Overworked Russian Air Force Suffers Three Crashes In Five Days

Overworked Russian Air Force Suffers Three Crashes In Five Days

The relentless pace of Russian military belligerence appears to be catching up to the communist nation, as a Russian air force TU-95s "Bear" bomber ignited while on a practice flight Tuesday, marking the third such crash of a Russian plane in the last six days.

It seems that Vladimir Putin's desire to display military might is vastly outstripping the elderly, underfunded Russian army's ability to showcase it.

In an increasingly erratic and misguided attempt to re-live the Cold War days of his youth, Putin has ordered an increase in both military drills and politically motivated encroachment flights.

Its air force has dramatically increased the number of unannounced patrol flights near European territory, with states from the Baltics to Great Britain having to repeatedly scramble fighters to force Russian planes away from their airspace.

Russia's news agency Interfax reported last night that the same model of aircraft which Russia flew off the coast of England in January, skidded off a runway at a military base in Russia's Siberian Amurskaya region after a fire ignited in its engine during training flights. The TU-95s was severely damaged in the incident, with at least one injury.

In response, Russia has grounded all TU-95s while it inspects the ancient aircraft for any faults that could affect the entire fleet.

Its the third such incident suffered by the Russian air force since last Thursday, when two different fighter jets crashed in two different parts of the country.

Last Thursday Russia's state news agencies reported that a MiG-29 "Fulcrum" fighter jet had crashed near a practice ground in Astrahanskaya region, in northern Caucasus after a malfunction. Later in the day an Su-34 "Fullback" fighter jet went down during a practice flight, sustaining "serious damage" after hitting the ground in Voronezhskaya region, Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

While in both cases the pilots ejected and were not hurt, the incidents are serious and point to an under-maintained and elderly Russian aircraft fleet.

The Fullback is the newest aircraft currently in the Russian air force, the first unit of which was produced in 1993, though the model that crashed was likely produced well after that date.

According to Dr Igor Sutyagin, Russian military expert at the UK's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), all signs point to a Russian military that is being stretched too thin.

"This could be an interesting sign of the overstretching of Russian armed capabilities, because the maintenance template for these vehicles does not take into account the much higher operational tempo they have been operating under lately," Sutyagin says.

"The Bear bombers for example are designed for a single strike on missions not for extended training flights," he concluded.

Sutyagin thinks that, if Russia continues its military belligerence, a similar crash occurring near European territory is entirely possible.

"Half a year ago when NATO fighters were intercepting Russian ones, some were saying how Nato would soon find itself without jets because it would overstretch them," Sutyagin says "Instead the opposite has happened."

"Looking at the Bears, the newest one of them was produced in 1992. It's more than 20 years old. No one can exclude mishaps on any flying machine especially one that is overexerted. That is why you cannot rule out a mishap such as this happening in European skies," he adds.

The timing of these failures is far from ideal for Russia. The summer season will see an intense period of practice for its paratroopers, who are scheduled to attend over 1,000 training events over the next three month.

It also is less than ideal given the Kremlin is trying to establish itself as a high quality manufacturer of arms, having recently bragged that its next generation fighter jets will be far better than their US-made equivalents.

The Ministry of Defense is preparing for its Armiya-2015, expo where its latest weapons systems will be sold to representatives from 100 countries.

It will likely have some explaining to do about the latest failures before getting full-priced orders.


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