As Macedonia gears up for NATO and EU membership, the country’s new government has announced it will increase the budget available for the Army of the Republic of Macedonia (ARM).
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev confirmed on August 2 that he would accelerate integration into the EU and expand the ARM’s involvement in NATO missions once it becomes the 30th member of the alliance.
This year’s defence budget was just €101m ($119.6m), or 1.1% of the GDP.
The current issue of AFM reports on the flying branch of the ARM – the Vozduhoplovna Brigada na Armijata na Republika Makedonija (Aviation Brigade of the Army of the Republic of Macedonia) – as it marks its 25th anniversary.
Already, additional funds have led to the ARM’s Russian-made rotary-wing fleet being upgraded and repainted in Ukraine. In addition to a communications system upgrade, the fuselage, engines and gearboxes are being overhauled. Helicopters are flown to the Aviakon repair plant in Konotop, Ukraine in batches of two. On June 10, 2016, coinciding with the anniversary of the Aviation Brigade, a contract for the overhaul of four Mi-8/17s and six Mi-24s was signed. The entire process will take two years.
Macedonian Air Force commander Col Robert Malezanski told AFM: “In general, each overhaul will last seven to nine months. If everything goes according to schedule, all of the aircraft planned to be overhauled will be back home and operational in 2019.”
Once the full Mi-8/17 fleet becomes operational again, a new problem may arise: a shortage of pilots signing up for training at the COP. Currently, the Aviation Brigade comprises 31 operational and combat-ready pilots.
Col Malezanski explained: “In recent years, we have seen fewer applications from Macedonians willing to work for our military. However, the brigade probably offers the best working conditions within the whole ARM. Although the ARM is not currently changing its rules for candidates – such as offering an improved salary or changing the requirements for wearing glasses – more visible and ‘aggressive’ advertising is being published in Macedonia to attract new pilots.”