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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Putin Praises Air Force on Its Holiday

President Vladimir Putin praised the air force on its official holiday Tuesday, saying he is certain today's military pilots "will continue the glorious traditions of their predecessors."

"For decades, military aviation has been reliably defending our country's air space and making a weighty contribution to the provision of national defense," a Kremlin statement quoted Putin as saying in an Air Force Day message.

The day honoring the air force came four days after it lost three aircraft in a single 24-hour period, underlining the problems of a service branch that has suffered badly from poor maintenance and insufficient pilot training.

On Thursday, an Su-24 bomber jet crashed on a training mission in southeastern Siberia, killing both pilots, and an Mi-8 helicopter crashed in a training flight in the Saratov region, Its crew survived with injuries.

On the same day, an Mi-8 was downed by rebel fire in Chechnya, killing the pilot.

A day after the three crashes, officials presented ambitious plans to rejuvenate the fleet, which has been augmented with just a handful of new aircraft since the Soviet collapse.

On Tuesday, however, air force chief Vladimir Mikhailov said upgrading and prolonging the service life of existing aircraft is a priority.

"We have great difficulties in maintaining the minimal serviceability level of air force armaments and hardware required for ensuring national military security," he was quoted by Interfax as saying. "Our main efforts are focused on upgrading the available aircraft and extending their service life."

At the same time, he said the air force is sufficiently equipped to rebuff local or regional aggression by assailants employing conventional or nuclear weapons.

Last week, Mikhailov lamented inadequate aircrew skills, saying military pilots now fly an average of 40 hours a year while the required minimum is about 100 hours.

In his statement Tuesday, Putin said that "the tactical mastery of our pilots and the unique achievements of our flight training have rightfully earned worldwide acknowledgment."

Meanwhile, a Yak-55 training plane crashed Tuesday near the city of Kursk during preparations for Air Force Day celebrations, emergency officials said. The pilot, who was the only person aboard the plane, was killed.