Russia’s Air Force has suffered from a string of crashes over the past month that highlight the country’s maintenance and modernization woes.
Since June 4, there have been five major Air Force crashes, USNI News reports. On June 4, a MiG-29 and an Su-34 both crashed. The SU-34 is one of Russia’s most advanced fighter jets, and was officially introduced into service in March of 2014.
These incidents were followed by a Tu-95 Bear bomber suffering an engine fire on June 8, another MiG-29 crashing on July 3, and an Su-24 crash on July 6 that killed both of its pilots.
Most recently, a second Tu-95 crashed on Tuesday close to the Chinese border. The incident has led to Russia grounding its Tu-95 fleet to carry out mechanical inspections of its planes.
Aircraft incidents are perhaps inevitable even in the most advanced militaries. But the rapid pace of crashes in Russia could point to systemic flaws and problems within the country’s Air Force as a whole. A possible contributor to the spate of accidents is the rapid uptick of Russian aerial maneuvers resulting from the Ukraine crisis, along with general poor maintenance and an ageing fleet.
Russia has been flying sorties across Europe, the Atlantic, and the Pacific with a frequency unseen since the Cold War. This increased workload has put heavy strain on an ageing fleet of Cold War-era bombers and fighters that Russia is only now trying to modernize.
“The majority of the equipment, apart from the [recent crash] of a newer Su-34, is very old. Under [Defence Ministers] Anatoly Serdyukov and Sergei Shoigu, the planes are being used very extensively,” a Russian source familiar with the matter told Defence News. “If you start to extensively use equipment made many years ago, even if the equipment is certified [in good shape], the percentage of failure becomes higher.”
This issue of older equipment is compounded by the fact that replacement parts for the aircraft are themselves in a poor state of repair.
“These old aircraft require a lot of maintenance, and the spare parts currently in stock are old,” Vadim Kozyulin, a military expert at the Russian PIR Center think tank, told Defence News.
This isn’t the only sign Russia’s efforts to project military power actually mask some dire internal weaknesses: 23 soldiers were killed when a barracks at a training center in Omsk collapsed on July 13th.
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