Russia's air defenses are in disarray, dangerous to pilots and lagging far behind the West, according to the Commander of the Russian Air Force. He says 10 years of insufficient investment have crippled Russia's aging air fleet.
Russian Air Force Commander Anatoly Kornukov made his blunt assessment in a military newspaper interview published as Russia prepares to celebrate its annual Air Force Day.
Commander Kornukov says that for the past decade Russia has failed to modernize its air strike force. In 10 years it has not bought a single new plane, and only five percent of its aircraft are technically up to date.
The commander says not only is the system worn out, but the men of the Russian Air Force suffer from low morale and may not be ready for combat duty. In the newspaper interview he asks: "Is there any point in being surprised at the plane crashes that occur, when a pilot flies just on a wing and a prayer?"
The military newspaper Red Star reports that 11 people have died and eight planes have been lost in military air crashes this year.
The Russian Air Force Chief says under-funding is so severe that nearly half the country's military airfields do not have fuel for their planes. He says the "sad consequence" is that young pilots cannot get proper training and the experienced pilots are aging.
Commander Kornukov says Russia's Air Force is modernizing some warplanes, and earning up to $135 million a year by selling off its old fleet. But the Commander says the Air Force needs an immediate injection of more than $400 million just to cover equipment, engines, and spare parts.