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Analysis & Opinion

Russia sells its latest fighter jets to India

12:24 23/02/2007
MOSCOW. (Yury Zaitsev for RIA Novosti) - One of the highlights of the recent visit to India by Russia's top leaders - President Vladimir Putin and First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, the previous defense minister - was a discussion on the prospects for the delivery and licensed production of the latest Russian MiG-35 Fulcrum-F fighter jets in India.

The plane made its first appearance abroad at the Aero India-2007 air show, while in Russia it was shown to the public for the first time in January in Lukhovitsy outside Moscow, where the MIG firm's key manufacturing facility is located.

One of the high points of the MiG-35 is its RD-33 vectored-thrust engine, earlier tested on the MiG-29 Fulcrum-A, which gives the fighter its main quality - maneuverability. The thrust can be controlled in every direction and, most importantly of all, at every speed between the maximum and very low - up to 200 kilometers per hour and practically zero. The plane can fly with its tail forward and do things conventional aircraft cannot do, i.e. evade a missile attack in a dogfight and at the same time move in for the kill itself.

The MiG-35 is the first Russian fighter to have a new, fifth-generation, radar. Called the Zhuk-AE, it features an active phased array antenna developed specially for the fifth-generation fighter. This antenna makes the radar multi-functional. While sending out and receiving signals - its traditional functions - the radar can also act as a communication system, identify friend or foe, engage in electronic reconnaissance, jam enemy radar, and much else.

The MiG-35 differs from its predecessors (the MiG-29K and MiG-29M2) in having not only a new radar but also the latest optoelectronics. Its digital controls are state-of-the-art. The plane can carry up to six metric tons of combat payload to deal with an airborne enemy and strike ground and sea targets.

The MiG-35 is Russia's entry in an Indian government tender for 126 medium-sized multi-role combat aircraft. Rosoboronexport thinks its chances of winning will be increased by a contract to be signed by the Intergovernmental Commission on Military-Technical Cooperation for the licensed manufacture of series-3 RD-33 engines in India. The value of the deal, according to Rosoboronexport's CEO, Sergei Chemezov, will be about $300 million. The engines will be produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), an Indian corporation, with the technical assistance of the Chernyshev Moscow Engineering Plant. Initially, the plan is to assemble the engines from large components to be supplied by Russia. Later, Indian plants will start making components themselves and assembling them.

The MiG corporation also has good chances to increase deliveries of the MiG-29KUB carrier-based fighter to India. Like the MiG-35, it is designed to win command of the air, provide air defense, and engage targets above and under water with conventional and high-precision weapons day and night in all weather. The official presentation of the fighter's export version, attended by the air and naval attaches and other staff of the Indian embassy in Moscow, took place on January 22 at the airport of the Gromov Institute of Flight Research in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, practically on the eve of Putin and Ivanov's visit to India. Trials of the MiG-29KUB began as the Indian government decided to build new Air Defense Ship (ADS) aircraft carriers, which displace 40,000 metric tons and can handle Russian fighters. The first ship is scheduled to enter service in 2012.

The MiG-29KUB's designer, Nikolai Buntin, says the new model features improved characteristics, more reliable units, a larger fuel supply, and greater combat payload. The cost of one flying hour has been reduced by more than 50%, and its flying life increased by over 100%. And, of course, advanced technologies have been used in the manufacture of the airframe, the propulsion unit and airborne equipment. The proportion of composite materials in the frame is now as high as 15%. The aircraft is equipped with new RD-33MK engines called the Sea Wasp. Compared with the previous model, their thrust has been increased by 7% and their service life to 4,000 hours. The engine is digitally controlled, and there are plans to develop new versions of it jointly with the Indian side.

As it was presented on January 22, the MiG-29KUB looks to remain at the forefront of the industry for the next 15 to 20 years as far as its intellectual innards are concerned, which are built as an open architecture and module system. This arrangement makes for easy addition of extra airborne equipment and modification without major changes.

The second prototype of the MiG-29KUB is currently being assembled. Both planes will undergo certification tests, which will last six months. The planes are not included among the sixteen deck-based jets to be supplied to the Indian naval forces under a January 2004 contract. Later on, India is planning to buy another 30 jets for aircraft carriers of its own manufacture.

India is certain to remain Russia's key partner in military-technical cooperation for a long time to come. And, as Sergei Ivanov said, Russia and India are now advancing to a new qualitative level of cooperation - from a "seller-buyer relationship to joint research and co-production."

Yury Zaitsev is an academic advisor at the Russian Engineering Academy.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent the opinions of the editorial board.

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