The 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.
The 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.
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