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NOVA Online: Top Gun Over Moscow (see bottom of page for navigation)
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Grass on Russian runwaysThe poor state of Russia's infrastructure undoubtedly has an impact on the Russian Air Force. The problems are apparent everywhere you go. The buildings, sidewalks, and streets are old, poorly maintained (if they are maintained at all), and heavily utilized. Automobile traffic is an on-going accident waiting to happen. On one stretch of highway that effectively circled Moscow, over 200 fatal accidents a year are the norms. No one thinks anything about it...and even fewer have any desire to address the problem.

As these words are written, my associate Ben Lambeth, a researcher for the RAND Corporation think-tank, has just completed his long-awaited document, Russia's Airpower at the Crossroads. Ben concludes, unequivocally, that the Russian Air Force, as a threat, is no longer a player. He claims, and I concur, that over half its operational fleet of approximately 5,000 aircraft now is grounded or unserviceable, and by the year 2000, only about a third of that will still be flyable.

Items that western military pilots don't even blink at, like the most rudimentary of lap top and conventional desk top computers, remain an extremely rare commodity in Russia. As a result, computations, inventory management, and logistical issues are accomplished via the use of marginally capable manpower...and therefore are highly subject to human error, oversight, human foibles, and the generally deteriorating state of the union.

Rear view of fighter waiting for takeoffThe reasons for this dramatic and drastic decline are many and real. Besides the simple lack of spare parts, poor morale, ongoing difficulties with insubordination of personnel, and defections, there are the more fundamental losses attributable to a disastrous fuel shortage, abnormally high fuel prices, a highly lopsided pilot-to-aircraft ration (allowing most pilots to accumulate no more than 25 flying hours per year...which is far from sufficient for even an exceptional pilot to maintain proficiency), and an ongoing collapse of the over-all Russian Air Force infrastructure.

Accordingly, the Russian Air Force, in any military emergency that might surface today, could not sustain even a modest combat capability. Broadly speaking, these shortcomings are the product of the national government's sudden realization that it has no visible means of support.

fighters flying in formation In conclusion, and to reiterate, the Russian Air Force is not a threat...and it won't be for years to come, if ever. Russian pilots are not fools and they are not incompetent, but they also know that the old Russian way is dead. The demise of Soviet communism and the infiltration of western capitalism and the freedoms represented by western democracy can not and will not be turned back.

(response by Jeffrey Ethell)




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