As of 2016, the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) operated 26 An-124s, but only nine were airworthy. The non-flyable examples are in a process of being gradually returned to service, at a rate of one or two each year.
The An-124 continues to offer unique capabilities to the Russian military and its allies, with aircraft operated both by the VKS and by commercial contractors, such as Volga-Dnepr, who also provide their services to the country’s military and play a key role in transporting Russian-made military materiel to export clients, for example, the S-400 air defense systems delivered to Turkey. Important roles for VKS An-124s have included delivering arms and equipment to the Russian contingent in Syria and, more recently, ferrying Russian military materiel for its peacekeeping mission in Nagorno-Karabakh.
As well as serving Moscow and its clients, the An-124 has also played an important role for NATO in recent years, providing heavy-lift air transport to the alliance under the Strategic Airlift International Solution (SALIS) agreement that ensures access to up to five An-124-100 aircraft in support of national, NATO and European Union operations.
In the past, Russia planned to resume production of a modernized An-124 in Ulyanovsk, with hopes to have the first of 45 examples completed in 2020. However, this project had to be shelved following Russia’s breakdown in relations with Ukraine in 2014, as the Ukrainian Antonov company still retains the rights to the An-124.
Instead, Russia is now looking at an all-new design to replace the An-124 in the future. This program is named Slon, meaning elephant in Russian, and envisages an aircraft of similar overall appearance to the An-124, but even larger. You can read more about this proposed replacement in this previous War Zone piece.
When it comes to RA-82042, the exact causes of this mishap remain unknown and it’s unclear whether it will be possible to repair the aircraft and, if so, how long it might take to return it to service.
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