By Ilya Kramnik
On February 10 fifteen years ago, the leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) met in Almaty, then capital of Kazakhstan (Central Asia), to sign an agreement to create a joint air defense system. In February 2010, they held a jubilee meeting of the Committee on Air Defense at the CIS Council of Defense Ministers.
The CIS leaders established the joint air defense system to preserve the remaining elements of the once powerful Soviet air defense. It comprised the air defense systems of Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.
In 2008, Georgia terminated its membership in the CIS and consequently withdrew from the joint air defense system.
Since Russia’s Air Force and Air Defense Force form the core of the CIS Air Defense System, changes in them affect the joint system. It is therefore not surprising that the February meeting focused on the future of these branches of the Russian military.
Alexander Zelin, commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force and Air Defense Force, said the reform program would continue. The structure and composition of the Air Force will be simplified to cut down on the various aviation categories, leaving the strategic, transport and army aviation intact. Frontline bomber, assault, fighter and reconnaissance units will be consolidated into tactical aviation like in the West.
The change proceeds from several trends. First, the new aircraft supplied to the Russian Air Force and its updated planes can now fulfill a variety of missions depending on weapon and equipment configuration.
Second, the reform entails a transition from aviation regiments to air force bases, which can be equipped with different types of aircraft depending on their objectives. This renders the air force’s traditional division categories obsolete.
Until recently, the rearmament of the Russian Air Force and Air Defense Force was proceeding sluggishly. The media and professionals expressed dissatisfaction with the slow supply of the latest S-400 (SA-21 Growler) air defense systems to the Air Defense Force.
But Gen. Zelin said supplies of the S-400 systems have been coordinated and will be fulfilled on time.
Unfortunately, that optimistic statement has not been backed with facts. According to available information, Russia’s armed forces currently have three to five S-400 battalions, and another 23 battalions are to be supplied by 2015.
Zelin also confirmed the recent statement by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who said that the first fifth-generation fighters would be supplied to the armed forces in 2013 and that full production would begin in 2015.
However, many analysts say the 5G fighter jets will actually come later, in particular because a new-generation engine, and possibly new armaments and electronic systems, are still not ready.
Overall, the rearmament of Russia’s Air Force and Air Defense Force is gaining momentum, with more new aircraft, helicopters and air defense systems supplied every year. If the trend persists, rearmament may reach the necessary pace within the next few years.
At the same time, modernization of existing weapons, including strategic bombers and army helicopters, will continue and new equipment will be provided for the Air Force’s command and control component.
The capabilities of the early warning system have grown considerably over the past few years, with several new-generation radar units built to replace both obsolete systems and the radar units lost as a result of the Soviet Union’s dissolution.
Although they shrank dramatically in the post-Soviet period, Russia’s Air Force and Air Defense Force are still the third most powerful in the world, after the U.S. Air Force and the combined NATO forces.
The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti, where this article first appeared.