How Russia's Air Force Has Been Strengthened by Recent Combat Experience

How Russia's Air Force Has Been Strengthened by Recent Combat Experience

Russia's Air Force is full of experienced veterans thanks to missions in Syria and Ukraine. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Russian Air Force has also continued to routine patrol flights near its borders over the neutral waters of the Black, Baltic, and Barents Seas, as well as over the Sea of Japan and even near U.S. territory near the Bering Straits. This year, the Russian Air Force has been conducting training operations with its MiG-31 fighters in the Arctic – so it isn't just the deserts of Syria where Russia's pilots have been logging the miles in the sky.

Even the most advanced and capable aircraft in the world are only as good as the pilot at the controls. When it comes to combat aircraft, the Latin phrase "Si vis pacem, para bellum" – "If you want peace, prepare for war" certainly rings true. Practice makes perfect, and that is why many nations utilize aggressor squadrons that act as the enemy in training.

However, just as true is the fact that training isn't a perfect substitute for combat experience.

The Russian military has been undergoing more than a decade of reform, with Moscow nearly doubling military expenditures between 2005 and 2018, The Economist reported last year. More importantly, however, is the fact that just as military aviators from the United States, Russia's pilots have benefited from recent conflicts – and currently, more than 90 percent of Russian military pilots have at least some combat experience.

The more "experienced" pilots have conducted more than 400 sorties, Russia's Defense Minister Army General Sergei Shoigu said in a live broadcast of the Rossiya-1 TV Channel on Sunday.

"Over ninety percent of pilots have combat experience and some of them have a record of 100 sorties while some others boast 400 sorties and this is, of course, quite a different army," Shoigu said in the TV program Moscow. Kremlin. Putin in response to questions by journalist Pavel Zarubin, Tass reported.

The efforts to reform and modernize the Russian military have been a top priority for Moscow. Syria has been used as a de facto training ground – both for new Russian platforms such as the T-14 Armata main battle tank (MBT), but also for personnel. Russian military intervention in the Syrian Civil War began in September 2015, after an official request by the Syrian government for Russian military aid to combat rebel groups.

The intervention initially involved airstrikes from Russian aircraft that had been deployed to the Khmeimin base and were primarily conducted against targets in north-western Syria. Russia has launched combat sorties against militant groups opposed to the Syrian government, and that has included targeting the Syrian National Coalition, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant/Syria (ISIL/ISIS), al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in Syria) and the Army of Conquest.

Shoigu said in his interview that all the commanders at all levels, including those at the regimental, brigade, division, and army strength – as well as the commanders of military districts and the chiefs of staff down to battalion commanders – have all gone through some level of involvement in the Syrian operation.

The Russian Air Force has also continued to routine patrol flights near its borders over the neutral waters of the Black, Baltic, and Barents Seas, as well as over the Sea of Japan and even near U.S. territory near the Bering Straits. This year, the Russian Air Force has been conducting training operations with its MiG-31 fighters in the Arctic – so it isn't just the deserts of Syria where Russia's pilots have been logging the miles in the sky. So far at least, the patrols over the neutral waters have just remained routine, but as Russia seeks to maintain the peace, it is very much preparing for war.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.

This article was published last month and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters