YEREVAN (RFE/RL)—Russia’s newly modernized fighter jets deployed in Armenia began, on Thursday, three-day exercises aimed at boosting their combat readiness and interoperability with ground forces of the Russian military base headquartered in Gyumri.
“The exercises involve around 100 servicemen from the flying and servicing personnel of the [Russian Air Force] detachment and 30 pieces of military aviation and special hardware,” the Russian military’s Southern District said in a statement.
“For the next three days the MiG-29 fighter jets will perform tasks related to supporting ground troops from the air as well as hitting and destroying air targets that imitate bombers and cruise and ballistic missiles of an imaginary enemy,” it said.
The statement added that some of the participating pilots graduated from Russian Air Force academies less than a year ago. The drills will determine which of them are fit to patrol Armenia’s airspace on a regular basis, it said.
The MiG-29 war games are part of a broader “command and staff exercise” currently held by the Russian base at two shooting ranges in central Armenia. They will help to improve the interoperability of Russian ground troops and the Air Force unit stationed at Yerevan’s Erebuni airfield, the unit’s commander, Colonel Aleksandr Petrov, was quoted by the statement as saying.
The unit is known to have 18 MiG-29s that were modernized last year. The warplanes were reportedly equipped with more advanced electronic targeting and navigation systems. According to the Russian military, they have been steadily increasing the frequency of their flights.
In 2014, Russia also began deploying at Erebuni about two dozen combat helicopters as part of a broader reinforcement of its base in Armenia numbering up to 5,000 military personnel.
The Russian military presence is a major element of the South Caucasus country’s defense doctrine. Armenian leaders say it is primarily needed for precluding Turkey’s direct military intervention on Azerbaijan’s side in the event of another war for Nagorno-Karabakh. Russian and Armenian soldiers practiced a joint operation against an imaginary enemy codenamed “Ottomania” when they last held joint drills in September.