Interview with former Antonov head: US and Ukraine must pursue more fundamental forms of cooperation

Boeing, Antonov and Defending Sovereignty

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Publisher’s note: Introduction and material disclosure

As Chairman of Mars & Pax, I had a follow-up meeting, while in Kyiv, with the Antonov team in 2018 to enhance business with US companies. Soon thereafter, Antonov got back to me on an emergent basis and requested that I first be its Global Special Counsel (GSC), as certain existential threats were perceived, which delayed all business dealings.

It is a rare honor to protect the “Crown Jewel” of Ukraine, a position of high fiduciary responsibilities with geopolitical effect, so I accepted. This, however, was related to prior lawyerly engagements in Ukraine. Post-Crimea, I’d already represented, on a pro bono basis, Ukraine’s Mission to the UN as a legal advisor since 2015. A position that I held, with honor, until September 9, 2021). I was admitted, Pro hac vice, as legal counsel for star witness, Ambassador Yuri Sergeyev on August 15, 2017, before Ukraine’s Constitutional Court, which was trying Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych, for treason.

Given my 2016 publicly stated desire to join the late great Senator John McCain’s public stance for greater US support of Ukraine, including, industrial support, and helping in the commercial “adoption” of Ukraine’s defense and aerospace industry, I honored FARA (the Foreign Agents Registration Act) upon accepting the GSC engagement but told them I’d donate the Ukraine fees to the local Orthodox Christian monastery. Ultimately, given the Russian-Ukrainian split in the Mother Church, I never billed Antonov.

I served as Antonov’s GSC from the summer of 2018 till April 6, 2020, when I resigned. During such service, as Antonov desired, on the occasion of the 2018 UN General Assembly, I alerted then-President Petro Poroshenko, who was a related client and as he was the ultimate principal of Ukraine’s Mission to the UN, of the need for better protocols in Ukraine for self-policing so as to better prevent corruption. I am happy to note that Poroshenko took stock in what I told him and swiftly acted to protect Antonov. As a result, Alex Los and I became good friends, each of a zealous patriot of our respective nations, and who both see the United States as critical for Ukraine’s defense and success.

Consistent with the principle “we have one president at a time,” which applies to all of us in the United States, I specifically apply the same standard when dealing with foreign heads of state or government, as well as with their ministers and ambassadors, so as to avoid interfering in the internal affairs of other nations, This assists the comity of nations and avoids motivated regime change.

After Ukraine’s April presidential and July parliamentary elections, I warmly met Ukraine’s First Lady Olena Zelenska and the then-newly elected President Volodymyr Zelensky, who was swept into office with an incredible mandate, in New York in 2019. Most recently, we met right after President Joe Biden’s UNGA (UN General Assembly) speech, when President Zelensky and I warmly hugged and discussed his tirelessly dedicated efforts to achieve even stronger bilateral ties – an effort I celebrated and fully support.

I was impressed by his effort to come and personally attend President Biden’s UNGA speech and to honor the United States. While I attended President Zelensky’s own UNGA speech as well, we had only a brief exchange, as he was rushing back to Kyiv due to an assassination attempt on his advisor, Sergey Shefir.

The following interview is a re-print, a global exclusive in English, published with the express permission of the Kyiv-based Defense Express. It has been translated by Alex Los and edited by me. The original version is available at https://defence-ua.com/people_and_company/boeing_gotovij_opratsjuvati_postachannja_v_ukrajinu_f_15ex_ta_t_7_z_lokalizatsijeju_skladannja_na_dp_antonov_oleksandr_los-4907.html

Global Exclusive – Translated interview with Antonov’s former President Dr. Los by Defense Express

By Dr. Alexander V. Los

The former Head and last President of Antonov State Enterprise, Kyiv, Ukraine

 

Airplanes That Will Be Ours

“I express to you a desire of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine to receive the Boeing F-15 advanced air superiority fighters in the latest modification, the Boeing T-X advanced pilot training aircraft … for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

This is a quote from the official Letter of Request, which was sent by the leadership of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine to the President and CEO of the American company Boeing in April 2019. This letter is one of the important puzzles in history, which we announced in the previous issue of our magazine.

Its essence is that the representatives of Boeing, State Enterprise “Antonov” (hereinafter, Antonov), State Concern “Ukroboronprom” (hereinafter, Ukroboronprom) and the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine discussed an actionable path forward towards the supply to Ukraine of the T-X, the newest light training and combat airplane, with its final assembly on the territory of Ukraine. This is the T-X, which is now adopted by the United States Air Force (USAF) under the name T-7A Red Hawk.

In addition, it was a case of wide military-technical and civil cooperation of Ukraine in the aviation industry with a powerful American company. A notable result should be a high-quality re-equipment of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with new combat airplanes – instead of the ageing fleet of heavy and medium fighters Su-27 and MiG-29 with Russian roots and, most importantly, with the Russian engines! And the aviation industry of Ukraine would have the prospect of including the State Enterprise “Antonov” (Antonov) and other Ukrainian enterprises in the new technological supply chains of international mutually beneficial cooperation.

Alexander Los, the last President of Antonov, told us about how it all started and what it aspired to. It was he who, while holding senior management positions at Antonov, spent more than ten years establishing mutually beneficial and transparent contacts and projects for Antonov with the world’s most famous companies, and Boeing in particular.

Golden plane of the past

Dr. Los, this conversation is actually a logical continuation of our video interview on the Defense Express channel. It was briefly mentioned there for the first time that Ukraine had the prospect of obtaining and manufacturing new combat aircraft with American roots. However, the planned sabotage of the agreements completely closed the “window of opportunity” for cooperation with Boeing in this area.

This information aroused a wide public reaction among our viewers and readers, but there were few specific facts and details. Now I want to get rid of at least some white spots in this story. So first, in what context and how did the topic of the Boeing T-X arise precisely through the prism of Ukrainian interests?

– As I earlier said, not all the important details I will be able to tell because of the NDA between Boeing and Antonov, and confidential information is confidential. But if we talk exclusively about combat aviation programs, then, probably, as a kind of conceptual starting point – this is the beginning of 2014. Then, after the Crimean events, Ukroboronprom began meetings to create its own light class fighter in Ukraine.

Dmytro Kiva, the then President of Antonov, took me with him to those meetings, and I can state that as of 2014-2015, all the meetings were limited to our intentions to compile a Chinese modified clone of the Soviet-Russian Yak-130 – that is the L -15 from AVIC, or creation of own clone of Yak-130 at Antonov. The leitmotif was that the AI-222 engines manufactured by Motor Sich were installed in each of the mentioned airplanes. And, in fact, it was presented as a key component. At Antonov, at the insistence of the Ukroboronprom, even the preliminary design was developed, where two fins were drawn to the Yak-130-look-alike aircraft to improve maneuverability. That was the vision.

The meetings at Ukroboronprom were also attended by military specialists – at the level of colonels and generals, that is, the issue was taken quite seriously.

I would like to pay tribute to the Academician of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and General Designer Dmytro Kiva that his reaction, which I absolutely supported, was as follows. If Antonov copies Russian airplanes, or if an enterprise in Ukraine makes Chinese copies of Russian airplanes, it is a blow to Ukraine’s reputation and political strength. Later, when I myself had to speak at those meetings on behalf of Antonov, I stressed to the esteemed participants in the discussion that, encroaching on projects to create our own manned fighter, we must consider two more aspects, time – in terms of obsolescence, and money – in terms of total costs. I explained that Antonov could technically deal with projects of any complexity. But any such project must take into account the time of implementation and economic feasibility. How many light manned fighters does Ukraine need? Even in the medium or long term. Let’s say up to 50 airplanes. How long will it take to bring a manned fighter jet into service, especially when such a topic has not been dealt with before. I will answer – starting from seven years. But in order to truly implement the project, it is necessary not only to design the aircraft, but also to create logistics chains with foreign partners, attract foreign complexes and systems (because Ukraine does not even develop the necessary equipment, e.g. the most important safety component – the ejection seat, this is – Martin Baker), manufacture, undergo long tests, provide pilot training and combat applications. And each stage will increase and increase the cost of such a project. And it will reach, believe me – I talked about it with all the leaders of “Ukroboronprom” – more than half a billion dollars.

So, it just doesn’t make sense providing a limited capability to spend invaluable time and such crazy money for Ukraine and to bet on the option of something like a twin-engine Yak-130, which already did not meet the needs then. Expensive – because with two engines, and has no additional capabilities. And there will definitely be no market for it. We are well aware of what is happening now in the international market for such aircraft. There is also a very strong project, Leonardo M-346 – the twin brother of the Russian Yak-130, which was actually designed as a light fighter and attack aircraft, not just a training one, but there are rumors that Israel is going to abandon it. Why? Because the cost efficiency indicator does not reach the desired values.

Back in 2014, I emphasized that instead of starting dubious projects of our own light manned fighters, it was necessary to start practicing tactical unmanned vehicles. And today everyone sees how right I was. ACE One, in fact, is a clear result of my own initiative scientific and practical study, which then caused ridicule of highly respected officials and individual “colleagues.” And, by the way, it is based on one AI322F engine.

That is, in fact, we tried to create our own golden plane of the past…?

– Yes, we were forced to create a golden plane of the past. What for? To attach an airframe to the engine? As Oleg Antonov (the founder of the Antonov Company) said, “Before you do something, you need to think: do you need to do it?” Therefore, as a specialist in the military, from the beginning I offered to bet on the plane, as I call it, a “daily reconnaissance and fighter.” Daily, routine, light and inexpensive patrol fighter-reconnaissance, capable of performing the most typical combat tasks. A single-engine aircraft is effective for this.

And yet, then I insisted that due to lack of time and resources we needed to engage not in expensive and long-term self-navigating along the unknown-to-us path of manned combat airplane, but to join the best western professionals in this field.

During 2015-2018, I carefully monitored the development of the market for such equipment. At that time, the United States was already bidding for its Air Force’s Advanced Pilot Training – an advanced training airplane for training pilots of 5th and 4th generation supermaneuverable combat airplanes, including the F-35, F-15, etc. The favorite of this tender was an innovative multi-purpose aircraft Boeing T-7, created under the APT T-X program, attention, jointly by the giant Boeing (USA) and the experienced in this field, SAAB AB (Sweden). By the way, all existing platforms were also considered in this tender, including Leonardo T-100, a version of Leonardo M-346, developed together with the Russian Yak-130. But none of the existing platforms could meet the requirements of the USAF for the T-X aircraft, in terms of flight performance, technical and economic.

The T-7 won the US tender among other bids by meeting all needs at the request of the customer.

Currently, the Boeing T-7 is the only light training and combat jet with an aerodynamic layout with two-fin vertical empennage and advanced mechanized wing, which in combination with the fly-by-wire provides for unique supermaneuverability characteristics. The single-engine layout provides the lowest acquisition cost and the life cycle cost of the airplane. The low life cycle cost is also facilitated by the use of a standard widespread GE F404 engine with an afterburner.

Due to the requirement for aircraft maneuverability and the presence of the engine afterburner, which allows for a long flight at supersonic speeds, the Boeing T-7 platform was originally designed as a light multi-role combat aircraft: light fighter, reconnaissance and light attack aircraft. In terms of angular velocities, in terms of the overload it provides, it is a true fighter. By the way, it was mentioned in the media that during the flight tests there was a need to strengthen the wing in the T-7, in order to meet the long-term loads, which were required in the specifications. And if the Boeing T-7 is used not as a trainer, then leaving one pilot, you get the opportunity to increase its combat load.

So, in the fall of 2018, the victory of the Boeing T-7 in the above-mentioned tender of the US Air Force was announced. And immediately the amount of the contract for its production was announced – more than $9 billion dollars with a delivery of more than 300 airplanes.

And this was an impetus for us to start discussions about T-7 with the United States instead of talking about our own projects?

– I immediately informed the top leadership of the state about such a perspective. Given that a working relationship has already been established between Boeing and Antonov, as part of the discussions of the execution of General Terms Agreement with Boeing regarding production and aftermarket support of Antonov, I was specifically authorized by the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine to raise the topic of T-7 at the scheduled meeting between Boeing and Antonov in January 2019, at Boeing International headquarters in Arlington, VA, including discussion about further cooperation in the supply of the latest Boeing T-X (T-7) and Boeing F-15X combat aircraft to Ukraine.

As a result of these first discussions in the United States, the Minutes of meeting was signed, at the level of Vice President of the relevant Boeing branch and by me, as then Vice President of Antonov.

Sea Launch Debt and Win-Win Strategy

But as far as I know, a certain catalyst for quickly reaching an understanding of the path forward was the fact that Ukraine and the United States were looking for solutions to the debt of the National Space Agency of Ukraine to Boeing under the Sea Launch program. This significant debt was treated as a brake on military-technical projects between Boeing and Ukraine. Is that so?

– Indeed, according to the decision of the Central District Court of California from May 12, 2016, Pivdenmash and KB Pivdenne must jointly pay $99.2 million to Boeing Company and in favor of the Boeing Commercial Space Company $94.3 million, for a total of $193.5 million. Interest was also accrued for the time before the full execution of the court decision. Already in 2018, the amount of debt has increased significantly. Today, it reaches $250 million and is growing.

So, a win-win strategy was chosen, when a window of opportunity was created for both Parties to come with a value-added offer. Ukraine has offered to become the first foreign customer of the Boeing T-7, which is an excellent aircraft – in accordance with our military needs. Our service, interaction with Boeing was related to the fact that they get a new market and get a regional partner specifically in Ukraine.

It was planned to start with the final assembly, testing of aircraft systems, ensuring the possibility of its flight to any other airfield.

The vision was to form a fleet of T-7 airplanes in Ukraine and, considering for our airspace, much larger than our western neighbors’, and all types of terrain, create a Flight training center for 5th and 4++ generation fighter pilots. And using our fleet of trainer and weaponized versions of the T-7 provide training services for pilots not only of the Ukrainian Air Force, but also for NATO pilots trained for the F-35 aircraft. These are not only our closest neighbors, but also states in the South and in the North of Europe. In fact, this was the added value of the project that Ukraine could offer, along with the benefits, in particular, economic, for Ukraine itself. That is, even before Ukraine joins NATO, to start real work towards interoperability in combat aviation. By the way, this will provide training for Ukrainian combat pilots to use a special English language, which is a primary task, because in fact the working language of our combat pilots – is still Russian. And this vision was supported by American specialists.

And already based on these discussions, as I understand it, there was a letter from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine dated April 9, 2019, which was about the request to get under Foreign Military Financing (FMF) the Boeing multifunctional F-15 and T-X trainer airplanes and light attack helicopters AH-6 for the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

– Correct. This letter from the Minister of Defense of Ukraine was a necessary procedural step in obtaining such assistance through Foreign Military Financing (FMF), which is approved annually by the US Government.

However, during the visit of the Ukrainian delegation to Washington in May 2019 and negotiations at Boeing International, representatives of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine came to the conclusion that the AH-6 helicopter, as great as it is for hot/dusty desert conditions, is not technically suitable for Ukrainian winter climate conditions. Therefore, it was proposed to concentrate on airplanes. At that time, still T-X, because the T-7 index has not yet been assigned, and the F-15 aircraft of the new generation X. By the way, the one that is now returning to the US Air Force – so the choice is forward-looking. The presence of a pair of the T-7 and F-15X, fully corresponds to the optimal needs of the Air Force of Ukraine to solve the tasks of the manned fighter aviation for our geopolitical situation. As I said, a technically perfect supersonic T-7 with a minimum flight hour cost among single-engine airplanes for daily use in peacetime and, of course, as a support aircraft in combat operations; and a universal and still unsurpassed by many indicators, high-speed interceptor, a heavily-armed air superiority airplane F-15EX for the case of real combat operations within the international coalition.

Therefore, the next step after the letter of the Minister of Defense of Ukraine to request assistance from the US Government was that there was an official visit of representatives of the State Department and the US Department of Defense to Antonov in September 2019. I participated in the event as Vice President – Head of Design Organization of Antonov State Enterprise.

We were then informed that Boeing had applied for an export license for the supply of T-7 to Ukraine through Antonov. Accordingly, the esteemed delegation from the United States arrived with an inspection of the security system, protection of trade and state secrets. All this was, of course, presented. After all, Antonov is a working enterprise, which has preserved all healthy approaches to ensuring secrecy regime and the like.

The American colleagues were satisfied, and it was further commonly understood that the supply of the T-7 airplanes to Ukraine was the first step in the rearmament of our Air Force. Further, the weaponizing of the T-7 was discussed – it is the Ukrainian weapons.

So our American colleagues know our potential in terms of missile weapons?

– Believe me, here I quote a prominent modern investor Warren Buffett, who always says: “Never bet against America.” American colleagues know better about us than we do. This is often forgotten by our top executives. From my many years of experience, I know that Americans work with those who want to work with them, who turn to them. There was also a willingness to expand cooperation.

Surprisingly, information has been spreading recently that the military in Ukraine has decided to choose a single-type aircraft between the F-16 and JAS-39.

– I agree, there can be no other reaction than wondering. First, these planes are generally incorrect to compare with each other. Unless that comparison was made based on the number of engines, but this is an insufficient set of criteria. And, most importantly, the imposition of the transfer of our Air Force to a such single-type airplane is a criminal, but hopefully not intentional, attempt to radically reduce capabilities, compared to those Ukraine possesses even today: air superiority airplanes Su-27, medium MiG-29 fighters, Su-24 bombers. It is like offering our tankmen to scrap their main battle tanks (MBP), switch to even the most modern Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and get in a fight against Russian MBPs. Both of these airplanes are also excellent types, but for other times and other countries; weapons are selected for the expected combat situation.

In the face of a military threat to Ukraine, a country with a large territory, on the borders of which the modern comprehensive military potential of aggressive neighbors is rapidly increasing, there is a need for appropriate weapons. I admire the F-35 aircraft and the iconic F-22, but for the reasons we have discussed earlier, yet there is no alternative to the modern F-15 for us. And in support of the heavy twin-engine F-15 and for daily operations there is required a manned aircraft with a low cost per flight hour, but also with the novel capabilities, and this is currently a supersonic T-7, unified in equipment with the F-15EX.

Wings of Opportunity

As I understand it, cooperation with Boeing should have been much broader than the T-7 program

– You are absolutely right! Decisions important for Ukraine were discussed. Thus, Antonov and Boeing have signed a General Terms Agreement on logistical support for the AN-148, AN-158 and transport AN-178 projects. As for the latter, this means that this project was carried out through approvals in US government agencies. I was able to successfully convince that this aircraft is not a competitor of the C-130 from Lockheed Martin. We also negotiated with the support of Boeing consultants to re-equip our enterprises for automated assembly lines. If not completely – then at least part of the fuselage to make it in automatic mode. Boeing was also ready to allocate $50 million from its own budget to form a warehouse in Kyiv for AN-148/158 and AN-178 components to replace those we could not receive from Russia. From aluminum and composite materials to sophisticated electronic equipment. We have provided a list of what we critically need for real import substitution of Russian components. It was said, “We will help you.” Isn’t this a sufficient argument to assess the intentions of US and Boeing support ?!

So, the relationship with Boeing was one of the areas of Antonov’s real entry into the aviation world?

– Not just entering, but joining the projects of the world’s leading companies. Just so, that in no case, Antonov does not stop designing and manufacturing our own airplanes. But to have a possibility for additional business, to earn on production of components for Boeing aircraft – both military, T-7, and civilian.

At the same time, Boeing did not even raise an issue on the favorite topic for certain structures and persons in Ukraine about the ephemeral “corporate reform” of “Antonov” State Enterprise, the alienation of intellectual property or the creation of “joint ventures”, the goal which is usually only one – “redirection” of cash flows.

Now it is fashionable to talk about the Republic of Turkey, so I will give an example. Turkish Aerospace, in addition to being an important component for the development of new competencies in the country, develops the fifth generation TF-X fighter under governmental budget and is engaged in other projects, also participates in the assembly of fuselage parts for Airbus passenger airliners, wing elements for Airbus A400M, makes parts for Boeing. That is, it has a permanent business that produces rather simple components, but with a significant added value. It’s not so much about the loading with work of, let’s say, mechanical shops. But, most importantly, it allows for permanent communication with foreign colleagues from leading companies, it provides awareness of the latest approaches to quality assurance, aviation safety, communication with foreign aviation authorities. That is, you are always in this club and you are known. This simplifies communication, provides access to standards. In fact, it creates all the conditions for you to operate in a modern technological and business environment.

Work with Boeing is on pause again

How did events develop further?

– Sometime in September 2019, after a visit of representatives of the US State Department and Department of Defense to Antonov, “strange”, but so well understood, things began: the work was put on hold and the correspondence with Boeing stopped. I was removed from this direction of work. Boeing, imagine, even asked Ukroboronprom for clarification in writing, but as far as I know, there were no clear answers. But it is a separate huge story, how the Antonov State Enterprise was nearly involved in the development of a successor to the strategic military transport AN-124 in the interests of the Peoples Liberation Army of China, which would have catastrophic consequences for both Antonov and Ukraine.

The break in communication with Boeing lasted about 7-8 months. It was only after I was appointed President of Antonov that relations with Boeing were restored.

During this period, Boeing confirmed that the further move on T-7 had been approved for Ukraine. We considered the following sequence of supply of military equipment to Ukraine: supply of T-7 trainer airplanes, localization of final assembly at Antonov State Enterprise, possibility of supply of the weaponized modification of T-7. Then – acquisition of F-15EX airplanes.

After the formation of the Ministry of Strategic Industries of Ukraine in the summer of 2020 I personally immediately informed the relevant leadership of the new ministry and personally Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Uruskyi and his First Deputy Valery Ivashchenko about all the details of work with Boeing in the field of aeronautics. I personally handed Dr. Uruskyi the entire folder of documents on this topic. I told him: “Dear Oleg, I am asking you, since you have already been the head of Progresstech-Ukraine (editorial note – a Ukrainian branch of a company that works closely with Boeing on civilian programs), this project is just for you. Right now you have all the cards in your hands. Help to develop it. “ A year ago, the only small task was left – to continue the formal process of exchanging letters between the Government of Ukraine and Boeing management in accordance with US foreign sales procedures.

And the letter of the Ministry of Defense about the request to receive T-7 and F-15?

– The letter from the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine was received not just by Boeing. This Letter of Request, set in motion actions by the Government of the United States of America by sending the team of DOS & DOD inspectors to Antonov. What is needed now is for the Ukrainian government to continue forward in accordance with the FMS/FMF procedure, since US affirmed its support of Ukraine in so many ways during the recent meeting of Presidents Biden and Zelensky.

And the needs remain urgent: in the new T-7A-Red Hawk and F-15EX to follow for the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (2030 will come fast), in the cooperation and interaction of the modernized Ukrainian Air Force with colleagues from the United States and NATO, and in projects for the strategy of not “survival,” but the development of Antonov as a player among the most respected companies of the Western aviation community, and not among the second-best.

I sincerely hope that the Government of Ukraine and personally the venerable President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky will make every effort to realize the potential outlined above and developed over the years for cooperation with Boeing, which, among other things, will finally get rid of the bitter taste of the past in the form of Ukraine’s debt to Boeing.

The conversation was led by Serhiy Zhurets, CEO of Defense Express, Kyiv, Ukraine.

The English translation was provided by Defense Express, editorial help was provided by publisher Ravi Batra, with the final review by Alexander Los.

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