24 FEBRUARY 1950, Page 2

The World's Biggest Air Force

When Mr. Churchill guessed last Saturday that the Soviet Air Force had more than 25,000 aircraft in commission he was possibly giving an uninstructed audience a rather exaggerated idea of Russian air strength. The more usual figure, which has attained a considerable currency among experts, is about 15,000 front-line planes. This figure can, of course, be squared with Mr. Churchill's, since there must be a large reserve of trainers and others not suitable for exacting- operations and these would be included in the 25,000. But in order to avoid all risk of inflating the figure, 15,000 may be taken as a starting-point and some allowance may be made for aircraft of inferior performance or lacking some of the latest refine- ments of equipment. The Russian air force still remains the largest in the world. Possibly a last allowance may be made for the fact that it carries the burden of routine duties on an enormously long frontier, though against that must be set the fact that those duties are shared by a land army larger than the combined forces of all the Western Powers and a navy which includes the world's largest

submarine fleet. When all this is taken into account even the most convinced supporter of the theory that the Soviet Government really does desire peace might begin to wonder what would happen if by any chance it changed its mind.