GABOR SZEKERES / BUDAPEST
Budapest devises major inventory cuts as part of preparations for NATO membership
Drastic reorganisation of Hungary's air force involving huge cuts in aircraft have been outlined in a defence review approved by the government as the country prepares for NATO membership.
The moves focus on making better use of resources by eliminating the majority of air bases and older, non-serviceable aircraft while preparing for the arrival of 14 Saab/BAE Systems Gripen fighters.
The plan foresees keeping only one air base operational in the west of the country, with emphasis placed instead on the east.
The helicopter base at Szentkiralyszabadja will be closed in 2004 with its useable Mil Mi-17s and Mi-24s transferred to Szolnol in the east, joining Mi-8 units. Most of the Mi-8s will be withdrawn from service by 2006 while the Mi-17 force will be upgraded and expanded. Eighteen Mi-24s will be retired with only 12, due to be upgraded to NATO standard, to be kept in service. The remaining helicopters will be transferred to the air base at Papa and eventually scrapped.
The two Mi-17PP electronic warfare platforms that had been stored at Szentkiralyszabadja will be stripped of their electronic equipment and converted into transports.
The Papa base will remain operational although it has no active fighter units, considerable work having been carried out to upgrade it to NATO standard.
The base houses almost 100 fighters (MiG-21MFs/MiG-21Bis, MiG-21UMs, MiG-21MFs, MiG-23UBs and Su-22M3s/Su-23UMs) in open storage, which will be disposed of. Serious interest had been expressed in the MiG-21s and MiG-23s by the Indian air force, but this has waned and the aircraft will be scrapped. An undisclosed number of two-seat MiG-21s have been sold to India.
Despite having been upgraded by US forces during their tenure, Taszar air base will probably be closed, but there is considerable local pressure to maintain it as a joint civil/military airfield.
Kecskemet will house the new Gripens and remaining MiG-29s. This year 13 of the original 28 MiG-29s will be retired, with the rest kept in service until 2009. Kecskemet will receive four Antonov An-26 transports and 12 Yakovlev Yak-52 trainers from Szolnok.