Russian Air Force after Georgia, part 1

Flight’s Moscow correspondent Vladimir Karnozov guest-blogs this week with a five-part after action report on the Georgia Air War, obviously from the Russian perspective. Karnozov is kindly filling in while this blogger is traveling all week on an assignment. Here’s part 1.

Russia  to increase military spending. What will themoney go for?

Russian president Dmitry Medvedev said that additionalfunding for new equipment for the Russian armed forces will be provided toeliminate deficiencies highlighted during the war. Petrodollars are inabundance, but how shall they be spent? Certainly, that’s a key question forKremlin strategists now. Probably, they will set immediate, medium andlong-term objectives taking account of the war lessons.

We may expect the following in the short-term:

  • The two main workhouses of this war, the Sukhoi Su-24Mfrontal bomber and Su-25 attack aircraft, will continue to stay in service forquite a long time simply because the capability of the industry is insufficientto replace them in a reasonably short time. It is expected that the Kremlinwill allocate additional money to speed up fleet upgrades into recentlycertified Su-24M2 and Su-25SM versions with improved night strike capability,accurate navigation and extended PGM arsenal.
  • Additional measures may include reducing vulnerability forthe Su-25, which accounted for three of the air force’s four losses.
  • Immediate and medium-term actions are expected in relationto the Tupolev Tu-22M fleet. This may well be given a top priority in the viewof the humiliating loss in Georgian airspace of a Tu-22M3-R, a spy-planevariation of the Tu-22M3 supersonic swing-wing “Euro-strategic” bomber. On 9August one Tupolev was downed by a radar-guided missile, most likely the 9K37Buk [NATO SA-11 Gadfly]. The airplane was flown by top-class militarytest-pilots (the machine belonged to Valery Chkalov’s MainFlight TestCenter of the Russian MoD, Russianacronym GLITS), which makes the case even more humiliating for Moscow.

Medium-term

With the war having once again demonstrated the role of airforce, the Kremlin could look more kindly upon the wishes of its militarypilots. Russia’s air force commander voiced those in July:

  • funding for a threeyear purchase contract for Su-34 frontal bombers

  • more money to buy Su-35multirole fighters for two or three regiments

  • accelerating production ofthe Mi-28N attack and Ansat training and utility helicopters.

Long-term

The war could not have been won without a massive air liftoperation on moving 5,000 of paratroopers from Central Russia to Vladikavkaz(from where they marched to Tskhinvali), and deployment of 9,000 paratroopersto Sukhumi (where their presence led to the Georgian troops left the KodoriGorge without fighting). Although the Russian Transport Aviation proved up to thetask, it had to stress available resources.

The An-124 Ruslan and Il-76 fleetsare old, needing modernization. At the same time, restarting Ruslan productionmay look less attractive to Moscow now, in theview of Antonov design house’s location in Kiev, the capital of a Georgian ally. It maychoose to spend the money on Il-476 (reincarnation of the Il-76) andrefurbishing more Il-76MDs with PS90A turbofans (Il-76MD-90).

Less obvious, but nonetheless pressing need is modernizationof the vast Mi-8 and Mi-24 helicopter fleet: these machines made a substantialcontribution into the Russian victory, but did so without much exposure.

Finally, the Kremlin’s greater desire to spend extra money on defense may helpRSK MiG materialize its dream of selling rejected Algerian MiG-29SMT/UBTs tothe Russian air force. This would substantially decrease the debt burden on thecompany (the debts amount to nearly $2billion), while the Russian air forcewould get a good number of potent multirole fighters with long calendarlifetimes.

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