Ever Declining Sales Order & Reputation of Russia’s MiG

A MiG-35 panel blows out from its wing during a airshow in Moscow, Russia. Photo by Popular Mechanics.

Three years ago, Ukraine was facing an unexpected challenge – Russia’s military aggression. Relations between Russia and Ukraine plummeted after the overthrow in February 2014 of Moscow-friendly Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Russia subsequently annexed the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine. Kiev also accuses Moscow of arming and staffing separatist insurgencies in Donbass, an area of eastern Ukraine.

MiG-35 F

Unfortunately, over the past 25 years, Ukrainian and Russian defence enterprises are intimately connected to each other. The military equipment manufactured in both countries requires Russian and Ukrainian components.

In 2014, Ukraine completely stopped cooperation with the Russian defence industry.

By 2016, Ukraine’s import from Russia down to $5.65 billion from $24.65 billion —23 percent of its pre-war value. By 2016, the value of Ukraine’s exports to Russia dropped to $3.6 billion from $15 billion, comprising 8 percent of the overall number.

Political Turmoil

Russia has its problems, ever since Russian adventures in Georgia and Crimea the Western response that was a mixture of open threats, the formation of the alliance and a real hammer in the form of economic starvation of Russia.

Above all economic entanglement would have troubled Russia badly, to counter it turned towards China who is more than willing to get closer militarily and import of energy from Russia such as Natural Gases.

Crisis in Russian Defense Industry

Many analysts said the incident highlighted a significant crisis plaguing the Russian defence industry–that the industry was becoming increasingly unable to manufacture sophisticated military equipment and dependent of various component of Ukraine– for example powerplant of the Yak-130 and Mi-17 helicopter, and marine propulsion system.

MiG’s fortunes, meanwhile, tell a sad story of ruined export campaigns, high-profile technical issues, embargoes and a failure to capture any of the meagre pickings on offer from Moscow’s Defense Ministry. Time and again, promising—and arguably more capable—MiG designs have been axed in favour of keeping Sukhoi’s production lines busy. The Moscow-based firm has muddled along with a handful of export orders and modest upgrades for foreign fleets.

Algerian scandal

Russia’s Rosoboronexport signed a $1.28 billion contract for the delivery of 29 one-seat MiG Fulcrum fighters and six two-seat MiG fighters in March 2006 as part of an $8 billion military-technical cooperation agreement with Algeria.

Deliveries of the first aircraft began before the end of 2006, but the Algerians soon noticed that something was very wrong. The “new” fighters were not that new at all. The MiGs had been assembled using old, unsold airframes from old MiG-29s that had been languishing in open storage at the Lukhovitsy factory. They may even have used airframes built for Iraq, way back in the late 1980s.

This was in breach of the contract, and Algeria ordered deliveries to be suspended. When deliveries resumed in 2007, the same situation was apparent.

Deliveries were to be made from March 2007 until February 2008, but Algeria began refusing deliveries from May 2007, demanding that Russia take back the first 15 aircraft it had delivered, citing the “inferior quality” of specific components and units.

In October 2007, Algeria stopped payments on other military contracts pending the return of the MiGs. Experts suggest Algeria may have opted instead for French Rafale fighters as France builds up its presence in the North African state.

Algeria refused to pay, and instead demanded multi-role Su-30MKA fighters from Sukhoi. To avoid further controversy, Russia supplied Algeria with Su-30MKA and reportedly at the same price as the MiGs.

After Algeria cancelled the MiG contract in 2007, the 15 MiG that had been delivered to Algeria returned to Russia, which was paid for them in 2008. After a brief inspection, the Russian air force accepted the jets and gave them to the 14th Fighter Aviation Regiment.

Prosecution of Corrupt Officials

The final defendant in a criminal case relating to the contract received a four-year suspended sentence in Moscow. This defendant was the former general director of a company that had sold MiG outdated equipment using forged certification. Three Russian businessmen involved in the fraud were previously convicted in May 2012.

Revamp of Aircraft

With the Algeria story in mind, we will have to wait and see if the MiG’s for Russia are genuinely new-build, as has been suggested, or if they will be revamped “white tail” airframes that were built for other potential export clients, but never delivered. The exact specifications of the avionics and weapons also remain to be seen.

UAC—the umbrella corporation of which MiG is a component—remains optimistic it can sell Moscow the MiG-35 AKA MiG-29M2. However, the company only received an order for 46 aircraft only from Egypt.

Coercing India

After a boiler room explosion, likely due to a lack of maintenance, the 30-year-old ship Admiral Gorshkov went into mothballs. The deal for purchasing the Admiral Gorshkov from Russia rechristened as INS Vikramaditya was signed in 2004 by the then Indian government at $ 974 million.

The cost of sea trials alone, initially $27 million, ballooned to a fantastic $550 million. Russia’s Sevmash shipyard could not meet the ambitious deadline and demanded priced to be repeatedly revised, and the final price was ballooned to $2.9 billion in 2010.

The delivery of the MiG-29K for the Indian navy’s much-delayed carrier Vikramaditya is also evident that the Russian defence industry is not capable of meeting the customer’s deadline and contractual obligation.

The Indian HAL which responsible to maintain Su-30MKI faces roadblocks to carrying out timely repair, overhaul and maintenance orders for the Su-30MKI fleet due to the poor supply of required spare parts from Russia.

Already there is trouble brewing on the horizon; all signs point to Russia downgrading its military-technical relationship with India from that of an exclusive partner to a preferred partner. Such pragmatism should come as no surprise given that India has diversified its military import portfolio and no longer considers Russia as its exclusive trading partner.

Additionally, Russia has been selling military hardware to Pakistan. It is believed that the two nations are in discussions regarding the possible sale of Russian Su-35 warplanes to Pakistan. Now there are even talks that Pakistan, China and Russia are pushing closer rapidly and this relationship was termed as a New Axis.

India incorporated the lesson learnt from Russia to their future procurement and strategic military hardware acquisition program. India rejected the MiG-35 fighter jet in the previous MRCA contest and India is reviewing is the participation of FGFA program and may withdraw development contract with Sukhoi Design Bureau.

India seeks Greater Power within it is Region, and the US is more than eager to support it since it will help contain China and Russia. The US has overtaken Russia, Israel & France to become India’s largest arms supplier over the last 4 years.

India signed a nearly $3 billion deal for purchase of 22 Apache attack helicopters and 15 Chinook heavy-lift choppers with American aviation giant Boeing and the US government. Over $2 billion deal for 6 more C-17 Globemaster-III aircraft and 6 new C-17s will add to the 10 ordered for $4.1 billion 2011. Around $770 million deal for 145 M-777 ultra-light howitzers Pentagon & South Block negotiating draft letter of offer for the government-to-government contract, under which bulk of the guns will be manufactured in India. $1 billion deal for 4 more P-8I planes Defence Acquisitions Council to vet deal before sending it to Finance Ministry.

American companies have over the last decade bagged defence contracts from India worth around $10 billion, including for aircraft like P-8I maritime surveillance planes, C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster-III in the transport category. The India-US defence cooperation seems to be steadily growing with Washington now offering its latest Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35 Lightning-II aircraft to India.

The lesson from Bangladesh Air Force

Bangladesh Air Force has also suffered severely to source spare parts from Russia after procuring MiG-29. Russia is also supplying Su-30SME to Myanmar to exploit Bangladesh into agreeing to procure substandard MiG-35 fighter jet.

The lesson from the Malaysian Air Force

The Malaysian Air Force grounded all MiG-29 fighter jet due spare parts shortage and maintenance issues. Russia could not supply spare parts due to unavailability of spare parts from Mikoyan or UAC.

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