State and prospects of the Ukrainian Air Force

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State and prospects of the Ukrainian Air Force
State and prospects of the Ukrainian Air Force

Today we will talk about what kind of air force Ukraine has. This state still has at its disposal such aircraft as the MiG-29 and Su-27.

Ukrainian Air Force

How it all began

In one of our previous materials, we have already touched on the topic of the state of the Turkish Air Force and the Russian Aerospace Forces. Now it's the turn to analyze the situation of the Ukrainian Air Force. Moreover, they were used in Donbass at the first stage of the conflict.

The thesis is popular among Ukrainian patriots that after the collapse of the USSR "the equipment was divided unfairly." But this, to put it mildly, is not entirely true. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, a huge air fleet departed to Ukraine, which consisted of about 2,800 aircraft and helicopters, which were part of four armies. Among them were about 300 MiG-29 and Su-27 fighters (of various modifications), 200 Su-24 front-line bombers, 50 Su-25 attack aircraft. The total number of Mi-24 attack helicopters was slightly less than 300. Ukraine also got an air flotilla consisting of 19 Tu-160 strategic bombers - this is more than is currently in service with Russia. By the way, Ukraine handed over some of these machines to the Russian Federation to pay off its gas debt.

In general, the Ukrainian aircraft fleet of those years was very modern. It fully corresponded to the level of a country that claimed the title of a regional power. Moreover, such an aircraft fleet was even redundant. Ukraine, for example, did not need expensive Tu-160 "strategists", and long-range Tu-22 bombers (there were about 80 of them) could hardly be useful.


The realities of our time

Over the years of independence, Ukraine's military aircraft fleet has not only decreased - it has actually ceased to exist. Now, of the combat aircraft in the Air Force, there are about several dozen Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters, a couple of dozen Su-25 attack aircraft and a small number of front-line Su-24M bombers. All these machines, as we have already said, could be considered modern in the early 90s, but now they are hopelessly outdated. It is noteworthy that not a single Ukrainian combat aircraft has undergone comprehensive modernization over the years of independence. And no new ones were bought. Even the war in eastern Ukraine did not prompt the country's leadership to seriously address these issues.

In all fairness, it must be said that the military leadership did take some steps in this direction. Thus, the Air Force handed over the Su-25M1, upgraded on the basis of the "price-quality" principle. In comparison with the base Su-25, it received satellite navigation, a new air signal system, an upgraded radio station and modern sight counters. At the same time, the modernization of the Su-27 to the level of the Su-27M1 gave the pilots an updated air defense system.

However, neither the Su-25M1 nor the Su-27M1 received fundamentally new capabilities. Moreover, they do not even reach the level of the modernized Russian Su-25SM and Su-27SM. The last creators at least endowed with the optional ability to hit ground targets with new guided weapons. But the Ukrainian Air Force simply does not have such weapons.


The long arm of aviation

In the countries of the post-Soviet space, in general, the problem of new ASP (airborne weapons) is very acute. Even Russia, with its increased potential and the beginning of large-scale deliveries of new aircraft, was unable to provide its aerospace forces with the required number of modern guided bombs and missiles. In the case of Ukraine, this issue was not even considered at a serious level.

In the arsenal of the Ukrainian Air Force, the same ASPs that were at the disposal of the Soviet Union remained. These are R-27 medium-range air-to-air missiles, R-73 short-range missiles, unguided bombs and unguided rockets.Most likely, Ukraine inherited from the USSR a certain number of X-25 tactical air-to-surface missiles, but they have long failed to meet the requirements of our time. And the shelf life of the products, most likely, has expired.

Indirectly, the extreme backwardness of the Ukrainian Air Force is proved by the conflict in Donbass. During the war, Ukraine lost five Su-25 attack aircraft, two Su-24 bombers, two MiG-29 fighters, four Mi-24 attack helicopters, as well as military transport aircraft. After several months of the war, Ukraine stopped using combat aircraft and helicopters in the conflict zone altogether. By that time, the militia already had portable anti-aircraft missile systems, and the execution of strike missions turned into pure suicide for Ukrainian pilots.

Lacking guided air-to-surface weapons, the pilot of the Su-25 attack aircraft must visually identify the target and drop the uncontrolled ASP at a minimum distance from the object. But during the approach and aiming, he will be shot down several times. The same problem faced the attack helicopter pilots, who used mostly unguided rockets. For reference: the range of destruction of modern MANPADS "Verba" reaches 6.4 km. The pilot, in order to release unguided missiles at the target, needs to come as close to it as possible. So the result of the departure will be quite predictable.

Without guided bombs and missiles, allowing them to operate outside the reach of the enemy's anti-aircraft weapons, combat aircraft can no longer be effectively used. And the use of Ukrainian planes and helicopters during the hostilities in the east of the country has confirmed this.


The future of the Ukrainian Air Force

The prospects for the Ukrainian Air Force, as you might guess, are very vague. Now the most rational solution seems to be the modernization of some of the combat vehicles. Some combat-ready aircraft and helicopters can still be upgraded, but the resource of most is almost exhausted. Given that they have not always been repaired and have received proper maintenance, a deep modernization of the entire fleet can be a waste of money.

In the conditions of difficult relations with the Russian Federation, Ukraine is deprived of the opportunity to purchase new relatively inexpensive aircraft. China may be the way out, although the military aircraft of the Celestial Empire are inferior in quality not only to Western, but also to Russian counterparts. Among the European / American aircraft, one can pay attention to the JAS 39 Gripen light multifunctional fighters, which are the cheapest of the fourth generation European fighters. True, by the time these aircraft are delivered to the Ukrainian Air Force (if this happens, of course), Russia will already have a fifth-generation T-50 fighter in service, and Turkey and Poland may receive the latest American F-35s at their disposal. So the purchase of JAS 39 with its limited capabilities looks like a temporary measure.

Ukraine can also participate in the creation of the fifth generation Turkish fighter TF-X. Provided, of course, that the Turks agree and that this project will generally get a start in life. Still, for Turkey, which has never built combat aircraft from scratch, this project is a big risk. Ukraine also lacks a full cycle of assembly of combat aircraft and helicopters. There is, of course, the Antonov enterprise, which can build single copies of military transport vehicles. There is also Motor Sich, which specializes in the creation of engines and periodically offers its own options for modernizing old equipment. Recently, for example, the company presented the Mi-2MSB-V multipurpose helicopter, based on the old Soviet Mi-2. The same base (or rather, its Polish version PZL W-3 Sok ??) served as the basis for another development of Motor Sich - the MSB-6 Ataman helicopter. But the Odessa company "UMIK Aerospace", which developed light helicopters, training aircraft and UAVs, according to unconfirmed reports, moved to Russia.So it is unreasonable for the country's leadership to pin high hopes on the Ukrainian military-industrial complex.


Be that as it may, Ukraine can hardly afford to purchase foreign aircraft. The country is barely making ends meet, ensuring the current deplorable state of the Armed Forces: there are practically no funds for the purchase of new equipment, as there were none before. In order to fundamentally change the plight of the army, it will be necessary to increase the military budget many times over, and in addition, to call for help from high-level experts who will help reform the Armed Forces. Without all this, the Ukrainian Air Force will cease to exist in the next few years.

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