The Ukraine Ministry of Defence has started planning the purchase of Western-made aircraft. Considering the new active fighting role that the Ukraine military was forced to take up in 2014, sources within the department say there is an urgent need for modern combat aircraft.
At the earliest by 2020 the Ukrainian Air Force should receive an affordable new multi-role fighter and a modern UCAV – or armed drone. In about a decade the armed forces of Ukraine should field a new air fleet.
In the current doubtful economic situation of the Ukrainian state, a balance of affordability and capability will be most logic. Although the Kiev is holding its options open, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon are already deemed not to be included in the final selection. More likely is that Ukraine will either choose the Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon or strike a leasing deal with Swedish SAAB for the Gripen C/D or new E/F. Both the F-16 and the Gripen are known for their relatively low costs per flight hour and – especially the Gripen – for their easy maintenance.
After Russia pushed Ukraine out of the Crimean peninsula and provided military support and combat troops to the pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine, the Ukrainian air forces faced a sudden change in daily missions they were not prepared for.
“In the 23 years of Ukrainian independence the only experience we had was transport, medevac and reconnaissance. We didn’t have the money nor the training to perform ground attack and other combat missions,” Lieutenant General Sergei Drozdov Deputy Commander of the Air Force Armed Forces of Ukraine said during the recent IQPC Fighter Conference in London. Himself a trained fighter pilot with more than 2,000 flight hours on the Aero L-39, Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (“Fishbed”), the MiG-29 (“Fulcrum”) and the Sukhoi Su-27 (“Flanker”) he said: “Our combat aircraft were built mostly in the 1980s and early 1990s. They are inferior to modern aircraft and their in bad physical condition.”
With no money yet for a new modern fighter jet, for now the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence hopes for the best doing indigenous upgrades for another 10 to 15 years on the Russian made fighter jets and ground attack aircraft, plus Czech made L-39 trainers that can be used for light attack. Mothballed jets are brought back into service.
Ukrainian industries are also involved in upgrades of the many Mi-24 (“Hind”) attack and Mi-8 (“Hip”) transport and assault helicopters, and bringing stored choppers back to life. It is likely that Kiev starts looking for a non-Russian replacement for the rotary wing fleet as well – although many say that is not the priority at the moment. Cooperation with AgustaWestland daughter PZL Swidnik in Poland for co-operation in making both the Russian-designed Mi-2 and Polish Sokol helicopters is already being discusses. A first domestically upgraded Mi-2 is seen as an affordable solution to beef up the Ukrainian Army’s scout and utility capabilities.
Once more money is in place the future of Ukrainian military airlift is likely to build on the new developed Antonov AN-70 tactical transport aircraft, an aircraft that could even become a competitor for the Western European Airbus A400M, and on the smaller Antonov AN-140.
The Ukrainian Air Force training and light attack fleet could be more exotic in the near future. Although planes like the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 is considered a worthy successor of or supplement to the L-39, a deal with China cannot be ruled out. Involvement and possibilities of Ukrainian aviation industries to participate in the purchase of new hardware is always a key issue in the purchase policy. As late as November Ukrainian officials were discussing the Hongdu (HAIG) L-15 Falcon, at the 2014 Airshow at Zhuhai near Macau in Southern China. Ukraine already produces the Ivchenko AI-222 turbofans for these aircraft.
While the Ukrainian military for now has to soldier on with its old and sometimes renewed hardware, a slow move to more Western aircraft is certainly looming at the horizon. In Kiev the defence ministry is already plotting the path to that future.
© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
OVERVIEW OF AIRCRAFT LOSSES BY HOSTILE FIRE, ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE
(compiled by Airheadsfly.com based on official sources, December 2014)
- 2014.??.??: 2 Su-25s, 2 Mi-24s and 1 Mi-8 in separate incidents
- 2014.08.29: Su-25, over Donbas, likely SAM
- 2014.08.17: MiG-29, over Luhansk, likely SAM
- 2014.08.07: Mi-8, eastern Ukraine, weapon unknown
- 2014.08.07: MiG-29, near Zhdanivka (Donetsk region), by SAM
- 2014.07.23: 2 Su-25, Ukrainian Air Force, near Dmytrivka (Donetsk region), by SAM while providing CAS
- 2014.07.16: SU-25, Ukrainian Air Force, near Amvrosiyivka / Russian border, hit in tailsection. Second Su-25 hit as well, made successful emergency landing.
- 2014.07.14: AN-26, Ukrainian Air Force, near Izvaryne, by SAM
- 2014.06.24: Mi-8, near Slovyansk, by MANPADS or AA / heavy-calibre gun
- 2014.06.14: IL-76, Ukrainian Air Force, upon landing at Luhansk Airport, by anti-aircraft fire
- 2014.06.06: AN-30B, Ukrainian Air Force, near Slovyansk, by MANPADS
- 2014.05.29: Mi-8, Ukrainian Army Guard, near Slovyansk, by MANPADS
- 2014.05.05: Mi-24, Ukrainian Army Avation, near Slovyansk, by heavy-machine gun fire
- 2014.05.02: 2 Mi-24s, Ukrainian Army Aviation, near Slovyanks, by MANPADS
- 2014.04.25: Mi-8, Ukrainain Army Aviation, at Kramatorsk Airbase, by (rocket-propelled?) grenade