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On September 12, 2004 the Georgian Air Force celebrated its 12 anniversary. Twelve years ago the newly formed Georgian Air Force performed its first flights at the airfield of the Tbilaviamsheni aircraft plant. Reason enough to have a look at the latest history and the current activities in this interesting country.

The major elements that influenced military aviation in Georgia were the separation from Russia, the tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as the facts that on the one hand the Tbilaviamsheni aircraft plant that produced military aircraft for many years, it produced 825 examples of the Su-25 in different versions, was situated at Tbilisi since WWII and on the other hand the geographic/-strategic position together with the mountenous terrain of the Caucasus region.
Georgia has an important geostrategic position as a transport corridor and an important role as an intermediary between Europe and Central Asia. Its biggest current investment project is the oil and natural gas pipeline which is to run from the Caspian Sea to Turkey via Georgia – thus by bypassing both Russia and Iran – to serve the European market.
During the Soviet era, Abkhazia, Ajaria and South Ossetia had autonomous status with far-reaching self-administration rights. When in 1990 Georgian nationalist anti-Soviet forces (led by Gamsakhurdiya) called the minorities' autonomy into question, there were increasing tensions in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Armed conflicts ultimately led to the secession of these two regions, which, however, has not been recognized by the international community, including Germany.

On 23 July 1992 Abkhazia declared its independence. Georgian troops march into Abkhazia, war begins on 14 August 1992. During the conflict in Abkhazia both the Georgian Su-25 and the helicopter force were heavily engaged against Akhazian and Russian Forces that supported the abkhazian side. The Georgian Air Force flew its Su-25 mainly from Kopitnari airfield. As both sides operated the Su-25 one important task was to distinguish the own aircraft from the 'enemies', both Airforces sported the 'Red Star' during that time. At least one aircraft was mistakenly shot down by its own forces. Until 30 September 1993 the Georgian forces were completely defeated in Abkhazia.

Since May 14, 1994 there has been a cease-fire which has generally been observed. Under United Nations (UN) leadership and with the involvement of the "Group of Friends of the Secretary-General" (Germany, France, Great Britain, Russia and the United States) as well as the OSCE, improved conditions for a political solution of the conflict were created in Geneva in November 1997. Negotiation groups from the two conflicting parties with the participation of Russia acting as a mediator, and the remaining members of the Group of Friends, in the role of observers, are making efforts to intensify the peace process. A United Nations observer force (UNOMIG, with a current total of 102 soldiers, including 11 from Germany, the largest national contingent at present) has the task of monitoring the cease-fire. Georgia's priority is to ensure its territorial integrity and to secure the return of expellees, while Abkhazia's main interest is in the economic blockade being lifted and in receiving economic development aid. It is aiming to gain international recognition of its "independence" and is for the most part not receptive for the initiatives of the United Nations and the Group of Friends that aim to resolve the conflict. Since February 2003 the United Nations, together with the Group of Friends, has been attempting to bring new impetus to the peace process through high-ranking international meetings (in Geneva in February and July 2003).

Between autumn 2001 and summer 2002, however, the party political scene in Georgia changed dramatically and the Citizens' Union of President Shevardnadze largely broke up. According to the unanimous opinion of national and foreign observers, the parliamentary elections of 2 November 2003 were undemocratic. These sparked mass demonstrations that were led by the opposition and that resulted first in the storming of the Parliament's constitutional assembly meeting on 22 and 23 November 2003 and finally in the resignation of President Shevardnadze. No one was injured and there was no noteworthy damage to property during this velvet revolution. On 25 November 2003, the Georgian supreme court declared null and void a major part of the parliamentary elections.The presidential elections that were held on 4 January 2004 as a result of the resignation of President Shevardnadze were for the most part conducted in an orderly manner, however without there being any noteworthy candidates besides the popular leader of the November mass protests, Mikhail Saakashvili. He won the elections with approx. 96% of votes cast and is to assume office on 25 January 2004.

Todays status of most of the airfields and the number of operated aircraft remains unclear. Especially about the airfiels in the western Abchasian region near the black sea no exact informations are available. Not less than 23 airfiels were located in Geargia in times of the Soviet Union. At least the airfields at Marneuli, Telavi and Alekseevka are active. Marneuli, a former soviet Su-15 base (Some Su-15 wrecks were left behind. One Su-15 is currently on display at the Flight Institute at Tbilisi. TAM, Tbilaviamsheni aircraft factory) south of Tbilisi, is home of the Georgian Su-25 force and jet flying training. Five single seat aircraft were active in late Otober this year. Some aircraft were reported to be in maintenance. Two two-seat Su-25 and one MiG-21UM in full Georgian Airforce markings were present at the TAM factory during that time. For the flight training four czech built L-29 Delphin were on duty at Marneuli. Alekseevka Airfield, near Tbilisi international airport, is home of a combined helicopter fleet: two Mi-24, two Mi-14, two Mi-8, four UH-1H, originally from the United Sates and Turkey, were noted. The two Mi-24 were of different versions, W and P. Reportedly one Mi-24 crashed before. All remaining helicopters were in excellent condition and seam to have been refurbished shortly. One single seat Su-25 was also seen at Alekseevka.

On December 15, 1941 the Aircraft Manufacturing Factory was created on the basis of N 448 Aviation Engine's Manufacturing Plant, where two plants, G. Dimitrov N31 Aviation Factory of Taganrog and N45 Aircraft Repairing Plant of Sevastopol were evacuated during World War II.  Musical Instruments' Plant and Iron Foundry of Tbilisi were joined to Aircraft Plant to ensure a large-scale production of aircrafts, however, after the war these two plants again became independent industrial units. In November 1941 factory produced its first fighter LAGG-3, serial production began in 1942. During World War II, Tbilisi Aviation Factory was the only enterprise providing Transcaucasian and Northern Caucasian fronts with fighters. From 1942 the Factory has been producing new-type models of fighters LA-5 and YAK-3. Bodies of 82 mm mortals, barrels of PPSH sub-machine-gun, flying radio-guided targets LA-17 and anti-ship supersonic winged missiles K-10. In 1946 the first jet fighter in USSR, YAK-15 was constructed in the enterprise, which was followed by YAK-17, YAK-23 and two-seater training jet aircraft YAK-17UTI. In 1952-57 years the factory was producing MiG-15 and MiG-17 jet fighters.From 1957 supersonic two-seat jet training aircraft MIG-21U, and its modifications MIG-21US and MIG-21UM were produced. In 1962 construction of high capacity assembling building of the factory was accomplished. In 1979 the enterprise began production of attack aircraft SU-25 and in 1980 production of "air-to-air" guided missiles R-60 and R-73 begun. The Aviation Factory was equipping former USSR air and naval forces with its output. MIG-21U, MIG-21US and MIG-21UM were exported to many countries such as Algeria, Bulgaria, Egypt, Finland, Germany, India, Syria and Vietnam. SU-25 and SU-25K were sold not only in USSR, but also in Angola, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Iraq and Northern Korea. In 1987-96 years TAM was producing SU-25T anti-tank modification, SU-25BM, six-seater light civil aircraft YAK-58 for local needs and two-seater training modification SU-25UB. One of the most important projects of the last years was the modernisation of the Su-25 to the Su-25 KM Scorpion. Recently the first examples were delivered to Turkmenistan. Together with upgrade and production activities Tbilaviamsheni also performs overhaul and major repair of SU-25, MIG-21 aircrafts and Mi type helicopters.

The author Marcus Fülber wishes to thank his friends and excellent aviation experts Nodar Beridze and Robert Papandopulov, as well as his friend and collegue Paata Gogolidze for their assistance in organizing these unique visits and last but not least Manana for her fine translation work.


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