Macedonia appears set to return its four Sukhoi Su-25/25UB ground-attack/trainer aircraft to Ukraine later this month, under an exchange deal which will see its air force take delivery of an Antonov An-32 twin-turboprop transport modernised to NATO standards.
Other options under consideration by the Macedonian defence ministry include the provision of long-term maintenance and overhaul services for its air force fleet of seven Mil Mi-8/17 utility and 12 Mi-24V/K assault helicopters or the delivery of an undisclosed number of additional Mi-24s.
However, the An-32 deal has emerged as the most likely to progress, with NATO having urged Macedonia to improve its armed forces' air transport capabilities to better meet its rising military involvement in the US/NATO-led missions still operating in Afghanistan and Iraq. The USA has also suggested that the country concentrate on acquiring an expanded fleet of Western-built transport helicopters.
NATO has previously identified the Su-25 disposal as an important condition ahead of Macedonia meeting its entry criteria to join the alliance in 2007 and the aircraft are now expected to be returned to Ukraine ahead of the 28-29 June NATO summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
Macedonia acquired three single-seat Su-25s and one twin-seat Su-25UBtrainer from Ukraine under a 2001 deal worth an estimated $6 million.
Intended to increase the air force's ability to counter the threat posed by Albanian rebels, the aircraft entered service with the 101st Aviation Squadron at Petrovec airbase in June 2001. The aircraft were officially retired from service on 1 March 2004.
IGOR BOZINOVSKI / SKOPJE