Lyubov Pronina/MOSCOW

The Russian air force is in need of overhaul this year to improve its combat effectiveness, with a substantial equipment modernisation programme, the development of new tactics and armaments and a revised staff structure heading the list of requirements, says air force chief Col Gen Anatoly Kornukov.

Priority must be given to multifunctional systems, he says, including upgrading of the Sukhoi Su-24 Fencer, Su-25 Frogfoot and Su-27 Flanker, and a possible upgrade of the MAPO MiG-31 Foxhound to give it strike capability.

Kornukov says the Su-27IB will form the core of the force's attack and reconnaissance capability in the foreseeable future, describing it as "the aircraft of tomorrow".

The next generation S-400 Zenith surface-to-air missile system, which is scheduled to enter operational service this year, will also be a priority.

The system will be test-fired against an aerial target early this year. A variant of the missile used in the S-400 will be developed as a long-range air-to-air weapon for next-generation fighters, Kornukov claims.

Summing up the results of reform in the unified air force and air defence force in January 1999, the service had 192,700 staff in comparison to 318,000 a year before, Kornukov says. Last year, 580 units were disbanded, with 41,000 personnel released, including 69 generals.

Although the air defence force detected around 500 reconnaissance aircraft and registered 20 border violations in 1998, "-we cannot now guarantee uncontrolled crossings of the Russian border by Russian or foreign aircraft - battle readiness has decreased due to poor financing, while tactics development has practically stalled, Kornukov says.

"Expenditure on fuel is so poor that, in some regiments, pilots are almost untrained," he adds. The capacity of the Russian air force to strike ground forces, aircraft carrier groups and strategic command and control facilities has sharply declined because of the layoffs of experienced combat personnel, Kornukov says.

Continuing funding concerns mean that many of Kornukov's requirements are unlikely to be fulfilled in the foreseeable future.

Although the air force made severance payments by January to the officers laid off, it has not paid wage arrears for servicemen for August and September 1998.

Source: Flight International