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Ukraine Air Force Modernization

When Russia invaded Ukraine in Februar 2022, the Ukrainian Air Force comprised about 210 aircraft of all types, including some 98 combat aircraft. However, lack of spare parts for its mostly Russian aircraft had reduced Ukraine's airworthy fighting strength to about a third of the total number.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell went off-script at a press conference on 27 February 2022 to refer to the possibility. “We are going to supply… even fighter jets” to Ukraine, he said, adding that some EU countries have the “types of aircraft” Ukraine needs to fight Russia. The next day Borrell backtracked in another press conference, he acknowledged that while the fighter jets were “part of the request for help we received from Ukraine”, the EU did not have the financial means to pay for these planes, which should instead be donated “bilaterally” by the various EU countries.

The Ukrainian parliament specified the donations: Europe, would send 70 combat aircraft in total, including 28 MiG-29s from Poland, 12 from Slovakia and 16 from Bulgaria, as well as 14 Su-25s from Bulgaria. Poland will not send fighter jets to Ukraine, the country said on 01 March 2022 – the latest in a series of similar denials from EU countries that highlighted early confusion over what that the bloc’s new military support for Kiev will actually encompass. Polish President Andrzej Duda said his country “will not send any jets into Ukrainian airspace”, arguing that ” this would open up military interference in the Ukrainian conflict”.

Besides Poland, the Bulgarian and Slovak governments also ruled out the delivery of military aircraft to Ukraine. However, at the same time, a Ukrainian official claimed as recently as 28 February 2022 that Ukrainian pilots had left the country to recover planes donated by EU countries. A spokesman for the Slovak Defense Ministry also denied any donations: “Slovakia will not supply fighter jets to Ukraine,” the spokesman said.

Zelensky said that he was counting on a solution to the issue of the supply of military aircraft from Poland, but this also depends on the United States.

In 1992 in the territory of Ukraine there were four air armies, 10 air divisions, 49 regiments, 11 separate squadrons, and special educational institutions and places. There are about 600 military units, 2800 aircraft for various purposes, more than 120 000 troops. Ukraine's adherence to the CFE treaty limited it to 1,090 combat aircraft, 330 armed helicopters and 100 naval aircraft. Aircraft assets were divided 75:25 between the Air Force and the Air Defense.

Since the 1990s over 600 aircraft and 400 helicopters were transferred from combat units to reserve or were disassembled. The state intended to support a technical level of modernization with its existing weapons. The state weapon program announced that the lifetime of the main armament will be increased to 10-15 years. Also the procurement of new weapons would be minimized.

By 2006 the AN-24 and AN-26 aircraft as well as the anti-aircraft artillery systems, S-300 and “Buk M1”, have been modernized and their service life extended. The organizational basis and technological means for modernizing Mig-29, Su-24, Su-25, Su-27, L-39 have been produced. Given sufficient funding, the Defence Industrial Complex of Ukraine in cooperation with foreign companies is capable of fully renewing the aircraft fleet of the Armed Forces.

By 2008 the Air Force had 208 combat aircraft, of which only about 60 were combat-ready. By one estimate even upgraded aircraft will be able to fly no longer than up to the year 2015. That is to say that approximately from 2012 Ukraine would have to take practical steps to create a new combat aircraft. During 2006, a large number of outdated weapons and equipment was decommissioned from the combat strength of the Air Force, which presented an opportunity to direct the released funds to the modernization of various items of aviation and anti-aircraft artillery weapons and equipment, radio communication equipment, flight maintenance equipment and the improvement of force training.

At a meeting of the Interagency Defence Review Committee in October 2010, the Vice Premier, V.Sivkovych, told the Defence Ministry to review standards applied to classification and storing of supplies in the Ukrainian Armed Forces. The Security Service of Ukraine was tasked with indentifying culprits of technical failure of military aircraft. According to the Vice Premier, two thirds of the MoD’s aircraft were technically unserviceable. One third of those were part of the strategic reserve. The Ukrainian Air Force had combat aircraft Su-27, MiG-29, Su-24M, Su-24MR, Su-25; transport and special aircraft Il-76MD, An-24, An-26 and An-30; training aircraft L-39 and An-26Sh; various modifications of the transport and special helicopters Mi-8 and Mi-9; training helicopters Mi-2 as well as unmanned systems “Reis” and “Stryzh”. As of 2010, the Ukrainian Air Force had about 46,000 personnel, 208 combat aircraft and 39 transport aircraft. Furthermore, in June 2010, the Defence Ministry announced its planned to have repaired 14 military aircraft by 2011.

In March 2010 Ukraine's Defense Ministry passed Su-25 UBM1 and Su-25 M1 Russian-made fighters into service. A two-seat operational trainer Su-25 UBM1 is designed to provide tactical flight training of pilots in air force units and improving fighting efficiency. It could also be used for better determination of location, height and flying speed of enemy jets by utilizing digital algorithm range setting. The Su-25 UBM1 jet is a modernized version of Su-25 UB equipped with tuned and updated instruments to increase accuracy of bombing and missile launching. The fighter jet Su-25 M1 is a modernized version of Su-25 equipped with updated devices with improved fighting performance. By putting into service the two new jets, the defense ministry expected to improve tactical flight and combat efficiency.

Two Su-25M1 planes, which were modernized at the state-owned MiGremont enterprise, were transferred to the Ukrainian Air Force in late 2011. Su-25M1 and Su-25UBM1 modernization is done by Ukrainian MoD’s Aircraft Repair Plants and test flights were performed on the UAF State Testing Center’s training area “Chauda”. In result of upgrading of Su-25 the aiming-navigation system was greatly improved. All upgrade of air assets will keep combatant value of Ukrainian AF at a high level.

As of 2012 it was expected to carry out modernization of about 40 combat aircraft and repaired almost the same amount by 2015. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry concluded a number of contracts for aircraft maintenance in late 2012, totaling 103.79 mln UAH ($12.97 mln):

  • Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant will repair two MiG-29UB jet fighter aircraft for 33,71 mln UAH ($4.21 mln);
  • Zaporizhzhya State Aircraft Repair Plant MiGRemont will repair a Su-27UB air superiority fighter for 13.51 mln UAH ($1.69 mln); The Su-27 aircraft, named Su-27M1, was modernized at the Zaporizhia MiGremont Aircraft Repair Plant. It expanded combat capabilities and increased the efficiency of combat missions by increasing by 30% the range of detection of air targets and increase the accuracy of unguided means of destruction on ground targets, implemented the ability to perform navigational bombing from horizontal flight.
  • Sevastopol Aviation Plant will repair a Ka-27PCh military helicopter for the sum of 32 mln UAH ($4 mln);
  • Lutsk Repair Plant Motor will repair three AL-31F aircraft engines off of Su-27 air superiority fighters for 7.03 mln UAH ($0.879 mln) and four RD-33 engines off of MiG-29 jet fighter aircraft for 15.50 mln UAH ($1.94 mln);
  • JSC Motor Sich will receive 1.69 mln UAH ($0.211 mln) for scheduled maintenance of TV3-117 aero engines and AI-9 auxiliary power units.

Ukrainian special exports in 2005-2008 were based in the main on sales of "second-hand" aviation hardware. More than 150 planes, over 60 of them being training and battle L-39 ones in different modifications, were sold. The average price equivalent for this period was over 450m dollars, while the average annual - around 100m-120m. dollars.

In particular, it was related to the rise in target detection and pursuit range by an on-board radar system, along with adding the possibility of using "air-to-land" missiles. But as a result, the task was only partially resolved. Ukraine has a redundant fleet of MiG-29 fighters manufactured between 1986 and 1991. The maximum export price of these machines in battle worthy condition is around 25m dollars, though the most likely price is 15m dollars.

State Company UKROBORONSERVICE proposed execution of overhaul and upgrade of Su-25 and Su-25UB ground-attack aircraft. Nowadays the company, which will be the overhaul executor for above mentioned equipment, is the main repair plant for “Su”-type aircrafts that operate in different countries of CIS, Europe, Asia and Africa. The plant has the corresponding Certificate received from Original Manufacturer, which authorizes it for repair of aircrafts. The plant has the possibility to perform the overhaul in complete volumes in accordance with the documentation, which exists on repair plant, and which is brought into force by corresponding branch ministries and authorities. The plant executes all valid bulletins that were developed for this kind of aircrafts. In confirmation of correspondence of aviation equipment repair quality to international standards, in 2003 the plant has received International Quality Certificate “ISO 9002”, and in 2004 – International Quality Certificate “ISO 9001”.

At the end of March 2012, the Su-27 military pilots were working with Mirgorodskaya Zaporizhzhya plant named "Migremont" "Valentin Kalenov, where upgraded Su-27 were undergoing flight tests, and then in April 2012 returned to operational status. Thene another batch of two Su-27 aircraft refurbished at the «Migremont» plant were given to the air force of the armed forces of Ukraine before the end of 2012.

Until the end of May 2012, after repair two more MiG-29 fighter aircraft also were returned to in a combat operation. Work is being completed on a military transport plane IL-76 and modernization of Su-24m bombers. In the plans are the repair of helicopters MI-8, MI-24 and Mi-2. State tests are upgraded in the enterprise "Aviakon" helicopter air support to ground forces MI-24p.

In June 2012, the repair of two complete aircraft L-39, and by the end of the year it was planned to renovate 12 and upgrade 4 aircraft of this type. On 26 June 2012 the Air Command South of Ukraine’s Air Forces accepted two L-39 jet trainer aircraft after their overhaul at the Odesaviaremservice Aircraft Repair Plant. This overhaul includes the first application on the L-39 of a new type of pixelated digital camouflage, which dims the aircraft silhouette and complicates its identification in the air. Ukraine’s Armed Forces will receive sixteen additional aircrafts of this class by the end of next year. Chuguyiv Aviation Repair Plant was scheduled to repair twelve L-39 jet trainer aircraft, with the rest at Odesaaviaremservis.

The Zaporizhzhya State Aircraft Repair Plant MiGRemont was reportedly preparing to transfer another lot of upgraded Su-27 air superiority fighters to the Ukrainian Air Force in early 2013. The Air Force reportedly would receive two aircraft equipped with new pixelated camouflage, bringing the total number of upgraded Su-27s in Ukraine’s Air Force to 20.

Ukraine advocated boosting cooperation with China in the aircraft industry. This was stated by President Viktor Yanukovych during his June 2011 meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao. He noted that the Antonov state enterprise (Kyiv) could cooperate with the Chinese aviation companies, such as joint development of large and medium transport aircraft, turbo-jet transport aircraft, the joint production of An-70, An-148, and An-158. In this regard, the President proposed to instruct the governments of the two countries to work out the issues of possible projects that can be implemented in this area in the near future. As Ukrainian News earlier reported, on 20 April 2011, Ukraine and China established an inter-governmental commission for co-operation. Special attention was paid to development of cooperation between the two countries in the area of aircraft manufacturing during the meeting, particularly cooperation between the Antonov state enterprise and China's AVIC industrial corporation, expansion of the supply of aircraft engines and spare parts for them, as well as joint projects involving manufacturing of airplanes of various modifications.

Air Force Vision 2035

The Ukrainian military is looking to procure new fighter jets and surface-to-air missiles over the coming years. In the Air Force Vision 2035 document, approved on 15 May 2020 by the Military Council of the Air Force Command of Ukraine’s Armed Forces, the Ukrainian Air Force has specified its intention to procure a multirole 4th generation fighter jet able to both guard Ukrainian airspace from hostile aircraft and deliver strikes on enemy positions.

The Air Force Vision 2035 is a long-term defense planning document which was developed based on the Vision of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It is intended to identify rational ways for the development of the Air Force by 2035 and to generate baseline data for the State Program of Development of the Armed Forces of Ukraine through 2025, the Air Force Development Program, and other defense planning documents. It defines the Air Force's mission and tasks within the Armed Forces of Ukraine, challenges and threats to national security (including in the air), a description of the operational environment in which the Air Force will execute its tasks, and the target development model and requirements for needed capabilities with an assessment of resources requirements.

Ukraine will procure new fighter jets in phases over the coming decade, with a tender for initial batches of the aircraft appearing in either 2021 or 2022, Ukrainian media reported. Only a small number of jets will be acquired in this phase, while a larger purchase is being planned for the period 2025-2030. As much as UAH200 billion ($7.5 billion) could be spent on the fighter jet. Kiev will turn to suppliers in the U.S. and Europe to examine options to fill the requirement.

The Air Force aims to significantly overhaul its inventory over the coming decade. The transport fleet is to be consolidated with a new medium transport aircraft expected to begin entering service between 2027-2035. This project could cost around UAH40 billion. "Given that there is no such aircraft in the serial version, and it is not known whether they will be able to produce at the State Enterprise" Antonov "in the future, it is likely to buy foreign in the future. By type of transport helicopters in the Vision there is no specifics. It is not specified which helicopters are planned to be used in 2035. At the same time, there is currently no domestic promising helicopter that can replace the Mi-8. That is, these moments in the Vision are based on the assumptions that someday the domestic aircraft industry will be revived, " said the editor-in-chief of Military Aviation Denis Tomenchuk.

Moreover, the Air Force will overhaul its trainer fleet, which presently operates the L-39, at a cost of UAH35 billion. New unmanned systems should be procured as part of the project. These are estimated to cost around UAH30 billion. In August 2019 a delegation of the Air Force of the Armed Forces of Ukraine led by Commander Serhiy Drozdov arrived in Brazil to evaluate the purchase of light turboprop attack aircraft Embraer EBN-314 Super Tucano. This was reported by infodefensa.com. Demonstration flights were organized for them on the basis of the 3rd / 3rd Aviation Squadron (3º / 3º GAv) of the 5th wing, armed with the Embraer EBN-314 Super Tucano. Representatives of the Air Force also visited Embraer Defense & Security, during which they discussed possible cooperation and various conditions for the purchase of aircraft. In particular, the LAS (Light Attack) program, which allows to involve Ukrainian companies in the manufacture of weapons for aircraft.

Furthermore, the Ukrainian Air Force is to consolidate its air-defense capabilities under a UAH50 billion plan that will see it acquire a new medium-range surface-to-air missile system. Defense Express reported that at least four regiments should be equipped with a new system and ready for operational duties by 2030. Their number is estimated at 36 - 40 units, among the potential samples named SAM type NASAMS , developed and manufactured by the Norwegian company Kongsberg. Ukraine will also expand its domestic air-defense missile production (as much as UAH15 billion). During the third phase of the Vision, which falls on 2030 - 2035, to cover the most sensitive and critical objects of public administration, national economy and infrastructure, some critical elements of the combat construction of troops in operations must be purchased in limited quantities of anti-aircraft medium-range and long-range missile system with the ability to conduct missile defense in the amount of 9 - 12 units. Among the samples are called Western SAMP-T and Patriot, among the promising domestic counterparts - SAM-S(B)D, but this option is possible in the case of successful implementation of the project to create a domestic anti-aircraft missile system.

A new type of troops for Ukraine should be considered separately - unmanned aerial vehicles, which have recently been replenished with Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 UAVs. In general, the unmanned component should be represented by two types of complexes: reconnaissance; and reconnaissance and strike, How they will work at the operational-tactical and operational levels. The need for resources is approximately UAH 30 billion.

The Air Force of the 2035 model must have:

  • at least 4 tactical aviation brigades, armed with a modern unified multi-role fighter of generation 4 ++;
  • at least 4 brigades (regiments) of unmanned reconnaissance and strike aircraft;
  • transport and special aviation brigade;
  • training aviation brigade.
The modernization plan is highly ambitious. The price estimates cited in Ukrainian media come to UAH370 billion – though the actual costs could vary depending on the supplier chosen for procurement objectives – against the current annual defense budget that totals a little over UAH100 billion. Moreover, while the spending allocated specifically for rearmament and modernization in the defense budget has seen significant growth in recent years, it still amounts to only about one fifth of the annual defense budget. For the Ukrainian Air Force to meet the goals outlined in the project, it will require close support from the Ukrainian government.

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Page last modified: 08-03-2022 19:06:56 ZULU