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Belarus builds up military aviation

The Republic of Belarus is shoring up its military aviation component, according to the country’s top military officials.

Belarus builds up military aviation Belarussian Su-30SM combat aircraft (Belarusian MoD)

In November, the Belarusian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the deliveries of two pairs of Sukhoi Su-30SM ‘Flanker-H’ multirole combat aircraft, which had been supplied by Russia. The fighters were issued to Belarus’ Air Force and Air Defense Troops (AFaADT). According to the military service’s official website, it now operates Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’, multirole combat aircraft, Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ close air support (CAS) aircraft, and Yakovlev YaK-130 ‘Mitten’ and L-39 Dolphin operational trainers, with the Fulcrums being the core of Belarusian air power.

Minsk seems to have decided to update its combat rotary-wing inventory with modern Russian-made systems. The Belarusian MoD is now implementing a concept of the development of Armed Forces through 2020, and new aircraft are being procured under this very program. In 2015-2019, the AFaADT took the delivery of 12 YaK-130 operational trainers: according to the country’s Defense Minister Lieutenant General Andrey Ravkov, the pilots for the aircraft were trained and the relevant maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) system was established. All the 12 trainers were issued to the AFaADT 116th Guard Air Assault Aviation Base.

It is noteworthy that Belarus employs its YaK-130 as both combat and training platforms - in February 2017, a Mitten was reported to have successfully launched R-73E air-to-air missiles against simulated aerial targets. "First of all, it [YaK-130] is a training platform that allows us to train pilots for various aircraft, including those planned to be procured, particularly, Su-30SM. At the same time, this aircraft [YaK-130] can carry a 3 t payload, despite its training profile," said Ravkov during an official ceremony that celebrated the delivery of the fourth four-plane batch of YaK-130s to the Belarusian military in mid-May. According to Belarusian estimations, the combat performance of YaK-130 is almost equal to that of a Su-25 CAS aircraft.

According to Ravkov, a contract for 12 Su-30SM fighters for the AFaADT was finalized at this year’s MILEX 2019 defense show held in Minsk, Belarus on May 15-18. As mentioned earlier, the MoD has already received four aircraft; the remaining eight will be delivered to the country within two years at an annual rate of four aircraft. Several Belarusian experts have severely criticized the acquisition of the Su-30SMs, referring to the probability of high maintenance costs. However, those criticisms hold no ground as Minsk has a maintenance facility that can conduct almost all types of Flanker-family fighter MRO/upgrade works - namely, Baranovichi-based JSC 558 Aviation Repair Plant (558 ARZ). The experts’ claims that Minsk had better switch to the acquisition of the United States-made F-16 Fighting Falcon combat aircraft (whether brand new or used) must be considered a joke.

Belarus is also reported to be upgrading several its MiG-29 fighters to the MiG-29BM (BM for ‘Belarusian, Modernized’) standard at the 558 ARZ. These aircraft are supposed to complement the Su-30SMs and the YaK-130s. However, the service life of the updated Fulcrums is suggested to be very short as Minsk inherited the baseline fighters after the collapse of the Soviet Union - thus, the aircraft have worked out spent most of their resource.

Therefore, the core component of the Belarusian AFaADT will be built of three types of combat aircraft, namely, Su-30SM, YaK-130, and MiG-29BM. This three-point list may reduce to two platforms - Su-30SM and YaK-130 - in case of a MoD’s decision to scrap the Fulcrums.

One should mention the Belarusian military’s program to update its rotary-wing inventory. To this end, Minsk bought 12 Mil Mi-8MTV-5 transport helicopter, which had been delivered by April 2017. Nevertheless, the combat assets of the Belarusian army aviation are reported to include non-modernized Mil Mi-24P ‘Hind-D’ gunships.

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