Soviet Markings Return to the Russian Air Force
Russia’s Air Force Command, in agreement with the Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, is changing the identification markings on its military aircraft. The newspaper “Izvestiya,” citing a source in the military department, writes that instead of red stars with piping in the colors of the Russian flag (white, blue, and red) a simple red star will be used, similar to those formerly painted on Soviet aircraft. There is a single difference—the stars will be smaller.
Russia’s Air Force Command assesses that the bright stars with tricolor piping break up the camouflage of its aircraft in flight. The basic idea of switching out identification markings is derived from the perception that they strongly contrast with the camouflage paint schemes of airplanes and helicopters. Such paint patterns are meant to erode the contours of aircraft, making them imperceptible at long distances and harder to identify by type at short distances.
In accordance with Shoigu’s decision, Russian military airplanes and helicopters will carry the one-tone red star without piping and the star’s size will be decreased by half. Such a variation in markings for Russian Air Force aircraft will not appear definitive, as the red star, even without the piping, contrasts with current camouflage schemes. In the long-term, Russian aircraft are planned to carry outlined identification markings in the shape of a star, a concept already worked out and undergoing trials.
The Russian Air Force is currently flying the proposed outlined identification markings only on the T-50 fighter (also known as the Prospective Front Aviation Aircraft System or PAK FA), and the markings are carried on all four existing prototypes. The Russian Ministry of Defense’s Scientific-Investigation Institute is currently defining the optimal thickness and size of the new identification markings. Outlining the star with a dotted-line pattern is also a possibility.
Identification markings in the form of a one-tone red star without piping were used on Soviet Air Force aircraft from 1918 to 1943, and then were switched out for red stars with white piping and a thin red outline. They were maintained in this form until March of 2010, when then-serving Minister of Defense Anatoly Serdiukov decided they would be exchanged for stars with tri-color piping and a thin red outline.
After the fall of the USSR, certain Russian military and political leaders called for replacing the red star as an identification marking, with some proposing the use of Russia’s state flag or even the aircraft markings of the Russian Empire. Nevertheless, in the first half of the ‘90s, the decision was taken to keep the red star on airplanes and helicopters because it is a well-known recognition symbol throughout the world.
In the meantime, replacing recognition markings is not the only change expected for Russian Air Force aircraft. At the end of December 2012 Shoigu decided to abandon the common gray-shade camouflage pattern. In the coming year, aircraft repaired, modernized, or fresh from the factories will be painted in colors characterizing the region in which they are based.