Russia is proceeding with an ambitious plan to bolster its air force, at a time when its military aircraft are conducting more and more flights probing the air defenses of its neighbors and raising fears of a new Cold War. It will receive more than 200 new airplanes and helicopters this year, a staggeringly high number considering that most of the world's air forces have fewer warplanes than that in total. Russia will also introduce in service this year the most advanced version of its highly capable Flanker fighter jet.
The plans are an integral part of the Kremlin's intention to moderize its entire armed forces.
“Under the framework of Defense Procurement and Acquisition program, the air force and naval aviation will receive 126 new military aircraft and 88 helicopters," said defense minister Sergei Shoigu during a conference call on Tuesday, as reported by Russian news site Sputnik.
The defense minister made it clear that in 2015 the Russian air force’s modernization is a priority for the government. The minister said "the serviceability status (will incease) up to 67 percent," meaning that two out of three aircraft will be ready to fly at any one time. That is not an impressive number: for the U.S. Air Force, that rate was 78 percent in 2013.
Shoygu also announced that the Russian air force will begin using the Su-35s Flanker multirole fighter jet in 2015. The twin-engine, single-seat fighter jet is undergoing tests, and “this year the new aircraft should enter service,” Shoygu said during the conference call
The aircraft, which will cost $85 million to buy at export price -- far cheaper than Western counterparts -- is considered to be a 4++ generation fighter, just short of the fifth-generation fighters, of which the United States' F-22 Raptor is the only operational example. However, Lockheed Martin’s F-35 is in the final stages of becoming operational; the U.S. Marine Corps version should launch in December 2015. Russia’s Sukhoi T-50 and China’s Chengdu J-20 and Shenyang J-31, also fifth-generation fighters -- defined by their use of stealth, or radar-evading features -- are all still in testing.
The modernization of the armed forces comes at a pivotal time for the Russian military, which is allegedly involved in assiting pro-Russian rebels in the East Ukraine war, claims NATO. Russia has denied the claim.
Shoigu also said last month that Russia will increase its military capabilities in Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Arctic region.