The Russian Navy is set to receive a significant boost to its aviation capabilities with a planned upgrade of its entire fleet of anti-submarine planes, the Russian Defense Ministry announced, reported Russian news outlet TASS Tuesday. The plan is to upgrade the currently used Ilyushin-38 maritime patrol and anti-submarine aircraft to the newer Ilyushin-38N.
The biggest addition from the upgrade is a new search and target tracking system, called the Novella-P-38. Specifics of the upgrade plan were not yet clear, naval aviation commander Igor Kozhin told media. "The contract is in the discussion phase," Kozhin said, according to TASS. "It is impossible to name any specific figures at this point (number of planes and dates), but the entire fleet is to undergo upgrade," he said.
Kozhin did tell media that the Russia current naval aviation stock -- consisting of the Ilyushin-20 and Ilhyushin-38 -- would be replaced by a unified platform which will be selected by 2015-2016. "The platform will perform its maiden flight by 2020," Kozhin said, according to TASS.
The news of the upgrade to the anti-submarine aircraft comes on the heels of Russian President Vladimir Putin's declaration last Thursday that he's planning a $400 billion expansion to the country's military. Putin said at a meeting with recent Russia military academy graduates that the buildup was necessary to protect the country's borders. The stance comes amid increasing tensions with the West and the conflict in Ukraine between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia separatists.
Putin said a "powerful army equipped with modern weapons is the guarantor of sovereignty and territorial integrity of Russia," according to the Associated Press. The modernization of the Russian military would include adding dozens of ships, hundreds of planes and thousands of tanks and other weapons by 2020, Putin reportedly said.
The Ukrainian Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak expressed concerns over whether the Russia buildup was evidence that the country intended to seize Ukraine, despite a ceasefire signed in February. Western leaders and the Ukrainian government have suggested Russia is involved in the conflict that has killed more than 6,400 people, but the Kremlin has repeatedly denied direct involvement.