Images of Ukrainian-operated Sukhoi Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack jets carrying two fuel tanks and four five-tube B-13L rocket pods for firing 13 122mm unguided rockets that appeared on social media on May 10 have confirmed that Ukraine has managed to restore at least one of the four Su-25s that North Macedonia donated to Kyiv in 2022 to an airworthy, combat-capable condition.
The single-seat aircraft (Bort No ‘Blue 51’) – complete with full Ukrainian Air Force (UkrAF) markings – was spotted wearing the factory construction number ‘09015’, which identifies the airframe as ex-North Macedonia Air Force Su-25 (formerly registered as ‘121’) of 101 Aviation Squadron and previously based at Petrovec Air Base (AB), near Skopje. This aircraft, together with three more Frogfoots – single-seat Su-25s ‘122’ and ‘123’, and dual-seat Su-25UB ‘120’ – and related spare parts, tools and weapons were donated to Kyiv, together with a variety of other military equipment of Soviet origin, by Skopje.
According to social media channels, the freshly restored Su-25 passed a general overhaul and was upgraded to the Su-25M1(K)-standard before it joined the UkrAF’s 299th Tactical Aviation Brigade (BrTA) ‘Lt Gen Vasyl Nikiforov’. This unit is tasked with providing close air support for Ukrainian ground forces and the Ukrainian Navy. It is armed with two Su-25 squadrons and a squadron of Aero Vodochody L-39 Albatros jet trainers; an aviation asset that operated from Kulbakino AB, near Mykolaiv, before the Russian invasion began.
Frogfoots from the 299th BrTA were heavily used against insurgent forces during the War in Donbas (2014-2022) and during Ukraine’s subsequent war with Russia. A significant number of aircraft have already been lost, some of which were put out-of-action when Kulbakino was attacked by Russian forces on the opening day of the conflict.
The Su-25s donated by North Macedonia were the first full-blooded combat jets to be donated to Ukraine by a NATO member state and the war-torn nation has managed to restore these aircraft and put them back into operational use against Russian forces.
Interestingly, North Macedonia’s Su-25s were grounded in 2003 and considered by the Macedonian defence ministry as non-perspective airframes for which restoration would be beyond economical logic. When delivered to Ukraine, these machines had been out-of-service for almost 20 years and were in a poor technical condition, having been stored outside for the most part. Appropriately, it was widely believed that Kyiv would only use these aircraft as a source of precious spare parts.
The restoration of at-least one of the ex-North Macedonian Su-25s clearly suggests that despite the Ukrainian aircraft repair and maintenance facilities being heavily bombed, damaged and some even totally destroyed in the ongoing war with Russia, Kyiv has managed to maintain its capability to modernise and overhaul combat aircraft. This was very likely achieved with significant assistance and logistics support provided by allied NATO nations that have previously operated Soviet-sourced weapons and maintained such military techniques.