The 16th Air Army is the most important unit of the Special Purpose Command. Initially formed during the Second World War as a part of the Soviet Air Force, it is now the tactical air force component of the Moscow Military District, headquartered at Kubinka airbase near Moscow.
"We will start transforming the 16th Air Army into an Air Force and Air Defense army in 2009," Major General Alexander Belevich said, adding that the major changes would reflect the addition of air defense units and strengthening of existing units.
The army will receive new Su-34 Fullback fighter-bombers by the end of 2008, the general said.
The first two Su-34s were procured by the Defense Ministry in 2007 and have been deployed at the Lipetsk pilot training center for practical training of military pilots.
Designed by Sukhoi, the $36 million Su-34 fighter-bomber is a two-seat strike aircraft fitted with twin AL-31MF afterburner turbojet engines. It is designed to deliver high-precision strikes on heavily-defended targets under any weather conditions, day or night, and is equipped with a 30-mm GSh-301 cannon, up to 12 Alamo or Archer AAMs, ASMs, and bombs.
Experts say the new tactical bomber has the potential to become the top plane in its class for many years to come. A total of 70 aircraft will be purchased by 2015 to replace around 300 Su-24s, which are currently undergoing modernization to prolong their service life.