Ukraine has returned 68 military aircraft to frontline service since the beginning of 2014, in response to the ongoing crisis in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated on 2 June.
According to the MoD, aircraft returned to service include the Sukhoi Su-27 'Flanker' and MiG-29 'Fulcrum' fighter aircraft, Su-24M 'Fencer-D' and Su-25 'Frogfoot' strike aircraft, and An-26Sh 'Curl' turboprop tactical transport aircraft. The aircraft have already been returned to four units of the Ukrainian Air Force, the MoD added.
Since the crisis began the Ukrainian MoD has been keen to flag up its efforts to return its large inventory of mothballed or inoperable aircraft into serviceable condition. However, although the MoD has issued periodic statements about returning aircraft to service over the past months, this is the first time that either an individual or total figure has been provided.
In addition, the MoD noted that some 48 pieces of radar and air defence equipment has been returned to service over the same period.
Ukraine's air force has suffered from chronic underinvestment since the country's independence, with the bulk of its inventory either mothballed or otherwise inoperable.
According to IHS Jane's World Air Forces data, Ukraine still possesses a fleet of 24 Su-24Ms, 36 Su-25s, 45 Su-27s, 20 An-26s and 140 MiG-29s - although 39 of these were captured when Belbeck airbase in Crimea was taken by Russian forces. Estimates of how many of Ukraine's remaining aircraft are actually in operational service, however, range from around half to less than a quarter.
With Russia's seizure of Crimea and the subsequent violence in east Ukraine, the country has urgently sought to increase its defence spending - with returning equipment to service being a key part of the spending drive. However, accurately verifying MoD statements is highly problematic given the lack of any specific supporting information on which particular aircraft are involved, and to what units they are attached. As such it is unclear whether the MoD is referring to aircraft that were mothballed - which seems unlikely given the time taken - or simply to aircraft that were not fully operational.
Further confusing the matter, the MoD included pictures of an Aero Vodochody L-39 jet trainer and a 1970's-era Tupolev Tu-141 Strizh long-range supersonic reconnaissance unmanned aerial vehicle in their release mentioning the return to service of the Fulcrum, Flanker, Frogfoot, Fencer and Curl aircraft. Meanwhile a Su-25UB (Blue 65) pictured by the Ukrainian MoD was believed to have already been in operable service.
Whether or not 68 inoperable aircraft have truly been returned to full service, that the Ukraine Air Force is now receiving revived airframes will be a significant boost at a time when it is beginning to utilise fixed-wing aircraft against pro-Russian separatists in east Ukraine.