Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

The performance of the Russian air force during operations against separatist rebels in Chechnya is better than its previous campaigns in Afghanistan during the 1980s and over the disputed enclave in 1994-6, says air force commander-in-chief Col Gen Anatoly Kornukov.

While satisfied with the air force's operations, Kornukov acknowledges "friendly fire" incidents following attacks on Russian ground forces.

He also admits that the air force mistakenly dropped mines on Georgian territory in an aerial minelaying operation designed to close an 81km (50 miles) section of the land border with Chechnya.

Russian air force raids are normally performed by pairs of Frontal Aviation Sukhoi Su-24M Fencer or Sukhoi Su-25TM Frogfoot attack aircraft using television- and laser-guided bombs supported bySu-24MRs providing strike reconnaissance. About 2,000 missions where flown between 3 August and 27 September.

Targets have included an Antonov An-2 Colt biplane, which the Russian air force claims Chechen rebels bought from Azerbaijan, and which was used to smuggle weapons from neighbouring Azerbaijan and Georgia and for reconnaissance flights over Russian positions in Daghestan.

Also hit has been the Gronzy airport surveillance radar, more than 30 bridges, rebel training camps and ammunition stores, as well as oil refineries, an electricity distribution station, a television transmitter and a cellular-telephone station in Grozny and its suburbs.

Chechen airspace has been declared "under special regulations" says Kornukov, with no flights allowed from the disputed enclave.

Kornukov says the air force is meeting growing resistance from anti-aircraft artillery, small arms fire and "several launches" of man-portable surface-to-air missiles. Intelligence reports say Chechen rebels have received Stinger shoulder-launched SAMs from Afghanistan.

Source: Flight International