Algerian scandal: swapping MiGs for MiGs

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti military commentator Ilya Kramnik) - In 2007, Algeria cancelled a $1.3 billion contract for the sale of 34 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters and said it would return 15 MiG-29s purchased from the MiG corporation in 2006-2007 to Russia.

The Algerian decision was motivated by the fact that the warplanes had used or substandard components.

Many analysts said the incident highlighted a major crisis plaguing the Russian defense industry, and that the industry was becoming increasingly unable to manufacture sophisticated military equipment.

This spring, the media reported that Russia and Algeria were in talks to supply MiG-35 fighters, the more advanced versions of the MiG-29, to El Jazair. Representatives of Rosoboronexport, the main Russian state arms exporter, told a news conference at the Berlin Air Show ILA 2008 that the company would offer its MiG-35s to Algeria.

The rather suspicious Algerian scandal should not be used to assess the potential of Russia's defense industry. According to some analysts, the incident was provoked by European aircraft producers attempting to oust Moscow from the lucrative North African market.

By fueling the scandal, Algeria may have hoped to sign a more profitable contract.

It is an open secret that rival military-equipment producers often resort to different tactics. Suffice it to recall the 2006-2007 scandal involving the so-called Al Yamamah (Dove) deals regarding the Tornado, Hawk and Eurofighter Typhoon warplane sales by BAE Systems, a British defense and aerospace company, to Saudi Arabia from 1985 till 2006.

The United Kingdom's Serious Fraud Office accused BAE of maintaining a $33.4 million slush fund for bribing members of the Saudi royal family.

On December 1, 2006, The Daily Telegraph ran a front page story suggesting that Saudi Arabia had given the U.K. ten days to suspend the Serious Fraud Office investigation into BAE/Saudi Arabian transactions or they would take the deal to France.

On December 14, 2006, Attorney General Lord Goldsmith announced that the investigation would be discontinued.

Many analysts believe the scandal was triggered by French secret services trying to facilitate a Rafale fighter victory in the Saudi tender.

After the MiG scandal, Algeria received an opportunity to buy the most advanced Russian warplanes. The MiG-35, which looks just like the MiG-29, features sophisticated components and equipment, including a state-of-the-art fire-control system with a phased-array radar. The multi-channel fire-control system helps launch air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles.

Unlike the Mig-29 air-superiority fighter, the MiG-35 can be called a multi-role fighter.

The MiG-35's cockpit features multi-role liquid-crystal monitors, and the hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS) system allows the pilot to access the cockpit functions and fly the aircraft. Having all switches on the stick and throttle allows the pilot to keep his hands on both control columns, thus eliminating the need to take his eyes off the horizon and the heads-up display (HUD).

The plane owes its enhanced maneuverability to vectored-thrust engines. This makes it possible to down enemy aircraft in short-range dogfights and escape incoming missiles.

The fighter's two-seat version featuring the same avionics is, in fact, an improvised command center for coordinating operations at the flight and squadron level, and can accomplish the most difficult objectives together with single-seat MiG-35s.

Although MiG warplanes have a shorter range, less powerful radars and carry less ordnance, the more expensive heavy-duty Sukhoi fighters boasting more impressive specifications are less suited for the Algerian Air Force's relatively small area of operations.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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