A Resurgent Russian Air Force Celebrates Its Centenary

 - August 17, 2012, 10:53 AM
A formation of five Su-27s, eight Su-25s and eight MiG-29s described the figure 100 as they opened and closed the Russian air force’s centenary airshow at Zhukovsky from August 10 to 12. (Photo: Chris Pocock)

The Russian air force celebrated its 100th anniversary with a three-day airshow at Zhukovsky airbase near Moscow from August 10 to 12. The event underscored the resurgence of a service that had suffered years of retrenchment and under-investment after the demise of the Soviet Union. Russian military aviation is adding 180 new or upgraded aircraft this year and expects to add some 200 more next year.

More than 200,000 people witnessed flypasts by almost every current type in the Russian air force, including Tu-22Ms, Tu-95s and Tu-160s from the strategic bomber force, as well as an Ilyushin Il-80 flying command post, A-50 AEW aircraft and newly acquired Su-34s, MiG-29SMTs, Yak-130s and An-140s, as well as Mi-35M, Mi-28N and Ka-52 helicopters.

Three Russian aerobatic display teams (the Swifts with their MiG-29s; Russian Knights, Su-27s; and Golden Eagles, Mi-28Ns) were joined by the Red Arrows Hawks from the UK, the Frecce Tricolore MB-339s from Italy, the Finnish Midnight Hawks and the Polish team with their TS-11 Iskra trainers. The second prototype Sukhoi T-50 stealth fighter flew in the company of a MiG-29M2, and Sukhoi Su-35 demonstrator 901 gave a stunning performance using extensive vectored thrust. The seven-hour display also featured a French air force Rafale and more than a dozen historic aircraft.

The new Russian air force commander, Gen. Victor Bondarev, noted that 69 foreign delegations, in addition to Moscow-based air attaches, came to the show; they also attended a “Common Skies” conference.

Bondarev said that the Russian air force has emerged from bad times a decade ago when unspecified parties “tried to cut out our wings entirely.” Now the air force is once again “able to defend the skies over our great country,” he continued. Over the past four years, the average annual flight time for junior pilots in tactical fighter regiments has been “rising steadily” to 85 hours, compared with as little as 10 to 12 hours a decade ago. “Now we have everything to conduct combat training at a high pace, from jet fuel and money for aircraft repair and servicing, to new aircraft coming off production lines,” the commander said.


During a three-hour visit to the show, Russian president Vladimir Putin promised that the air force “will get everything that is included in the State Armament Program 2010-2020, and that our acquisitions will be funded in timely fashion,” Bondarev told AIN. According to this program, the air force will receive “more than 1,000 new helicopters, some 600 fixed-wing aircraft and a number of anti-aircraft and electronic combat systems,” he noted. Putin’s assurance came after last month’s call by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev for “postponements” in deliveries of “some military items on order” so as to reduce the burden on the Russian federal budget.

This year the air force will take delivery of more than 100 combat and transport helicopters, along with about 60 “new and upgraded” airplanes. The service also expects an initial batch of six Su-35s this year and an unspecified number of T-50s for evaluation in 2013, with operational examples to follow in 2015. In parallel with the modernization of 10 Tu-160 supersonic swing-wing strategic bombers, Russia plans to flight-test a new long-range strike aircraft, known by the Russian acronym Pakda, in 2022.