Ukraine's defense ministry will receive new An-70 military transport aircraft in two years' time, the head of the plant building the aircraft said Thursday, despite Russia's withdrawal from the project, RIA Novosti reported.

Russia withdrew from the joint program in late May on the grounds that it was outdated.

"The military will get two An-70s in 2008," said Oleh Shevchenko, general director of the Kiev-based Aviant plant.

He said the cost of the project would increase only insignificantly against previous estimates under the joint program. The aircraft maker has invested 86 million hryvnias ($17 million) in the project.

"The An-70 project has been carried out on a technical order initiated in 1984, and no end is in sight," Sergei Ivanov, Russia's defense minister and a deputy prime minister, said at a recent meeting of defense ministers from former Soviet republics. "We will see what comes next. We will make a separate statement on this issue."

The An-70 program was launched in 1990, but has experienced a number of setbacks since that time. Major concerns have been around the D-27 turbopropfan engines designed by Ukraine's Progress design bureau.

The first prototype was lost in a mid-air collision in 1995, while the second prototype crash-landed in January 2001 during a test flight near Omsk, Russia.

The estimated cost of industrial production of the An-70 has been put at $50-55 million. Russia's Defense Ministry originally ordered 15 planes, which would have larger payload capacities than the U.S. C-130 Hercules.


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