After a fiasco with costly Russian missiles that could not be deployed, the army has been forced to ground a fleet of Russian-made helicopter gunships because no spare parts have been delivered and its pilots cannot read the Russian-language instruction manuals.
Only one of 12 MI-35 heavy gunships purchased in 2001 is still operational and that is used only “when absolutely necessary,” said an official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The other helicopters, meant to become a powerful deterrent against the Turkish tank force in the northern part of the divided island, are waiting in the hangars of a somnolent air base near Paphos.
Turkey maintains an expeditionary force of 35,000 troops in northern Cyprus, consisting of two infantry divisions and an armored division of more than 200 tanks.
The heavy Russian helicopters pack an arsenal of anti-tank rocket launchers, 30 mm guns and mine dispensers.
Russians like to call it “the flying tank.” In July, one crashed, killing its Cypriot trainee pilot and his Russian instructor. Now 10 others are effectively grounded, waiting for spare parts and English- or Greek-language manuals.
According to the Greek-Cypriot daily Cyprus Mail, the paralysis of the small helicopter fleet has dispirited potential pilots, many of whom reportedly have asked for transfers to other branches of the service.
The Greek-Cypriot army consists of about 10,000 permanent personnel with periodic call-ups for an additional 40,000 trained reservists. Annual maneuvers often are conducted jointly with the Greek air force.
During the 1990s, Cyprus bought a sophisticated Russian S-300 air-defense system intended to keep out Turkish planes, which had roamed the skies unopposed during the 1974 invasion.
Many Greek Cypriots considered the promised 48 ground-to-air missiles a miraculous weapon.
But delivery of the system, which cost the Greek Cypriots $227 million, was postponed several times, mainly because of Turkish threats of immediate armed intervention.
In 1999, the Greek-Cypriot government moved the missiles to the Greek island of Crete, where they serve as part of the Greek air-defense system. No one likes to mention the cost of the abortive purchase.
Apart from the grounded helicopter pilots, the Greek Cypriot army, known as the National Guard, is not dispirited.
It is training a 35-member unit to march in the Bastille Day parade July 14 in Paris, an invitation extended to all countries of the European Union by Nicolas Sarkozy, the new French president.