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Changing fortunes for Macedonia

Photo: Mi-24V serial 207 from the elite ‘Night Thunders’ squadron departs the range after a live-firing exercise. Macedonia offers plenty of space for low-flying exercises and training with other elements of the armed forces. ARM

 

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.”

 

Commander of the Macedonian Air Force, Col Robert Malezanski. ARM

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.”

UH-1H serial 321 is one of the pair of utility helicopters that Greece donated to Macedonia in March 2001. It is currently stored at Petrovec. Sven van Roij

 

The Aviation Brigade was considerable expanded in a short period of time as Macedonia responded to the Albanian National Liberation Army threat in 2001. Ukraine delivered a large number of aircraft, including Mi-24V serial 202. Sven van Roij

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