MOSCOW, Aug. 30 (UPI) -- Belarus Defense Minister Iuri Zhadobin stated Russian fighters will be deployed in Belarus before the end of the year. Where the aircraft will be deployed is unclear. Zhadobin did not say whether the jets will be located at an air base the Russia Federation intends to open in northwestern Belarus near its borders with Poland and Lithuania, but a Russian air force general said in late June Russian Su-27SM3 fighter jets would be stationed at the base, due to open "within a few months' time."
The Russian air force facility will be situated in Lida and will form an important element in the "strategic defense of the Union State," according to Russian air force Chief Lt. Gen. Viktor Bondarev.
When the Lida air base becomes operational, it will be the second one Moscow has opened in the post-Soviet space since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. The first Russian air base developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union is located at Kant, Kyrgyzstan, near the capital Bishkek and opened in 2003. The Kant air base currently houses a number of Su-27 fighters.
As both Poland and Lithuania and neighboring Latvia are now all members of NATO, sharing a common frontier with Belarus, seeking to allay European fears, in May Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the plans for a Belarus air base are not a response to the proposed deployment of a U.S. missile shield in Europe the Russian federation has fiercely opposed since it was first suggested, RIA Novosti reported Wednesday.
The Su-27SM3 is a single-seat multi-role fighter capable of air superiority and ground strike missions. The Su-27 -- intended as a direct competitor for the large U.S. fourth-generation fighters, with a 1,910 nautical mile range, heavy armament, sophisticated avionics and high maneuverability -- first entered the Russian air force as a frontline aircraft in 1985. The Russian air force has already upgraded a considerable number of its Su-27 fighters to the SM standard. The SM3 has a stronger airframe than previous variants, with additional hard points for weapons carriage. The Su-27SM3's heavier weight is offset by higher-thrust AL-31F-M1 engines manufactured by MMPP Salut.
During the Russia's brief conflict with Georgia in August 2008, the Russian air force used Su-27s to gain airspace control over Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia.
Russian armaments, particularly fighter aircraft, represent a growing portion of Russian exports, exceeded only by energy. Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation head Aleksandr Fomin earlier this month stated the Russian Federation is now the world's second-largest weapons exporter after the United States, selling weaponry to 66 nations, with warplanes representing 40 percent of its 2012 total arms exports, remarking, "In 2012, equipment for air forces of foreign countries lead the export list with a 40-percent share, followed by weaponry for ground forces with about 28 percent, air defense equipment with 16 percent, naval equipment with 13 percent, leaving about 3 percent for other items." Fomin added tactical combat aircraft -- including Sukhoi Su-27s, Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum, Mil Mi-24/35 gunships, Mi-17 combat transport helicopters and Kamov Ka-28/31 naval helicopters -- are among the best-selling items in the Russian Federation's aviation weapon exports.