The next stage of the largest tactical exercises with firing practice during the entire post-Soviet history took place on August 30 at the Ashuluk testing range in the Astrakhan Region. The air defense forces and the air forces of member states of the agreement on the united system of air defense forces of CIS (USAD CIS) organized the exercise. The exercise was named Combat Community-2001. The USAD CIS, established on February 1, 1995, includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Georgia. However, only member states of the Collective Security Treaty (CST) and Uzbekistan took an active part in the exercises. The defense ministers of the majority of the CIS countries were present at the exercises.

Colonel Alexander Pilyaev, director of the USAD CIS department, told the author of the present article that this presence was conditioned not only by the wish of the ministers to visit the largest testing range in Europe, but also by their wish to hold consultations about the topical problems of security in the Central Asian and Caucasus regions. Hence, although the exercises were called tactical, they actually had a strategic character. Russian Air Force Commander General of the Army, Anatoly Kornukov, chair of the coordinating air defense committee of the CIS defense ministers council, commanded the exercises. Participants of the firing practice included two missile air defense divisions (S-125 and S-75) of Armenian Air Defense Forces, two Air Defense units (S-300) and a group of Su-27 of the Belarussian Air Force, two divisions (S-125 and S-75) of the Kyrgyz Air Defense Forces, one Air Defense division (S-125) of the Tajik Air Defense Forces, which took part in the exercises for the second time, as well as fighter and assault airplanes units of the Air Force, missile and radio-electronic units of the Air Defense Forces of Russia, logistics units, target designators for airplanes, and jamming units.

In the framework of the exercises, simultaneously with the firing practice, the Ashuluk Air Defense divisions and the Air Force crew of Kazakhstan performed similar exercises at the national testing range in Sary-Shagan. Defense Minister Sat Topakbaev of Kazakhstan commanded the exercises in Sary-Shagan. Lieutenant General Arkady Barsukov, director of the combat training department of the Russian Air Force, Ararat Ambaryan, director of the air defense department of the Armenian Defense Ministry, as well as representatives of the staff for the coordination of the military cooperation of the CIS member states also observed the exercises. Several divisions of the SAM systems S-73, S-200 and S-300 and Air Force units of Kazakhstan launched missiles at targets. During the main phase of the coalition exercises of the air defense of CIS countries at Ashuluk on August 30, only observers represented Kazakhstan. According to organizers of the exercises, it had to organize firing practice at its own territory in Sary-Shagan.

Uzbek Air Defense Forces will organize exercises at the Zhaslyk testing range in the Tashkent Region in early October. Participants of the exercises were compensated for all expenditures on their organization on a shared basis. They paid for electric energy, fuel and lubricants, residence, operation of Russian SAMs, targets, and so on. Overall, according to Colonel Pilyaev, more than 15 air Defense and air force units of the CIS countries and 1,600 servicemen, over 30 aircraft, which included theSu-27, Su-24 and Su-25 airplanes, and 12 air targets, which were six Strizh imitators of cruise missiles, three RUM La-17K radio-controlled imitators of sub-sonic jet airplanes, and three PM-6 parachute imitators of helicopters) and two ground targets (tank column and a company stronghold, took part in the exercises in Ashuluk and Sary-Shagan.

The type of the targets showed which goals air defense forces of the various countries pursued. For example, the Armenian Air Defense Forces killed the La-17K target imitating border trespassing airplanes in close cooperation with Russian Air Defense Forces, like in the real life. Now, Russian S-300 divisions guard CIS borders in the Transcaucasia in alliance with the Armenian Air Defense Forces.

The Air Defense Forces unit of Tajikistan fulfilled less difficult tasks. Crews of the S-125 killed the parachute target, which imitated a helicopter.

Air Defense Forces of Belarus were trained to kill unmanned aerial vehicles, cruise missiles, in a heavy countermeasures environment. This was a real situation during the NATO aggression in Yugoslavia. Belarussian S-300V divisions, which participated in the exercises in Ashuluk, can parry such attacks. The Belarussian Air Force units also acted in collaboration with the Air Defense Forces. The Belarussian Air Force was tasked to detect and kill a low-speed small airplane trespassing the border of the Russian-Belarussian Union.

On the eve of the exercises in Ashuluk, Russian and Belarussian Air Defense Forces were trained to kill targets in the area of the Cape Taran in the Kaliningrad Region. According to Colonel Pilyaev, participants of the firing practice included two air defense forces divisions (S-300) of Belarus and two similar air defense divisions of the Baltic Fleet. They fired at the RM-120 target, which imitated a high-speed flight of a cruise missile on very low altitudes, NATO troops used such weapons during their aggression in Yugoslavia in spring 1999. All targets were killed, which confirmed high professionalism of the Russian and Belarussian specialists. The Air Force Command does not hide that the united regional air defense system of Russian and Belarus may be established in 2001. This system will include the Air Defense Forces of Belarus proper and Russian Air Force and Air Defense Forces units deployed in the Moscow and Leningrad military districts, as well as in the Baltic Sea and in the Kaliningrad special district.

Against the background of problems, which exist now in the CIS, such as the struggle against terrorists in the North Caucasus and Central Asia, and so on, results of the exercises are impressive. The units acted perfectly. According to Lieutenant General Alexander Sinaysky, Secretary of the council of defense ministers of CIS countries, this is a natural result, because intensive training preceded the exercise. All air defense forces divisions and air force units participating in the exercises fulfill real combat tasks daily. This means that the exercises were a kind of test of their military professionalism.

It is evident that the exercises were very important because officers from the headquarters of the North Caucasus Military District observed them together with defense ministers. This was not accidental. The plan of the exercises was related to the current situation in the Caspian area and in the North Caucasus. The tasks, which the participants of the exercises fulfilled, included counter-terrorism struggle tasks, including the combating of organized militant groups that can use aircraft.

The exercises also pursued military, political, defensive, and economic goals. It is known that the Caspian basin contains big oil reserves. Not only CIS countries but countries of the whole world keep an eye on these reserves. The protection of national hydrocarbon fields will be mainly associated with operations of air defense forces and air forces.

Thus, CIS countries are gradually improving their skills in the protection of air borders of the Commonwealth. However, it is interesting that member states of the CST and Uzbekistan were the most active participants of the exercises, whereas only observers represented Azerbaijan, Moldova, Turkmenistan and Georgia.