Jan 9, 2015
Ukraine returns refurbished combat aircraft to service
Two MiG-29 and two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters were handed back to the Ukrainian Air Force.
In addition to the aircraft, about 150 ground vehicles and other weapons systems were handed over to the military.
Since hostilities with Russia began in early 2014, Ukraine has returned scores of aircraft to service that would otherwise have become unairworthy due to a lack of investment in the country's armed forces. These have included MiG-29s and Su-27s, as well as Sukhoi Su-24 and Su-25 strike aircraft, and Antonov An-26 transport aircraft.
Having suffered from chronic underinvestment for years, the Ukrainian Air Force was placed at an instant disadvantage when Russian forces entered Crimea in early 2014. The air force's inability to respond with the assets that it did have was compounded when a number of its bases were overrun and its aircraft seized.
It is thought that 45 aircraft, including MiG-29 fighter and Aero L-39 trainer/light strike aircraft, were lost this way when the 204th Tactical Aviation Brigade at Belbek was overrun by Russian Spetsnaz troops on 21 March.
Further to this, when the Ukrainian Air Force did get involved in hostilities in a meaningful way in the east of the country, it found that this endemic underinvestment manifested itself in outdated and poorly maintained combat aircraft, as well as poorly trained pilots. Combined with a lack of combat experience and poor use of intelligence, this meant that the air force has suffered a high loss rate that continues through to today. At least 20 fighters, transports, and helicopters have been shot down in the past year.
While Ukraine's aircraft inventory remain impressive on paper, the country desperately needs to continue its refurbishment effort if it is to have at its disposal the numbers of serviceable and capable aircraft it requires to combat separatist factions.