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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Air Force Has Big Modernization Plan

Just a day after the air force lost three aircraft within 24 hours, officials presented ambitious plans Friday to rejuvenate the aging fleet, which has suffered from poor maintenance and insufficient pilot training.

Air force chief Colonel General Vladimir Mikhailov said the air force next year should start receiving a modernized version of the MiG-29 fighter, called the MiG-29SMT, and an upgraded variant of the MiG-31. Both modernization programs have been dragged out for years because of the military's money crunch.

The air force has purchased just a handful of new aircraft since 1991 despite continuous official pledges to upgrade the fleet.

A new long-range air defense missile, the S-400, is also set to enter service next year, Mikhailov said. He would not specify how many systems would be delivered in 2004.

His deputy, Major General Dmitry Morozov, said the air force also will receive new Mi-28 helicopter gunships, 50 of which are set to enter service throughout the period until 2010.

The announcement followed the loss of three military aircraft Thursday.

An Mi-8 helicopter crashed on a routine training mission in the southern Saratov region, and its crew survived the crash with injuries. The crash occurred when the helicopter's engine developed a strong vibration, and the pilot attempted an emergency landing in a field, narrowly escaping a gas station. Another Mi-8 was downed by rebel fire in Chechnya and the pilot killed.

An Su-24 jet bomber crashed into a mountain slope while attempting to land in adverse weather conditions, killing both pilots.

Mikhailov said crew error and a flight controller's mistake contributed to the crash.

Mikhailov lamented inadequate aircrew skills, saying military pilots now fly an average of 40 hours a year, less than the required minimum of about 100 hours. Pilots from Western air forces log several hundred hours a year.

The shortage of funds, which limits pilot training, has also made it hard for the military to adequately maintain its aircraft, contributing to an increasing number of crashes in recent years.

Mikhailov said the money crunch also has led to the loss of the military's ability to control air traffic over a large swath of Russia.

He also said military radars now control only about one-third of Russia's northern border.

"Today, on-duty radars cover mainly the western and southern borders of Russia, while in the north and internal regions of the country it ... covers only 35 percent of the territory," he said.

"The problem is there and is complicated, but it could be resolved," he added.

The modernized military aircraft will be presented at the Moscow International Show, which opens at the Zhukovsky air base outside Moscow on Aug. 19.

(AP, MT)