already asked derivative of Il-76 (named Il-70 Before) To be AEW and OKB illyushin simply go ahead with that request without considering any other possible platform.

    Tu-154 was considered as AEW BUT there are difficulties associated with integration of equipment and aerodynamics.

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    I don't know why the Tu-154 keeps popping up when its the Il-86 and 96 in question (although the 62 could be possible).

    I imagine the Tupolev's three engine lay out would not take well to the addition of an awacs covering its intake area.

  23. #23
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    ananda:
    Perhaps the simple question is, what is Soviet/Russian airliner with the space and capacity of IL-76 that are more reliable or have population in service..?
    Il-62. Depending on the weight & volume of the radar & electronics, perhaps the Tu-154 - but note the already mentioned problem of engine location.

    There was a difference between the USSR & the west, in that the USSR built far fewer airliners relative to the numbers of military aircraft. There were far more Il-76 than Il-62, so the commonality argument that favours airliners in the west for AAR, AEW, etc. didn't apply as much in the USSR.

    Nowadays, one can build a high-end AEW aircraft on a small airliner or a big business jet, e.g. the 737-based Wedgetail/other names, & now the Israeli AEW on a G550 & the Globaleye (Erieye ER on Global 6000), but that wasn't true a few decades ago. One of the reasons for the failure of the Nimrod AEW was that too much was being squeezed into the airframe, although it was as big as a 737. The kit was too heavy, bulky & power-hungry back then.
    Juris praecepta sunt haec: honeste vivere, alterum non laedere, suum cuique tribuere.
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    I don't know why the Tu-154 keeps popping up when its the Il-86 and 96 in question (although the 62 could be possible).

    I imagine the Tupolev's three engine lay out would not take well to the addition of an awacs covering its intake area.
    Chinese and Israeli electronic supposed to be lighter as they came two decades later. Chinese use Tu-154M for military mission. so they have good idea about using civil airline with military electronics. why they not chose IL-86/IL-96 for AWACS.

    wide but not too wide.

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    small nose and too narrow/long profile. wing not designed to take the pods.

  26. #26
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    The decision to use Il-76 (A-50) as an AWACS( Airborne Warning and Control System) platform has been already mentioned in this thread very well in several post above, still I will just remember those and add some others that should be important to observe in my humble opinion, once the replacement of the Tu-126 had been developed from airliner Tu-114 by A-50 were developed from military transport Il-76, indeed it were such radical change, so some points that favorable the Il-76:

    The capabilities of the A-50( Il-76) to operate on air bases in remote parts of the former Soviet Union , since on these remote air bases the runways could have been covered by snow or sand, or even with the presence of foreign material that would be swallowed by the engines like the Il-86, in reason of the height in relation to the ground of those engines. In any case those air bases should have been considered little 'civilized' to receive airliners aircraft like:Il-62M, Tu-154 and Il-86;

    Another important aspect were the standardization of the A-50 with the Il-76, since all air bases that has been received the Il-76 could support the operation of the A-50, since both technicians and spare parts (Il-76) should be available, while the introduction of another aircraft (Il-62M, Tu-154 and Il-86) as an AWACS platform would have been required the training of technicians and the need for stockpiles of spare parts for these types, as well as improvements maintenance and cleaning services of the runways.

    Despite those aspect that favorable the choice of the military transport Il-76, still it should be considered others that could favorable the airliners aircraft's( Il-62M, Tu-154 and Il-86) like those:

    I guess that Il-86 were considered as an AWACS version too, since AFAIK the Il-86 could remain in flight for longer than the Il-76, then the Il-86 has been capable to accomplish ferry range of 8,300Km( 5,158mi)while Il -76MD would have been keeping 6,700km(4,164mi) among the sources that I could remember, still there are several sources with different numbers for both aircraft's;

    Apparently another important advantage the Il-86 over the Il-76 as platform AWACS should be the considerably smaller noise level of the Il-86( Il-62M and Tu-154) over the Il-76. As with the Il-80 (Il-86 military version), the noise level has been an important factor to consider also for an AWACS platform, since even with the use of datalink between the A-50 and the fighters.Still it has been necessary using voice command, and in the presence of high noise level both concentration required in the planning of actions and the transmission and reception of information by voice can be considerably impaired by the noise, since in prolonged exposure to intense noise it has been creating stress and fatigue for crew members;

    Possibly one of the reasons for A-50 crew members that has been operating the radar system to wear helmets with suits has been observed in several videos should be the need to insulate from internal noise, in addition for the possibility of abandoning the aircraft with the use of a parachutes.

    Otherwise another important factor in about the choices of the Il-76 over other platforms (Il-62M. Tu-154 and Il-86) should be the less need for changes in the design of the Il-76 for the A-50.


    The AWACS aircraft such as: E-2, E-3 and A-50 has been considered high complex platforms. The installation of a large antenna such as the rotor-dome has been require a considerable increase of the structural effort in those aircraft's, both by the static weight and the effort has been resulting from the aerodynamic drag of those in flight.

    In general, any platform has been transformed into AWACS will require several important changes in relation for the previous cargo or passenger version of those platform.

    Due to the installation of all electric and electronic components, as well as antenna and even the rotation systems for antenna, all these systems has been requiring such powerful cooling system, and most of these will be installed inside the aircraft.

    The Il-76 had been designed to carry heavy loads, as well as its wide cargo compartment that could have required fewer changes to accommodate all those systems from A-50. Even the Iraq with little experience in the aeronautical sector in the 80s had been chosing the Il-76 to develop its own AWACS version, with the use of French radars.

    An interesting feature of the A-50 is its interior when it has been compared with the E-3 Sentry, while the interior of the E-3 should be considered clean and functional as 'NASA standard', the interior of the A-50 has show such careless or improvised appearance in its ergonomics, once the operators of the A-50 has keep consoles next for shelves and instruments compartments.

    This apparent improvisation inside the A-50 has been intended to increase the access to the instruments for maintenance, as the wide compartment from A-50 could provides better access for maintenance or replacement of components. In other aircraft (Il-62M, Tu-154 and Il-86) a large part of these instruments would have been located in the cargo compartment, while these has been limited useful space when compared to Il-76.

    The AWACS aircraft has been keeping as universal characteristics such demand for high degree of maintenance requirements due to the complexity of its systems, as a result the choice of a platform that facilitates the maintenance working will contributes significantly to availability of the aircraft AWACS in time of peace or conflict .

    The former Soviet Union had been developed two others smaller AWACS than the A-50, though it did not go into production with the end of the Soviet Union: An-71 and Yak-44.

    The An-71 had been developed from the STOL transport An-72, which would equip the VVS (Soviet Union Air Force) frontal aviation, while the Yak-44 would be destined for AV-MF (Soviet Navy) to operate on aircraft carriers. The A-50s were operated by the PVO (Soviet Union Air Defense).

    Anyway, even the An-71 also reflects several aspects of the A-50 in its design, so the choosing of the Il-476 as the A-100's platform follows the same doctrine that in the past had made the choice of Il-76 for the A- 50.

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    thanks for the well thought reply mauggie

    now it is often mentioned that the Il-76 was chosen due to its ruggedness and ability to take off from Humpty Dumpty airfields

    but how often has the A-50 taken off from such airfields? it seems to be they are stationed and operating from good bases.
    the IAF I think, operates it only from Agra, which is pretty clean and normal

  28. #28
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    It was well noted by Y-20, however every air force has been keeping its own doctrine, just as AWACS has been extremely important and complex aircraft, often in peacetime these has been operating from few primary air bases, since it has complete infrastructure to support peacetime operations.

    Due to political changes, these AWACS aircraft such as the A-50 could be in full readiness, so it can be moved to alternative air bases, or near the routes where AWACS should remain on patrol.

    In both cases, those secondary or alternative bases could have been purposed to prevent an initial attack capable to destroy these important aircraft's, as well as moving these to other bases should increased the number of AWACS missions due to the proximity of the patrol routes, yet it is possible to carry out refueling in flight, otherwise both the aircraft and the crew need to return the bases for maintenance and crew rotation.

    In the case of the A-50 that uses the Il-76 platform, the fact that other bases has been operating the Il-76 would facilitates the A-50 operations. In cases of alert or even conflict it could be necessary only to move spare parts, tools and technicians that are unique to the A-50. In the same way there is no need for changes in runways or even in the air base to operate with the A-50 with safety.

    In the documentary below there is a brief description of the Tu-126 and A-50 AWACS as well as its differences, then it started near from 40 minutes of the video almost in its end.


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    Tu-154 was a deathtrap. Tu-214 shows promise if they can find enough airframes.
    Go Huskers!

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