Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 115

Colonel General Anatoly Kornukov–appointed last December to head the new unified Military Air Force being formed by the merger of the former Air and Air Defense Forces–held a news conference early last week in which he gave a status report on his command. He announced that considerable progress had been made in combining the former Air Armies and Air Defense Armies, with this process to be completed by the end of August. It has been a painful one in human terms. Kornukov indicated that some 125,000 Air Force personnel would be laid off by the end of the year. According to Western estimates, this equates to more than 40 percent of the original strength of the two organizations. One of the latest operational mergers took place in the Trans-Baikal military district, where the 23rd Air Army and the 50th Air Defense Corps were combined. This reorganization cost 3,000 jobs, including some highly skilled young pilots. A spokesman for the new combined unit said that the command was “urgently trying to find them new [flying] positions in order not to lose the golden reserve of Russian military aviation.”

Kornukov claimed that 80 percent of his aircraft and 96 percent of the equipment in the missile forces were in top shape. This fleet is aging, however. Kornukov gave little indication that significant numbers of new planes would soon join the force. Ultimately, he hoped to field just one type of tactical fighter-bomber and maintain a single military trainer. Stressing the continued importance of the strategic nuclear mission, he said that design work on a new strategic bomber would begin in a year or two.

Kornukov offered what seems like almost desperate measures to find new funding sources. One was a plan for a bargain-basement sale of old Russian warplanes. He said that some 600 planes could be put on the international market, as well as a number of older missiles systems. However, the types he mentioned–such as MiG-23s, Su-22s, and SA-3 and SA-5 missiles systems–were all developed in the 1960s. They will be hard to sell to any but the most impoverished foreign customers. He also suggested a plan to use “redundant” military transports to form “civilian” air lines in which the military would hold a controlling interest. This scheme could quickly turn sour. There has already been one report indicating that the Air Force has turned over ten of its giant An-124 “Ruslan”–nearly one-half of its holdings–and a like number of Il-76 air freighters to Gazprom to repay some of its utility bills. Such aircraft can hardly be considered “redundant” at a time when mobility is such an important capability for Russia’s shrinking armed forces. (Russian media, April 15, June 1 and 10)