WARSAW, (BM) – “Since Ukraine gained independence, we have not received a single new military aircraft. The oldest military aircraft in our country are 52 years old,” says the commander of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Colonel Serhiy Drozdov, learned BulgarianMilitary.com citing the Polish news agency Defence24.
He points to Poland as a realistic model, which is simultaneously operating the F-16 and MiGi-29, waiting for the F-35 to be purchased. At the same time, he emphasizes that today the Ukrainian air force functions only thanks to the renovation and modernization of equipment.
In an interview with the Ukrainian portal RBK-Ukraine, the commander of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Gen. Col. Serhiy Drozdov outlined the difficult situation of his formation, whose equipment, as he emphasized, functions only thanks to the hard work of technical services in air brigades and 10 repair plants dispersed throughout country. They not only renovate but also modernize airplanes and helicopters of the armed forces. The oldest machines are 52 years old, while the newest ones come from 1991. All combat aircraft in service come from 1981-1991 and there are 5 types in total.
These are Su-25, Su-24M, MiG-29, Su-27, Su-24MR. They are regularly modernized, and the industry supplies a dozen or so airplanes after repairs and upgrades annually. In his opinion, despite this, the wear and tear of post-Soviet equipment, especially engines and aggregates, will lead to problems with maintaining readiness to perform tasks in 10 years at the latest. Even a fairly deep modernization of the MiG-29 or Su-27 is therefore a temporary solution. That is why it is so important to implement the program “Vision of the Air Force 2035” adopted by the Military Council of the Air Force Command of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in May 2020. It is part of a wider project, the framework of which is outlined in the document “The Vision of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”, which sets out a plan to reorganize the armed forces of Ukraine as a whole in terms of structure, equipment and tasks. An important element of this project, and at the same time the most expensive, is the introduction of multi-role aircraft.
“We are talking about buying planes abroad, from one of the partner countries. It will be one type of multi-role fighter, which is to replace all types of combat aircraft of the Soviet model: fighters, attack aircraft, bombers. Of course, the Air Force would like to have the most modern equipment, such as the American F -35, our pilots would dream of flying such airplanes. But let us be realistic, because Poland, for example, although it has long been a strategic ally of the United States and a full member of NATO, only now could try to obtain these planes [F-35 – ed.]” Gen. col. Serhiy Drozdov, commander of the Ukrainian Air Force said.
According to gen. Drozdow, the experience of Poland is a good example of how the process of modernization and introduction of multi-role aircraft should be carried out in Ukraine. He pointed out that, in addition to the F-16, Poland still operates the MiGi-29 and other types of post-Soviet equipment, which is successively replaced by Western machines. Such a plan is included in the aforementioned document “Vision of the Air Force 2035”, which provides for the modernization of MiG-29 fighters to the multi-role MiG-29MU2 version as a bridge solution, ensuring similar possibilities during the transition period based on national solutions. At the same time, the air force commander clearly states that any plans to develop a multi-role aircraft in the country are unrealistic for economic reasons, but also because of time. It is impossible to develop such a machine in 10 years, especially with such limited resources as Ukraine.
“The experience of Poland would be most acceptable for us: to get a fighter squadron and introduce it to service in one of the tactical aviation brigades of the Air Force. There should be no problems with the retraining of our flight crews for a new type of aircraft, but there are nuances with the technical base, repairs, technical service of airports that will have to be mastered “ Gen. Col. Serhiy Drozdov, Commander of the Air Force of Ukraine said.
In the context of anti-aircraft defense systems, according to General Drozdov, the situation is much better than in tactical aviation, because the potential of the domestic industry in this area is greater. Of course, he would like to acquire the modern Western system, but the financial constraints and priorities are known. Post-Soviet systems are being modernized, and domestic companies claim that with adequate financing they are able to develop more modern solutions. The situation is better in the field of radiolocation systems, including thanks to new systems such as Kolczuga and Malachit.
On this occasion, the commander of the Ukrainian Air Force denied the regularly appearing information that Russian planes regularly violated Ukraine’s airspace, including during combat operations in the east of the country. As General Drozdov emphasized, only over the territory of Crimea, Russia regularly violates the airspace in the area of its part belonging to the annexed area. “There were no such cases in the airspace of Ukraine, except of course in Crimea. Since the beginning of 2014, 225,000 violations of the state border of Ukraine have been recorded in the skies of Crimea ”.
General Drozdov emphasized that the only Russian machines that appear in the Ukrainian sky outside of Crimea are unmanned aerial vehicles, massively used by the Russians. Since the beginning of the fighting in Donbas, 450 enemy UAVs have been registered, 150 of which have come to us from the territory of the Russian Federation. The most commonly used Russian complexes are “Forpost” and “Orlan-10”. The most popular operational and tactical UAV level used by the Russians in Donbas – the Orlan-10. – Much smaller machines, such as “Granat” or “Eleron-SW”, are also used in large numbers. So far, over 140 UAV of various types have been shot down, including about 40 large machines of the first two types mentioned.
The Ukrainian side is also making extensive use of unmanned aerial vehicles. Although the general, as a pilot, emphasized that they would not replace manned combat aircraft, they proved to be suitable for many tasks where they do not need to be used for combat machines or are too dangerous for the crew. Therefore, the air force plans to increase the number of unmanned systems, including the Turkish Bayraktar TB2 tactical machines. They have already entered service, but as General Drozdov emphasized, it happened relatively recently and the personnel are training them intensively.
Moreover, Ukraine, while observing the provisions on the ceasefire, does not carry out combat flights of machines within 30 km from the demarcation line. However, lightweight systems, such as the Polish FlyEye [WB Group], are used to carry out reconnaissance and intelligence activities. As for unmanned aerial vehicles, talks are underway to acquire more Turkish machines as well as launch their production in the country, which could reduce costs and speed up deliveries.
As you can see, Ukraine eagerly uses the experience and example of Poland in its plans to change the organization of the air force and its equipment from post-Soviet to Western standards. If Kiev decides to purchase the F-16, a wider cooperation and involvement of Polish aviation and its experience in transferring to Western equipment would be likely. On the other hand, Ukrainian possibilities of independent modernization of the equipment owned are much greater than in Poland, and the scale of the expected purchases is so large that it may require further extension of the bridge solutions.
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Certain, though quite shy, seeds of cooperation are already appearing. While it may be useful for Ukraine to observe the Polish process of replacing MiGs with F-16s, Poland could certainly benefit from Ukraine’s experience in the use and combating of unmanned aerial vehicles. The possibility of observing the use of electronic and anti-drone combat systems by Russians is also important. In this regard, cooperation would certainly be beneficial to both parties.
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