photo by U.S. Department of Defense via Flickr
In step with bolstering Russia’s Navy, the Russian air force has also seen a significant expansion. But just what does Russia plan to do with a bigger and better air force?
As shown by a flood of close encounters between Russian and Western forces–particularly in the air–Russia is seemingly more intent on asserting its military presence more so than at any other point during the post Cold War era.
But how much has the Russian air force expanded, and furthermore, what exactly are they planning to do with it?
Much like Russia’s expansion of naval fleets following the annexation of Crimea and its valuable seaports, Russia’s air force has seen similar advancements.
Some of the biggest signs of Russia’s expanding air power have been:
- The transfer of fighter jets to Armenia, close to Turkey, plus new jets at the Crimean airbase of Belbek
- New airfields in the Arctic, plus the deployment of 60 fighters bombers and helicopters to Syria
- Fielding of s-400 air defense system in Syria, which denies others access to large areas of air space
Among the new air power additions are some of Russia’s most cutting edge new fighters and bombers, including Sukhoi Su-27SM fighters and four Su-30 fighter-bombers.
- The implementation of an advanced stealth fighter jet
Stealth fighter jets which some say might be equally–if not more–advanced than the current generation of American stealth fighters, are in the hands of the Russian air force. Among the jets capabilities are supersonic speed and an arsenal of long range missiles.
- Nuclear bomber test runs
Nuclear drills over the Atlantic Ocean have drawn the attention of NATO and other western forces. Test flights in such proximity to the U.S. are unprecedented in the post Cold War era.
- More planes and airspace incursions
NATO Supreme Allied Commander Philip Breedlove has verified that both incursions into NATO members airspace and the amount of planes involved in such incursions have increased by nearly three times since 2013.
Though the specifics of just how Russia has expanded their air power are apparent, the motives behind the push for a more powerful air force are far less cut and dried.
Some possible motives behind a push towards a more formidable and prolific air force might be:
- Greater control over the Black Sea
Using a bolstered NAVY and strategic bases in the Black Sea such as the formerly Ukraine-controlled base located in Belbek, Crimea, Russia has an even bigger gateway into Ukraine. Some have postulated that their decision to locate more fighter jets to this region may be directly related to Russia’s push into Ukrainian territory.
- Testing military boundaries
A recent report by the European Leadership Network posits that recent airspace incursions by Russia’s air force may be an attempt to test the boundaries and defense systems of Western and NATO aligned nations.
- Influence over the Arctic
As indicated by their supersonic fighter jet patrols over and their decision to enlarge the air base at Kotelny Island, Russia may also be intent on using their new air force to stake a claim in the Arctic.
If Russian military strategy continues in the same direction, it is likely we’ll continue to see an expansion and presence of Russian air power–especially following a $630 million Russian Ministry of Defense contract to modernize more than 50 Russian fighter jets.