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RIA Novosti

MOSCOW, (RIA Novosti military commentator Viktor Litovkin)

The joint air-defense system is perhaps the only CIS military organization that has not experienced any serious problems or contradictions since it was established in 1995. "Due to a lack of discipline among pilots, we register thousands of CIS air-traffic violations, but CIS air space is violated very rarely," General of the Army Vladimir Mikhailov, the Russian Air Force commander, told RIA Novosti at a press conference devoted to the tenth anniversary of establishing the joint CIS air-defense system. The general also chairs the coordinating committee for air-defense issues of the Council of CIS Defense Ministers.

The CIS air-defense system was established on February 10, 1995, and comprises ten countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine. Although Georgian, Uzbek and Turkmen commanders did not attend the Moscow celebrations, the joint system's heads had a great deal to tell reporters.

"First of all, we have restored complete radar surveillance outside Russia," General Mikhailov's deputy, Lieutenant General Aitech Bizhev told RIA Novosti. "Now, we scan 800-1,500km of air space outside our external perimeter. Potential violators know this and do not risk violating our country's sovereignty and that of other CIS countries. The only time this has happened was last year, when an American light plane became lost over Mongolia and entered Russian air space. Fighters escorted it to Chita airport, where it made an emergency landing."

General Bizhev continued that the Council of CIS Heads of State had allocated two billion rubles on joint financing for CIS air defense, which meant forces received state-of-the-art combat hardware and equipment, including radars, surface-to-air missiles and aircraft. The forces wield Osa, Buk, S-75, S-125, S-200 and S-300 SAM complexes, and modified versions. Their fighter units fly modified versions of the MiG-23, MiG-29, MiG-31 and Sukhoi Su-27. Apart from radars, CIS electronic units are equipped with radio-electronic warfare systems.

In all, the joint CIS air-defense system comprises 19 fighter regiments (11 Russian and two Belarussian), 29 SAM regiments (11 Russian), and 22 radar units (nine Russian and two other Russian radio-electronic warfare battalions). Moreover, Russian air-defense units are stationed in Armenia (102nd base), Tajikistan (as part of the 201st mechanized-infantry division, which has now been converted into a Russian military base) and at the Kant air-force base in Kyrgyzstan.

Nonetheless, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan are the only countries to implement fully automated combat-duty programs between national command centers, but interaction remains to be streamlined in other CIS countries. According to General Bizhev, these countries can buy and install new automated control systems at domestic Russian prices. The coordinating committee for air-defense issues is now tackling these problems.

Russian and Belarussian units and weapons have now been placed on joint combat duty owing to the committee's efforts and after the Council of CIS Heads of State issued the relevant decision. An agreement on joint combat duty operations by Russian, Kazakh and Kyrgyz air-defense units has been signed. Armenian, Belarussian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz and Uzbek air-defense forces implement joint combat-duty programs. This area of cooperation will continue to develop.

There are plans to set up regional air-defense systems in the near future. In particular, the Russian-Belarussian air-defense system will become the mainstay of the Eastern European theater air-defense system. Russian and Kazakh forces will become the main element of the Central Asian theater air-defense system. Meanwhile Armenian air-defense units, the 3,624th Russian Air Force group, a Russian SAM regiment featuring S-300V SAM complexes (partof the 102nd Russian military base in Gyumri) will be the Caucasian theater air-defense system.

CIS air-defense units continue to streamline their interaction not only during joint combat-duty programs and information exchanges about national air-space situation reports and foreign air space. They also do so during regular tactical exercises, headquarters exercises and tactical war games with live ammunition. These exercises, codenamed Boevoye Sodruzhestvo (Combat Cohesion), are regularly organized at the Ashuluk firing range near Astrakhan. They involve virtually all members of the air-defense system. Seventy SAM divisions, as well as 60 fighter, bomber and ground-attack plane crews, have conducted live target practice there since 1995. Dozens of electronic units have facilitated their combat missions and missile launches.

The exercises will be expanded this year. Now, they will also be held near Vorkuta above the Polar Circle, where combat hardware will be tested in adverse conditions. Moreover, CIS units will train at the Sary-Shagan firing range in Kazakhstan, where Russia's S-300 Triumph SAMs, developed by the Almaz-Antei concern, will be launched and their maximum range evaluated. Ukrainian air-defense units will also test-fire their missiles at Sary-Shagan, if Kiev and Astana sign the appropriate agreement. The point is that S-200 system, with its long range of 300km, cannot be tested in the Crimea, which is why Ukraine is keen to attend the exercise in Kazakhstan.

Besides, the Sary-Shagan firing range, which was where Soviet anti-aircraft weapons and ABM complexes (including those around Moscow) were once tested, allows missiles to be launched against different aerial targets, aircraft included, and the most difficult combat environments simulated. It is unique in this respect.

Radio-electronic warfare systems will be used in April this year at the test-firing exercises to create a difficult jamming environment. SAM complexes will targetstrategic bombers, long-range cruise missiles and unmanned air vehicles. Radio-electronic units will jam radars, communications, reconnaissance and target-acquisition networks. Highly effective, powerful and heterogeneous air-force units will "attack" CIS air-defense units. So, how will the latter cope? General Bizhev is highly optimistic: "I think we will prove the joint CIS air-defense system's reliability once again."

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