It’s Polish and from Poznan; this F-16D is about to reach terra firma at the local airbase, which is home to one of two Polish F-16 wings. (Image © Elmer van Hest)

Ukraine military planning for Western aircraft

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.

It’s Polish and from Poznan; this F-16D is about to reach terra firma at the local airbase, which is home to one of two Polish F-16 wings. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Featured image: Ukraine considers to buy the F-16C/D, similar to this Polish Air Force example (Image © Elmer van Hest)
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.

An Ukrainian Air Force Tupolev Tu-143 unmanned air vehicle (UAV), nothing compared to the modern drones used by Western forces. Pro-Russian separatists shot down at least one of the Tu-143 over East Ukraine in 2014 (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)
An Ukrainian Air Force Tupolev Tu-143 unmanned air vehicle (UAV), nothing compared to the modern drones used by Western forces. Pro-Russian separatists shot down at least one of the Tu-143 over East Ukraine in 2014 (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)

Combat missions
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.”

A pair of Su-27s, Ukraine's prime air-defence fighter with secondary attack role (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)
A pair of Su-27s, Ukraine’s prime air-defence fighter with secondary attack role (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)

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.

Helicopters
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.

The core of Ukrainian airlift is formed by the Mi-8 helicopter - seen here in its secondary assault role - and a dozen aging aircraft like this Antonov AN-26 (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)
The core of Ukrainian airlift is formed by the Mi-8 helicopter – seen here in its secondary assault role – and a dozen aging aircraft like this Antonov AN-26 (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)

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 Hongdu (HAIG) L-15 advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft (Image © Czip)
The Chinese Hongdu (HAIG) L-15 advanced jet trainer flies with Ukrainian made engines. Kiev is looking for options to add the light attack variant to its fleet (Image © Czip)

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

↑ Check our extensive Overview: the Air Forces of Ukraine here

OVERVIEW OF AIRCRAFT LOSSES BY HOSTILE FIRE, ARMED FORCES OF UKRAINE
(compiled by Airheadsfly.com based on official sources, December 2014)

About 20 Su-24 bombers and Su-24M tactical reconnaissance aircraft are fully operational. One of these aircraft of the Soviet-era crashed upon landing in 2014, with its crew surviving after ejection (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)
About 20 Su-24 bombers and Su-24M tactical reconnaissance aircraft are fully operational. One of these aircraft of the Soviet-era crashed upon landing in 2014, with its crew surviving after ejection (Image © Ukrainian Ministry of Defence)