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Georgia Air Force

While Georgia's military has grown since its post-modern independence in 1991, its expansion has primarily been focused on its Army. The Georgian Air Force, approximately 1,000 personnel total in 1995, had grown only to approximately 1,350 personnel by the beginning of 2008. Purchases of additional and newer equipment were small. Under the 2007 Strategig Defense Review it was envisioned that its only task will be to provide airspace surveillance and connectivity. This would include creation of an Aviation Regiment under the Land Forces with the transfer of all operational Air Force rotary wing squadrons to Land Forces, and the elimination of the Su-25 Squadron. However, as of 2012 the Su-25 Squadron remained in service.

The core of Georgia's air force centered on a small number of Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft. Georgia had been home to State Aircraft Factory 31, established in Tblisi in 1970, which manufacturered the Su-25 aircraft after 1984. While the Georgians were quick to assume control of the plant in 1991, it had ceased operations prior to then and much of the equipment removed. While the Georgians eventually assembled some of the aircraft that had been abandoned at the plant, they lacked even appropriate paint, operating them initially in whatever camoflage scheme they had been found in, or without a finish at all. Reports of a small number of Su-17 attack aircraft and Mig-21U fighter aircraft also appear, though these may have also been at Factory 31, unassembled. The Georgians were said to have kept in storage a number of unassembled aircraft found at the plant after independence. By 2001 the Su-17s were listed as still in inventory, but not operational by the International Institute for Strategic Studies' publication The Military Balance. A small number of Mi-8/17 helicopters were also impressed into Georgian service, likely in various states of operational readiness.

Between 1992 and 1993 Georgian Su-25s and other aircraft were active participants in the conflict in Abkhazia, despite the small overall size of the Georgian Air Force. Mercenary pilots were said to be employed to make up for the lack of qualified Georgian pilots. By this point the Georgians had also added to their arsenal a small collection of light and transport aircraft. Yak-18T and -52 light aircraft were used for reconnaissance purposes during the conflict.

In 1997 Georgia obtained 10 L-29 trainer aircraft from Ukraine. In 2001, benefitting from their early support for the US "War on Terror" recieved 8 UH-1H helicopters, 6 from the United States (plus 4 more as sources of spare parts), and an additional 2 in aid from Turkey. An unknown number of Mi-24P attack helicopters were purchased from Ukraine in 2004, being delivered after an overhaul. Some sources suggest 6 helicopters were tranfered in total, but only 3 were known to be operational. Additional Mi-8/Mi-17 types were also purchased from Ukraine. Ukraine also provided pilot training for Georgian helicopter and fixed wing pilots. Another Mi-24 airframe was said to have also been purchased in 2004 from Uzbekistan, the fate of which is unknown.

By 2007 however, the future vision of the Georgia air force was a little unclear. Georgia is aware of its need to rid itself of old Russian equipment and purchase new items, but they're also aware they don't have the money to do so and would like to achieve interim steps along the way to a brighter future. That brighter future and vision for what the Georgian Air Force can be had not been defined, but the United States had pledged to help solve that problem and provide expert mobile teams that will fulfill the GAF Air Chief's request for a follow-up.

In support of U.S. Air Forces in Europe's continued focus on South and East, Gen. Tom Hobbins, USAFE commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Gary Coleman, USAFE command chief, visited with defense and air force leaders in Bulgaria and Georgia 14-16 May 2007 to discuss air force capabilities, modernization and future goals. The general concluded the trip with a summery of his experiences. "Overall, my impression of the trip was that both countries are very staunch allies in the war on terror," he said. "Both countries are contributing forces to Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, and their support is based on their own capabilities. Even though Bulgaria and Georgia are not fully capable in some aviation areas, they want to participate in as large a way as possible, which is very commendable."

On their final visit, the general and chief stopped through the Krtsanisi Training Area near Tbilisi, Georgia, and visited with members of the US 1st Combat Communications Squadron from Ramstein Air Base, Germany. At the KTA, the American 1st CBCS was providing command and control communications for the tactical operations center, as well as radio communications for infantry. They also provide logistics personnel for the Army and Navy where they were training the Georgian army on tactical maneuvers for their experiences in Iraq. It is more of a sustainment-type operation rather than a normal combat communication one where they set up quickly and then pull out. Here they had to set up and sustain communications as well as make improvements to all the facilities.

In October 2007 a new Squadron Headquarters was constructed at the Marneuli aerodrome of the Georgian Air Forces. The project had been constructed as part of bilateral defense agreement between Georgia and Turkey. The construction of additional facilities was seen as assisting the Georgian Air Force in becoming close to complete NATO interoperability. Georgia's small Air Force had been noticeably absent from earlier defense priority documents in 2004 for the 2005-2006 time frame. The completion of the military airfield at Marneuli was included with Air Defense projections, which themselves included mostly ground-based air-defense and monitoring expansion.

During the August 2008 crisis with Russia over Georgia's two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian aircraft were initially active, but were soon grounded by Russian airstrikes. The Russians maintained near complete air superiority during the crisis, claiming at least 3 Su-25 and 2 L-29 destroyed. Whether or not these had been in air-to-air engagements or aircraft destroyed on the ground by Russian strikes against Georgian Air Force bases was unclear. The Georgians on the other hand claimed between 5 and 10 Russian aircraft shot down by ground forces, though there was no confirmation of these numbers. The Russians admitted to only two aircraft losses.




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