SKOPJE, Macedonia --- Aviation Brigade of the ARM received a pair of recently-upgraded Mi-17 transport helicopters March 5. These two helicopters are now back in active service and will be joined by four more upgraded helicopters prior to the end of the year.
The overhauls are part of a larger 10-unit upgrade process for the ARM's Russian-legacy Mil helicopter fleet, of which six are Mi-17 transport types and four are Mi-24 attack variants. Both inventories were upgraded by Israel's Elbit Systems following a December 2003 contract, but had since suffered obsolescence issues and the entire fleet eventually grounded as their service lives expired.
A long-postponed modernization program finally began to move forward in November 2014 as Macedonia's Defense Minister Zoran Jolevski spearheaded an initiative aimed at analyzing the equipment needs of the ARM and moving forward to address capabilities gaps.
Other projects in the pipeline include the acquisition of wheeled armored personnel carriers (both 4x4 and 8x8 configuration) new 155mm self-propelled howitzers to provide the ARM with a modern artillery capability, and the modernization of the existing fleet of 31 T-72A main battle tanks bought from Ukraine in 2001. Upgrades to the existing ARM air-surveillance and air-defense architecture are also planned.
The ARM modernization effort is being supported by the government under a multi-year financing plan allocating around $211 million annually.