The Russian invasion of the Ukraine and the following war prompted us to give an overview of the flying branches of the Zbroynykh Syl Ukrayiny or Ukrainian Armed Forces. Focus is on operational units (fighters, transport etc.), training units are outside the scope of this overview.
In 1991 the Soviet Union dissolved and the Ukraine became independent. Lots of former Soviet Air Force aircraft and helicopters stayed behind in the Ukraine as payment for the debts the Soviet government had, some 1.500 in total. However due to a lack of pilots and maintenance personnel, many of these were withdrawn quickly. In 2003 a large reorganisation was done, which meant closure of a range of airbases and withdrawal of more aircraft types (e.g. Tu-22, MiG-23, MiG-25, Su-15 and Su-17 of the air force, Yak-38 and Ka-25 of the navy as well as Mi-2 and Mi-6 helicopters of the army).
Many of the remaining aircraft however went through an extensive modernization program, which made more aircraft available for use. Also the amount of flying hours pilots make increased, all of this improving the readiness of the armed forces. After the Russian annexation of the Crimea in 2014 dozens more aircraft have been overhauled, modernised and returned to service.
These even include two An-26 transport aircraft that have been fully overhauled by volunteers after they had been in storage for years. One of those is fittingly called “Phoenix”. Furthermore new aircraft and especially helicopters have been ordered and delivered since.
Ukraine Air Force (Povitryani Syly Ukrayiny)
The air force consists of seven fighter regiments and three transport regiments. The former have providing combat and reconnaissance support to ground forces as the main tasks, supplemented with air defence and maintaining air superiority within the national airspace during conflicts. Main tasks of the transport regiments are tactical and strategic transport during conflicts.
Three brigades operate the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’: 114 BrTA (Tactical Aviation Brigade) at Ivano/Frankivs’k, 204 BrTA at Lutsk and 40 BrTA at Vasylkiv. They all consist of two squadrons that each fly the MiG-29 fighter aircraft plus a few Aero L-39 Albatross as squadron hack.
Furthermore there are two brigades with the Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flanker’, the only aircraft in the world that can do the famous Cobra manoeuvre. These are the 39 BrTA at Ozerne-Zhytomyr and the 831 BrTA at Myrgorod. The late famous Ukrainian demonstration pilot Col. Oksanchenko (see further) flew with this last unit as well. Both brigades have two squadrons of Su-27 plus again a few L-39. Together these five brigades form the air defence of the Ukraine.
The airbase Mikolaev-Kulbakino on the Southern coast is shared with the naval air brigade. Their Sukhoi Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’ ground attack aircraft have been handed over to the air force at the end of the 20th century and have been based here with the air force since. The two squadrons that operate them fall under the 299 BrTA. There is also a separate third squadron that flies the L-39 Albatros.
The last fighter brigade is 7 BrTA at Starokostiantyniv, or Staro as it is affectionately known. Based here are three squadrons with Sukhoi Su-24 ‘Fencer’ fighter-bombers plus again some L-39 Albatros. The Fencer is unique in the Ukrainian inventory as it has swing-wings, giving it supersonic capabilities, and a side-by-side cockpit for its crew of two.
Probably also based here is the 383 opDKLA (Separate UAV Regiment) who were the first unit in the Ukraine to receive the by now rather (in)famous Turkish built Bayraktar TB2 drones that can be armed as well do reconnaissance. They also operate some Soviet built Tu-141 and Tu-143 drones. These have been designed to do reconnaissance, but during the recent war at least a few have been crudely converted to be used with bombs attached. One of those crashed in Croatia after it malfunctioned and flew over Romania and Hungary first. Note that some sources say this UAV unit is based at Khmel’nyts’kiy instead.
Then there is the transport capacity. Two of the transport brigades are 15 OBrTrA (Transport Aviation Brigade) at Kyiv-Boryspil and 456 OBrTrA at Vinnytsia.
The different squadrons operate a few dozen Antonov An-24 ‘Coke’, An-26 ‘Curl’ and An-30 ‘Clank’ cargo and reconnaissance aircraft, the Tupolev Tu-134 ‘Crusty’ for people transport aircraft and multiple versions of the well-known Mil Mi-8 and Mi-9 ‘Hip’ helicopters.
The third transport brigade is the 25 OBrTrA at Melitopol, which operates the heavy transport aircraft of the Ukrainian air force. They have two squadrons that fly the Ilyushin Il-76 ‘Candid’ plus a third with the smaller An-26 ‘Curl’.
In the past also Il-78 ‘Midas’ tanker aircraft were used, but these have been converted to regular Il-76 transport aircraft by now.
Part 2 will cover the navy and army.