The Russian defence ministry is seeking additional funding for combat helicopter upgrades, following a public outcry over the recent loss of four helicopters in Chechnya.

Preliminary investigations point to poor technical and airworthiness standards, while pilot skills are also deteriorating due to low flying hours.

According to army aviation commander Col Gen Vitaly Pavlov, since the early 1990s the average helicopter pilot's flying hours have dropped by 50-60%.

Pavlov says the service has 1,500 rotorcraft, with squadron readiness levels varying from 28% to 58%. The "only 100% combat-ready units" are those in Chechnya and overseas: in Kosovo, Pridnestrovie (Moldova), Sierra Leone and Tadjikistan. This year's military budget allocates funds for repair and overhaul on 90 military helicopters, according to land forces commander Col Gen Nikolai Kormiltsev.

Separate funding has been provided to upgrade 40 aircraft and for the production of a number of Kamov Ka-50 Black Sharks, as well as flight trials of the Ka-52 Alligator and Mil Mi-28N Night Hunter. The Mi-28N is to complete manufacturer's testing this year and start military trials in early 2003.

If received, additional funding will be used to accelerate the upgrading of Mil Mi-8 Hips to MTKO standard and Mi-24 Hinds to Mi-24VK1/2s, capable of night operations and with improved engagement ranges.

Pavlov says Mi-24 upgrades are "higher priority" than new acquisitions. "A new Ka-52 or Mi-28N costs $6-8 million, while a night-capable Mi-24 is $2.5-3 million." However, a small buy of new Mi-8s and Mi-24s for units operating in Chechnya is being considered.

Source: Flight International