Based on the results of well-known processes and events of recent decades, tactical aviation The Ukrainian Air Force is in poor condition. The number of combat-ready aircraft is small and there are tendencies for its reduction; their full-fledged operation is difficult or impossible. To solve these problems, a new rearmament program is proposed, but its implementation will face serious difficulties.
According to known data, the Armed Forces of Ukraine have seven brigades of tactical aviation. These formations are armed with Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters of several modifications, Su-25 attack aircraft, as well as Su-24M bombers and their reconnaissance version "MR". In addition, some brigades have L-39 training aircraft and various types of military transport vehicles.
According to The Military Balance 2021, there are currently approx. 125 combat-ready aircraft. This number includes 37 MiG-29 fighters and approx. 34 Su-27; 31 Su-24 attack aircraft; 14 Su-24M bombers and 9 Su-24MR reconnaissance aircraft. Also, the authors of the publication counted 31 L-39 aircraft.
Safe Skies 2011 joint exercises. Ukrainian Su-27s in the foreground; behind them, an American F-16C is landing. Photo by US Air Force
The latest World Air Force guide from Flight International magazine gives similar, but different numbers. The number of Su-27 fighters is set at 32 units, MiG-29 - 24 units. The total number of Su-25 - 13 units, Su-24 - 12 units. At the same time, the presence of 47 training L-39 is indicated. Thus, the combat-ready fleet includes 128 aircraft.
In different sources, data on the state of Ukrainian tactical aviation differ markedly. However, all sources agree that the number of combat-ready aircraft is small. In addition, all the available machines were built in Soviet times and are close to developing a resource. The inability to carry out a full-fledged repair and modernization exacerbates this state of affairs.
Air Force Vision
In May 2020, the Plan "Visits of the Power Forces 2035" ("Vision of the Air Force 2035") was adopted, proposing measures for the development of Ukrainian aviation for the next decade and a half. One of the main goals of the plan is the gradual replacement of existing equipment of a large age with promising aircraft. It is proposed to replace the entire fleet of MiG and Su fighters, bombers and reconnaissance aircraft with a single multi-functional fighter of the 4 ++ generation.
This replacement will be carried out in two stages. The first should be completed by 2025 and lay the foundations for future work. Within its framework, in 2021-22. it is necessary to conduct a tender and select an aircraft with the most favorable performance ratio. This will be followed by a contract for a limited number of vehicles, from 6 to 12 units. They are going to be received in 2023-25. and put into trial operation.
Upon receipt of positive results, the rearmament program will move to the second stage, designed for 2025-35. During this period, massive purchases of aircraft will be carried out, 8-12 units each. annually. By the end of the decade, this will make it possible to obtain at least 30-35 fighters and partially replace the decommissioned equipment. By 2030, at least two brigades of tactical aviation should completely switch to advanced technology.
By 2035, it is planned to complete the upgrade of tactical aviation. By this time, 72 to 108 new "single" fighters will be in service. Their exact number will be determined later, taking into account financial and other possibilities. It is easy to see that the plans provide for a reduction in the total number of combat aviation. However, modern or advanced aircraft will make it possible to compensate for the reduction in quantity at the expense of improved quality.
It is expected that the rearmament of the Air Force will be quite expensive and difficult. So, for tactical aviation alone, you will have to spend approx. UAH 200 billion - approx. 6,5 billion euros. At the same time, there are no guarantees that the cost of the program will not increase and / or it will not have to be reduced for reasons of economy.
Despite the presence of several aircraft and aircraft repair plants, Ukraine does not have the competence to create and build combat aircraft. Updating tactical aviation will have to be carried out only through the purchase of foreign equipment. At the same time, the plane for further purchases has not yet been selected - and even the approximate circle of applicants for future contracts remains unknown.
Recently, representatives of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense have raised the topic of possible purchases of foreign fighter-bombers several times. The possibility of purchasing American aircraft F-15 (including the latest modification of the F-15EX), F-16V or F / A-18E / F was indicated. The most daring statements even mention the F-35. Purchase of Swedish JAS 39E / F is also possible. At the end of March, it became known that France intends to offer Ukraine its Rafale fighters.
Paris is already taking steps to stimulate interest from Kiev, according to French press reports. The planes are proposed to be sold on credit, and the French government is ready to provide government guarantees in the amount of 1,5 billion euros - 85% of the estimated value of the contract.
The interest of other aircraft manufacturers in the Ukrainian program has not yet been reported. Probably, American and Swedish aircraft manufacturers are ready to respond to Ukraine's request, but they will not be the first to offer their products.
Plans and opportunities
In the near future, Ukraine should hold a tender and select an aircraft for further purchases. The choice will not be easy; the rearmament program may be affected by various factors, primarily the issue of funding. A poor country will have to find a lot of money for rearmament, and not only the Air Force needs to be updated.
According to current plans, by 2035 Ukraine will receive at least 72 tactical aircraft with a total cost of approx. 6,5 billion euros. It is easy to calculate that in this case the cost of one side should not exceed 90 million euros. Buying more aircraft will require an increase in budget - or a reduction in the maximum cost of equipment.
In terms of cost, one of the most advantageous is the Swedish JAS 39E / F fighter. Depending on the configuration and other conditions, a single JAS 39E can cost from 70-72 million euros or more. French Rafale under certain conditions can cost at least 140-150 million euros. Other modern fighters in terms of cost occupy an intermediate position between them.
If in 2021-22. it will be possible to fulfill part of the current plans and select an aircraft for further purchases, then by the middle of the decade the equipment of the first batch will have time to enter trial operation. The further course of rearmament will depend on these measures. In case of a positive development of events, 8-12 fighters of the first contract will confirm their technical and operational characteristics, which will allow placing new orders.
If the new aircraft do not perform well - either due to the design or due to insufficient competence of the operators - a new competition may be required to select the next aircraft, more fully consistent with Ukrainian capabilities and realities. This will lead to additional spending, to a shift in the timing of the rearmament program, as well as to the preservation of the de-uniformity of the aircraft fleet in the short and long term.
The military and political leadership of Ukraine plans to carry out several major rearmament programs, one of which is to radically change the quantitative and qualitative indicators of the Air Force. Currently, Ukrainian aviation is facing the problem of gradual degradation, and it is necessary to take action as soon as possible.
The proposed modernization program is capable of changing the situation for the better. However, a number of objective factors characteristic of modern Ukraine can hinder its timely and full-scale implementation. In the near future, a competition for the selection of a "single fighter" should start, and it can be expected that this event will already show the real state of affairs and the actual capabilities of the Ukrainian army. At the same time, it will make it possible to make predictions for the further development of events.