MMRCA Hopeful MiG-35 Skips Aero India
By WENDELL MINNICK
BANGALORE, India — Russian officials offered a variety of reasons for the MiG-35’s absence from the Aero India air show held here Feb. 9-13.
The MiG-35 is one of six foreign competitors for the hotly contested $10 billion-plus Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender for 126 fighters for the Indian Air Force.
One official from Russia’s statecontrolled United Aircraft Corp. (UAC), which makes the MiG-35, said cost prohibited an appearance. Another said the fighter would have distracted attention from UAC’s Sukhoi Superjet 100 mediumhaul airliner.
Yet another said the company wavered too long on whether to send the fighter this year, although it was at the biennial show in 2009.
“The absence of the MiG-35 certainly hasn’t gone unnoticed,” said Douglas Barrie, a senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London. “Whether this is indicative of Russian industry lessening its effort to push the Fulcrum in recognition that it may not be a front-runner for the MMRCA has yet to become clear.”
The MiG-35 can win the competition despite its absence, UAC’s new director-general, Mikhail Pogosyan, told reporters here Feb. 9. The MiG-35 demonstrated its capabilities during technical evaluations conducted after the 2008 request for proposals were submitted, Pogosyan said, and its presence at the air show was unnecessary.
Pogosyan took the job Jan. 31, replacing Alexei Fyodorov, who was reportedly fired for failing to implement new innovation programs.
Barrie said, “Fyodorov was close to Delhi and was a key player in the Su-30MKI program.” A U.S. defense industry source quipped, “Indian pilots are tired of bailing out of their Russian fighters.” Pogosyan rejected suggestions that Russian fighters are no longer competitive against newer European and U.S.-built fighters, and he cited Russia’s long history of selling fighters and other aircraft to India.
India and Russia are developing a fifth-generation fighter in a program valued around $5 billion, as well as a multirole transport aircraft, with plans to build 100 for $600 million. India also is buying 50 Russian Su-30MKIs for $100 million apiece.
The Indian Air Force has 142 Su-30MKI and 69 MiG-29 fighters. Plans are afoot to upgrade both the MiG-29 and Su-30, which India acquired directly from Russia, and a $950 million contract has been awarded to Russia to modernize the Air Force’s entire MiG-29 fleet.
The Air Force continues to operate about 200 MiG-21s, though they are due for retirement in the next five to seven years. The Su-30MKI fighters are under licensed production by Hindustan Aeronautics, Pogosyan said. India also produced the Russian-designed RD-33 engine for the MiG-29 fighters, and Indian companies provide components for the Su-30.
These are indicators of how the relationship has evolved from buyer-seller to a “strategic partnership,” he said. Barrie said the strategic partnership between India and Russia is “exemplified by the fifth-generation fighter tie-up,” but India will also build relationships with European, Israeli and U.S. partners “as a means of avoiding reliance on any one state.”
The variety of competitors for the MMRCA is evidence of India’s interest in dealing with more countries. In addition to the MiG-35, competitors for the MMRCA include the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper and Saab Gripen.
“This will make the environment more competitive for Russia, but it does not fundamentally threaten the relationship,” Barrie said.