- The Washington Times - Monday, August 5, 2002

KIEV The recent air-show disaster in western Ukraine has raised concerns about aviation safety in the nations of the former Soviet Union and has increased demands for the military to undertake rigorous reforms.
"The low level of training of pilots is a big problem," said Oleksiy Melnyk, a retired air force pilot who has flown with one of the colonels involved in the crash July 28 near the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, which was the world's worst air-show disaster. "The number of their training hours are down. This is the part of the military that needs reforming."
Ukrainian officials spent days sorting the debris of the Russian-built Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet that crashed into hundreds of spectators at Lviv's Sknyliv air base while performing difficult maneuvers, killing 84 persons. The two pilots, both colonels, ejected and survived.
Although reasons for the crash are still being investigated, Ukraine's prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Pyskun, said military leaders are primarily to blame because they allowed the plane to fly over the crowd. The pilots could be charged with criminal negligence.
A Ukrainian news agency reported that the pilots had been ordered to stay away from spectators 10 minutes before the crash, although that was not confirmed.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma blamed the disaster on the slow pace of military reforms and pledged to increase spending on the armed forces.
"What we first of all should do for the army and navy is to guarantee them normal financing," he said in the port city of Sevastopol while celebrating the navy's 10-year anniversary.
Among those under investigation are Volodymyr Strelnykov, who was fired as air force commander by Mr. Kuchma shortly after the accident, and the now-dismissed head of the 14th Air Force Division, which was celebrating its 60th anniversary at the air show. The former military commanders will be detained while the investigation into the crash is conducted.
Ukrainian analysts said they hoped the government would begin serious reforms of the military, such as bringing more civilian personnel into key posts and decreasing the armed forces.
"The military has an instinct for self-survival, but you can't have mediocrity in national defense because you'll have this kind of outcome," said Leonid Polyakov, a military analyst with the Razumkov Center, a Kiev-based think tank. "We need radical military reforms."
One key reform is to cut the number of troops, which stands at about 310,000, by at least two-thirds, according to a recent study published by the center. The air force, for instance, is so overmanned that some pilots are lucky to train once a month, while many graduates have left the academy without ever having flown a plane.
A day after the air-show disaster, a Russian civilian plane crashed outside Moscow, killing a crew of 14. Despite the accidents, officials in Ukraine and Russia stressed that the safety record for aircraft has been good since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

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