Warplanes: January 7, 2004


Russia is spending several billion dollars this year to upgrade it's older Su-27 aircraft and allow pilots more training time in the air. The Su-27s entered service in the 1980s, and the only ones manufactured since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 have been for export. Russian pilots complain that India and China get more modern versions of the Su-27, and those countries also spend the money to have their pilots fly these aircraft far more than the twenty hours a year Russian pilots get. The most competent fighter pilots fly their warplanes about 200 hours a year (plus additional hours in simulators.) Russia has already installed new engines and electronics in five Su-27s and has the refurbished aircraft being tested by pilots. Increasing flying hours is expensive, as it costs several thousand dollars an hour to fly a high performance aircraft like the Su-27. Moreover, Russian engines wear out more quickly than their Western counterparts, further increasing the cost. It would cost at least half a million dollars per year per pilot to increase flying hours to 200. But apparently Russia has decided that quality pilots are worth the cost and will be spending a billion dollars more this year for combat pilot training. One factor contributing to this decision has been the experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s, and currently in Chechnya, where pilots who flew a lot more hours became noticeably more effective in combat. 


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