As predicted late last year here at Airheadsfly.com, Belarus is moving to purchase a number of Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter aircraft to replace aging MiG-29 Fulcrums. A preliminary agreement was signed between Belarus and Russia earlier in February.
The pending deal concerns twelve aircraft, with deliveries due to start in 2020. A formal contract has yet to be signed, but that seems a formality as relations between Moscow and Minsk have always been close. Russia operates up to sixty Su-30SM jets.
Belarus recently started operational use of the Yak-130, eight of which were ordered earlier. These aircraft replace obsolete L-29 Delphins.
The first two Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced training jets for the Belarus Air Force have arrived at Lida Airbase. They arrived on board a IL-76 transport aircraft, the first on 15 April, the second on 18 April.
Two more of the jets – which share the base design with Alenia Aermacchi’s M-346, are expected to arrive soon. Belarus military pilots have been training at Zhukovsky in Russia on the type, which is produced by the Irkut Aircraft Production Company. Familiarization with the jets started in February.
Belarus intends to use the Yak-130s as light combat aircraft as well, promoting its range of weapons in official publications. The jets can carry up to 6630 lbs (3000 kg) of payload on nine external hardpoints. The Belarus jets have a green camouflage livery on top and a grey monotone paint on the bottom.
The Belarus Air Force is starting the beginning of its operations with the new Yakovlev Yak-130 advanced trainer and light attack aircraft, although the Belorussian pilots are still in their very first phase in getting to know the aircraft.
To the Belarusian state-owned news agency Belta Chief of the Air Force and Air Defense of the Belorussian Armed Forces, Major-General Oleg Dvigalev, said the first pilots will go to Russia at the end of February to familiarize themselves with the aircraft.
Belarus ordered four Yak-130s, of which the basis is similar to the Italian Alenia Aermacchi M-346 with whom the Yakovlev design bureau worked together in the early stages of development.
Russia and Belarus have a tight cooperation of their air forces. Two dozen Russian Air Force Sukhoi Su-27s (Flanker) are based at Baranovichi Airbase in Belarus, with the first arriving in 2013. They regularly train with the Belarus Air Force’s own Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29s of which between 10 and 12 upgraded MiG-29BMs are operational with another 30+ older versions in reserve. According to the Russian Ministry of Defence both countries conducted 300 combat training missions in 2014.
Not Lida, as earlier reported, but Baranavichy will be home to a Russian Air Force fighter unit as from this month according to the Belarusian Private News Agency (BelaPAN). Initially four Sukhoi Su-27SM3 (Flanker) will be based at what is officially the 61st Fighter Air Base and 61st Assault Air Base of the Belarus Air Force.
The Russian permanent forward deployment is somewhat concerning to NATO, which just saw the Belarus defence forces weaken in December 2012. The former Soviet state withdrew its aging 17 single-seat Su-27Ps and 4 dual-seat Su-27UBM1 from active military service in that month, leaving its air defence to 12 modernized MiG-29BMs and 8 dual-seat MiG-29UBs.
Baranavichy Air Base is located on the southern edge of the town with the same name. It has only one runway (southwest-northeast vv). The main shelter and parking areas are north of the runway, but a smaller alert area is just south of the runway in the northeast. Moreover the base has some airplane facilities located in the forest just south of the main base.
With the growing economic and military might of Russia, Moscow is keen to protect its interests and strengthening its ties with its neighbouring ex-Soviet states. The fighter unit deployment can be seen as part of a bigger move to upgrade its defences and military readiness.
Russia is to base up to a squadron of Sukhoi Su-27s at the doorstep of NATO in Belarus. Before the end of 2013 the Flankers, as they are being designated by NATO., will likely find a new home near the city of Lida.
Belarusian Defense Minister Yury Zhadobi confirmed on Wednesday that Russia will have a fighter unit in his country before the new year starts. Earlier Russian military experts said that Lida was the preferred location, situated near the Belarus borders with Poland and Lithuania.
The move is extra interesting since Belarus just withdrew its aging 17 single-seat Su-27Ps and 4 dual-seat Su-27UBM1 in December 2012 from active military service, leaving its air defence to 12 modernized MiG-29BMs and 8 dual-seat MiG-29UBs. Officially Belarus has an additional 18 MiG-29Bs, but the airworthiness status of those older aircraft is unknown.
Russia and Belarus both seem keen to keep their air assets at level. On paper NATO has 84 fighter jets on its borders with Belarus. The Polish Air Force flies 48 Lockheed Martin F-16 Jastrząb and 32 Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29s.
The Baltic Air Policing mission of NATO based in Lithuania has an additional four fighter jets. This mission is rotated between NATO countries and it will be Belgian F-16s flying from the Baltic States the coming months.