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Russia Creates Aerospace Forces by Merging Military Branches

Russian President Vladimir Putin reviews a Navy parade in Baltisk, western Russia, July 26, 2015, during celebrations for Russian Navy Day. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu stands at right.

Russia has merged several branches of its military into the Aerospace Forces - a reorganization aimed at enhancing coordination and efficiency, officials said Monday.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the decision offers "the optimal way of improving the system of the nation's aerospace defense."

The new branch will include the nation's air force, air defense, anti-missile and space forces.

Shoigu said that its creation has been prompted by the increasing importance of air and space components in modern warfare.

The air force chief, Col.-Gen. Viktor Bondarev, has been put in charge of Aerospace Forces.

President Vladimir Putin has launched an ambitious program of modernizing Russia's military arsenals. The Kremlin has been keen to show off the nation's military muscle amid tensions with the West over Ukraine.

Shoigu said that the military has received about 200 new planes and helicopters, and is to get the same number this year.

He also mentioned a plan to repair and upgrade 108 of the air force's 125 airfields by 2020.

While pilot training has steadily increased in recent years as part of the Kremlin's efforts to beef up the military, a recent spate of crashes of combat aircraft has raised concerns about safety standards.

Sunday's crash of a Mi-28 helicopter gunship from an elite aerobatic squadron, which killed its pilot during an air show, was the seventh military crash this summer.