Russian Report: Domestic Space Industry Comparatively Inefficient

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  Space News Business

Russian Report: Domestic Space Industry Comparatively Inefficient

By SIMON SARADZHYAN
Space News Correspondent
posted: 21 April 2008
01:22 pm ET







MOSCOW
– A recently released Russian government report concludes that the country’s space-industry workers are far less productive than their
U.S.
and European counterparts, a finding officials here attributed in large part to excess plant capacity and equipment obsolescence.

 

Russia
‘s satellite- and rocket-building industry employs some 250,000 workers who on average churn out about $14,800 worth of goods and services per year apiece, according to Elvira Nabiullina, the nation’s minister of economic development trade.
U.S.
space workers, by contrast, produce an annual average of $493,500 worth of goods per year, while the European Union productivity figure per space worker is $126,800, Nabiullina said March 25 during a meeting of top officials from her ministry, MERT, in
Moscow
.

Space is not the only Russian industry where productivity lags behind the West, according to briefing charts that accompanied Nabiullina’s presentation and were posted on MERT’s Web site. For example, railway equipment workers in
Russia
are four times less productive than those in
France
or
Canada
, while Russian ship-building companies spend three times as much per ton of output as those in
South Korea
, according to Nabiullina.

Another document, drafted by MERT in March and titled “Concept of the Long-Term Socio-Economic Development of the
Russian Federation
,” includes a plan to boost Russian productivity. The report also is available on MERT’s Web site.

The report follows recent criticism by senior government officials of the quality of Russian space hardware. In January, for example, Col. Gen. Vladimir Popovkin, commander of the Russian Space Forces, told reporters here he was not satisfied with the quality of the hardware his organization procures. He was not specific, but attributed the problem to inefficiencies that result from excess production capacity. He noted that the industry today receives only a fraction of the orders that it did before the collapse of the
Soviet Union
, and said consolidation and a focus on high-priority projects should help improve the situation.

Reached by phone April 14, Andrei Vorobyov, a spokesman for
Russia
‘s space agency, Roskosmos, said he had showed MERT’s estimates to top managers of
Russia
‘s space industry flagships, including Nikolai Testoedov, head of the Reshetnev Scientific Production Association of Applied Mechanics (NPO-MM), based in Zheleznogorsk, KrasnoyarskyKrai. “Testoedov says we are producing the same number of satellites as Americans, but have twice as many workers doing that. So one can estimate that our productivity is twice lower than that of the Americans, but not by 33 times,” Vorobyov said.

 

Roskosmos oversees Russian space companies.

 

A Russian industry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, attributed the productivity disparity in part to the fact that
Russia
produces relatively few highly sophisticated, expensive satellites compared to the West.

“We lead when it comes to launch vehicles and launches,” this official said. “But we make less of what [the
United States
and European Union] have been doing better and more [of] – production of satellites.”

Vorobyov
said Russian authorities will try to improve productivity by investing in new equipment; he described the domestic space industry’s existing production equipment as “80 percent obsolete.” At the same time, however, major personnel cuts at state-owned companies will be avoided, at least in the near term, he said.  ”Ours is a social state and it would be wrong to deprive people of work, especially in Siberia where people survived by eating mushrooms only 10 years ago,” he said.

 

Vorobyov
noted that some space companies are the single largest taxpayers in the towns and cities that host them and that shutting them down to improve efficiency would cause serious problems. “We are not a charity, but we have to factor in consequences of our actions,” he said.

 

Alexander Zheleznyakov, an independent Russian space expert, said the numbers released by MERT are no surprise given the exodus of skilled workers following the break-up of the Soviet Union.

 

“The space and rocket industry of Russia has not yet fully recovered from the crisis that our country had to live through in the 1990s,” Zheleznyakov said in an April 1 interview. “The equipment … has become very obsolete … and the industry is experiencing a serious shortage of skilled personnel.”

 

Zheleznyakov
said only a steady flow of adequate investment capital will help to upgrade plant infrastructure and attract skilled labor to eventually boost productivity.

 

MERT’s
draft concept calls for a steep increase in productivity across the Russian industries, including space. The  document calls on the space industry to increase its productivity to 1.6 times 2005 levels by 2010, and to 2.2 times 2005 levels by 2015. The draft, now being examined by other government agencies before it is submitted to President Vladimir Putin for approval, also calls for expanding Russia’s share of the international space market from 8 percent to 15 percent by 2015.

 

Vorobyov
said he expects the number of Russian launches to grow in the future as a result of the programs including the planned replenishment of the Glonass satellite navigation system, adding that more than doubling Russia’s space industry output by 2015 is a realistic goal.

 

The MERT plan mirrors the 2006-2015 civil space exploration program, approved two years ago, in calling for making the space industry “economically sustainable, competitive, diversified” and capable of “ensuring guaranteed access to space and sufficient presence of Russia in space.” Like the program, the MERT concept calls for the industry to be consolidated into three or four corporations by 2015.

 

The Russian space industry official concurred. “Consolidation is the trend and it will eventually allow us to boost production,” he said.

The concept also advocates continued cooperation with the
United States
in space exploration and for developing innovative technologies for export to other countries, including the
United States
. The concept notes the need to “lift the
U.S.
restrictions in trade and technology exchanges” and creation “of conditions for mutual investments” in cooperative space projects.  

Comments:
simons@imedia.ru