Russia’s United Engine Corporation (UEC, a subsidiary of state corporation ROSTEC) is expanding its portfolio of turboshaft engines for helicopters.

“In 2019-2020 the UEC’s share in the global helicopter engine market was between 10 and 12 percent. The corporation now has two such engines in its portfolio of export-oriented products, namely Klimov VK-2500 and Klimov TV7-117V,” according to a UEC representative.

The UEC’s market share in the helicopter engine cluster will increase to 18-20 percent by 2035. “The introduction of new Klimov VK-650V and Klimov VK-1600V engines and the adaptation of all family of Russian helicopter engines to foreign-made platforms in UEC’s traditional markets, namely the countries of South-East Asia will be the main reasons behind the anticipated growth,” said the UEC representative.

The share of helicopter engines in the structure of UEC’s current revenue is between six and nine percent, he noted.

The above-mentioned engines are produced by JSC UEC-Klimov (a subsidiary of UEC). VK-2500 has replaced the Soviet-designed TV3-117 helicopter motors and is intended for Mil Mi-8/17, MI-24/35, and Kamov Ka-52 rotorcraft. Having the power output between 2,000 h.p. and 2,700 h.p. (depending on the mode), VK-2500 entered serial production in 2014. TV7-117V is primarily intended for the Russian Helicopters’ (a subsidiary of ROSTEC) newest Mi-38 medium utility rotorcraft; however, it can be modified to both existing and advanced Russian-made (and even Soviet-made) transport and combat helicopters. TV7-117V also entered serial production – UEC is reported to have a backlog of orders for approximately 250 such engines through 2030.

The VK-650V engine with a power output of 650 h.p. is primarily intended for Ka-226T light utility rotorcraft, while 1,600-h.p. VK-1600V is set to power the newest Ka-62 medium utility rotorcraft. The serial manufacturing of both engines will commence in 2024.

As mentioned earlier, UEC targets Asian market as a primary one. The countries of the region operate a large number of Mil and Kamov rotorcraft powered by ageing TV2-117 or early TV3-117 engines. Moreover, some Klimov power plants have completed special trials under Asia’s harsh climatic conditions: in particular, a Mi-17V-5 utility helicopter powered by VK-2500 engines has already passed through several tests in the mountains of Tibet, confirming its reliability in mountain air.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is among the largest operators of utility rotorcraft in Asia. According to the World Air Forces 2021 handbook published by the London-based magazine Flight International, the military service has deployed the fourth in the world inventory of combat helicopters, which comprises 775 rotary-wing aircraft (or four percent of the global helicopter inventory). The IAF is reported to be operating 223 Mi-8/17 utility rotorcraft and 15 Mi-24/35 gunships. This inventory is powered by 476 engines, and there are some spare motors to replace those in service in cases of emergency. The proportion of the engines in the Indian service is not disclosed; at the same time, one can state that the IAF is a large operator of TV2-117/TV3-117-type motors also. Those powerplants can be replaced with brand new VK-2500s. UEC-Klimov also upgrades existing TV3-117 engines to the VK-2500 standard.

The number of other suppliers of engines for Soviet- and Russian-made helicopters (first of all, Mi-8- and Mi-24-family platforms) is rather limited, with the Ukrainian-based JSC Motor Sich being the largest one. At the same time, the enterprise is now in a turmoil: in mid-March President Volodimir Zelensky scrapped a proposed deal suggesting large foreign investments in the company and signed a presidential decree to nationalize Motor Sich. This urgent measure infuriated all potential investors, both domestic and foreign ones; therefore, nobody seems to do any short-term external investments in enterprise. While Kyiv is in efforts to calm down its foreign economic partners, Motor Sich is not in its best shape: despite having some orders (including export ones) for production of brand new engines and maintenance of existing ones, the company just has no funds to provide quality works. Its backlog of orders is shrinking due to drops in quality of manufacturing processes; moreover, any potential customer keeps in mind the nationalization case and has to intention to buy critically important products (engines in this very case), services, support, and technologies from a company that cannot fully guarantee punctual implementation of an order.

Motor Sich also offers its own medium utility rotorcraft, namely Mi-8MSB. However, this rotary-wing aircraft is, in fact, a used helicopter by two TV3-117VMA-SMB1V Series 4E turboshaft engines designed by the company. The designer of the baseline rotorcraft, Mil company (now is integrated in the Russian Helicopters’ National Helicopter-Building Centre named after Mil and Kamov), provides no guarantee for Mi-8MSB and its derivatives, and does not support these rotorcraft.

It should also be mentioned that Motor Sich does not upgrade its TV3-117-family power plants to modern standards and does not fit them with any full authority digital engine control (FADEC) systems. The enterprise just overhauls its helicopter motors, as it has no funds for development of any FADEC devices for its turboshaft motors. Therefore, the Ukrainian enterprise cannot participate in any full-scale upgrade and re-motorization of Mi-8 and Mi-24 rotorcraft.

Motor Sich seems to be the only near-peer competitor to UEC in terms of helicopter engines for Soviet- and Russian-made rotary-wing platforms. However, the abovementioned financial and political issues dramatically hinder the development of the enterprise, dropping it off the list of the largest manufacturers of helicopter engines and making it an unreliable supplier of products and services.

Some Eastern European companies, such as Belarus’ Orsha Aircraft Repair Plant (OARZ), Poland’s Wojskowe Zaklady Lotnicze No.1, and Bulgaria’s Avianams, provide only maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) services and (in some cases) technical support. These MRO companies do not supply brand new turboshaft engines; neither do they upgrade existing TV3-117/VK-2500 motors to new standards.