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'For heaven's sake, don't buy Russian MiG-35'

Last updated on: February 14, 2011 15:48 IST

'For heaven's sake, don't buy Russian MiG-35'

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC

For heaven's sake, ultimately whichever aircraft you finally choose, please, please do not buy the Russian MiG-35 is the plea from strategic affairs expert Ashley Tellis to the government of India with regard to the $11 billion deal for 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft that the European, Russian and American manufacturers are vying for.

Both in his report released recently titled 'Dogfight! India's Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Decision,' and during the interaction that followed its release, Tellis -- Senior Associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace -- pilloried the Russian aircraft saying it was the "weakest of the contenders".

"It does not have the sensor suites that the Indian Air Force would like to see," he said, adding, "It brings no new weapons to the game from an Indian Air Force point of view."

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Image: Russian MiG-35
Photographs: Courtesy migavia.ru
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'MiG-35's mission performance traditionally has been horrible'

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While acknowledging that 'it is a decent airplane, where the aerodynamic effectiveness is concerned', Tellis argued, 'there are no order of magnitude improvements and its mission performance in terms of readiness, maintenance, traditionally has been horrible.'

"And, I am not sure that the Russians have figured out how to build a machine that is really efficient in terms of spending more time in the air rather than spending more time in maintenance," he said.

Thus, Tellis predicted confidently that "the Indian Air Force is unlikely to think of the MiG-35 as essentially the answer to its problems."



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'IAF appears less-than-enthusiastic about the MiG-35 for many reasons'

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In his report, the erstwhile Bush Administration official, who is well plugged in to both the Obama administration and the Manmohan Singh government, noted that the IAF had told him that the MiG-29 like its predecessor the MiG-21, "though a forgiving airplane, has poor handling qualities and terrible cockpit ergonomics."

Thus Tellis argued that "whether the new engines and digital engines controls on the MiG-35 will liberate it from the angle of attack limitations that handicapped the older platform remains to be seen, but the IAF appears less-than-enthusiastic about the MiG-35 for many reasons, not least of which is its lack of 'break the mold' capabilities the service wants for its MMRCA acquisition."

Tellis wrote that the MiG-35 does not bring any new advanced armament to the table either.



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'Even the Russian Air Force has not yet purchased it'

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Tellis pointed out that 'all weapons that it carries are already in the IAF's arsenal. Not only do they not represent the increased potency that the IAF seeks through its MMRCA acquisition, some weapons are not even compliant with the Indian Request for Proposals. Moreover, they are also now challenged by many newer systems available in the West on offer with the MiG-35 competitors."

"The biggest problem characterising the MiG-35 as a MMRCA entrant is that it is still an airplane in development," and had not yet even "been purchased by the Russian Air Force. Thus, it violates yet another stipulation of the Request for Proposals -- that the aircraft be in the operational employ of the producer country's air force," Tellis added.

He predicted that "since Russia is desperate to secure the MMRCA contract in order to protect its hitherto dominant position as India's principal supplier of combat aircraft and to sustain its domestic aviation industry, it is certain that Moscow will offer New Delhi a more generous technology transfer package for the Mig-35 in comparison to its competitors."



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'Political benefits of this buy for India are minimal'

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Tellis argued that "a more generous package, however, does not mean it is a generous package all told: although Indian commentators routinely assert that Russia is committed to 'complete' technology transfer, these claims are suspect, if the Russian record in regard to past licensed production in India is any indication."

"Perhaps the ultimate detraction from the MiG-35's allure is that it provides no particular political advantages for India," Tellis said, and pointed out, "New Delhi is already a significant buyer of Russian aviation products. Russian-Indian military ties are almost entirely commercial anyway."

Thus, according to Tellis, "the purchase of one more Russian airplane is unlikely to advance India's goal of investing in transformative political relationships in any serious way. Consequently, even if all the technical shortcomings of the MiG-35 are overlooked, the political benefits of this buy for India are minimal."



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