Anatoly Isaikin, head of
Rosoboronexport, Russia's state arms exporter, was once again
forced to address the string of setbacks plaguing Russian arms
manufacturers in India over the past 12 months. This includes the
long-suffering Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 fighter, whose future on
the domestic and foreign markets remains unclear.
"The situation with these tenders has nothing to do with any
systemic problems," Isaikin told the Vedomosti newspaper.
"To my mind, the MiG-35 fighter plane has lost the tender in India
because it was not mass-produced. At the same time, French and US
companies were able to submit their production versions," Isaikin
Some time ago, India announced its Medium Multi-Role Combat
Aircraft (MMRCA) tender for the purchase of 126 multi-role medium
fighters, which should completely replace the rundown MiG-21
Fishbed fighter planes used by the Indian Air Force.
The tender involved the United States with its Lockheed Martin
F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter
planes; France with its Dassault Rafale fighter; the European
Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS) with its Eurofighter
Typhoon; Sweden with its Saab JAS-39NG Gripen fighter plane; and
Russia with its Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-35 Fulcrum-F fighter. The
tender's results were announced in the winter of 2012, with the
contract going to Dassault Rafale.
Initial deliveries were estimated at almost $11 billion. It's not
for nothing that the media referred to this as "the mother of all
tenders". Having opted for Dassault Rafale, India will not be able
to buy the 126 warplanes for this sum. Analysts note that either
purchasing volumes will have to go down or the contract's end
price will reach $16-18 billion.
Explaining the MiG-35's setbacks by citing the fact that it is not
mass-produced is a stretch. Although the Dassault Rafale fighter
is currently being mass-produced, it had failed to win all recent
tenders. It has only flown with the French Air Force pending the
results of the MMRCA tender.
Leaving aside for the moment the Indian principles of diversifying
supplies and striking balance among the main market investors,
which are regarded as sacred and indisputable by Indian generals,
let's assume that this Russian-made fixed-wing aircraft fits into
the concept guiding New Delhi's military contracts.
In its time, India had ordered two virtually non-production
warplanes from Russia - first, the Sukhoi Su-30K Flanker-C and
then the Su-30MKI Flanker-H. Both fighters eventually struck gold
during Russian military aircraft exports. In the mid-2000s, New
Delhi ordered the revamped MiG-29K Fulcrum-D carrier-borne
It is hard to argue with the fact that aircraft production runs
and the popularity of specific warplanes with the manufacturing
country's air force influence the choice of clients during the
purchase of foreign weapons systems. As for the MiG-35, its
specifications and performance, rather than its production run,
are the main problems.
The MiG-35 is a descendant of the above-mentioned MiG-29K in many
respects. India had no qualms about buying the MiG-29K. In fact,
the Indian Navy has ordered 45 of these fighters to date. Of this
number, 16 MiG-29Ks have already been shipped to India. At any
rate, the production MiG-29K is not as good as the well-known
Su-30MKI, which is quite popular in India.
However, the MiG-35 has been and remains substandard. The three
MiG-35s being used for demonstration purposes are, in fact, a
"flying offer" for prospective clients who must submit a request
for proposal (RFP) in line with specific objectives.
Under the state arms procurement program through 2020, the Russian
Air Force is to buy an estimated 50 MiG-35 fighter planes or so.
However, the specifications and performance of the domestic
fighter, due to be adopted by the country's air force, have not
been clarified to date.
The previous high command of the Russian Air Force was leery of
the very idea of buying these warplanes and the possible
modernization of operational MiG-29s. So far there is no reason to
believe that the new Air Force commanders will drastically change
Some analysts openly claim that the fighter has no future. They
believe that the MiG-35 is quite expensive, that it has numerous
drawbacks and an unclear tactical designation. Moreover, prospects
for its production remain vague against the backdrop of the
brilliant T-10 fighter family, including the Su-30MKI/MK2 and the
Su-35 Flanker-E, whose production poses no problems whatsoever.
Other analysts believe that the MiG-35 has export potential but
add that the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG should build some of
these aircraft for the country's air force. For its part, the
Russian Air Force faces numerous internal problems, and support
for national exports is not among its priorities.
All this does not amount to mistakes and failures on the part of
Rosoboronexport, the Federal Service for Military Technical
Cooperation or the aircraft industry.
The unique fates of "non-production" export aircraft, including
their unexpected successes and setbacks, are a consequence of the
Russian defense industry's growth model, which had evolved by the
late 1990s, and which continues to influence the situation.
For 20 years, the state did not award major long-term contracts
for the delivery of military products. The Soviet defence industry
had existed as a highly specialized state within a state, even if
its enterprises sometimes had to turn out civilian products.
Devoid of contracts, since 1992 entire industries were unable to
manufacture weapons systems and other military products.
Consequently, they lost their competitive advantages and proved
unable to implement modernization programs.
Exports proved to be the only source of revenues. But this implied
the frugal reinvestment of the profits obtained, as well as
cost-effective corporate governance and management.
Some enterprises were able to assess market trends and to sell the
most popular Soviet technologies following the break-up of the
USSR. By so doing they managed to preserve their R&D and
production potential without suffering any major setbacks.
One can therefore disagree with Anatoly Isaikin because this is a
system-wide problem. However, this problem has nothing to do with
the work of Rosoboronexport, which should not tackle such issues
as industry development strategies or those of specific arms
Currently, the government is trying to move away from the defense
industry's export-oriented funding model and to award more
domestic contracts. This process has just been launched.
The most cost-effective industries, including tactical aircraft or
helicopter enterprises, signed major contracts two or three years
ago, and the first products are being delivered to the Russian
However, all other enterprises will have to boost their production
until 2020, the final deadline for implementing the state arms
This will at least partially eliminate the need for a
nerve-racking search for foreign clients wishing to buy
substandard products. Such products are subsequently upgraded with
the help of advance payments and loans for future projects.
However, it is foreign clients who dictate the relevant policies
in such cases. Setbacks seem inevitable in such situations. The
concerned parties try to provide for such setbacks in any state
defence contract just to compensate for the losses incurred.
Well-balanced and regular funding from diversified sources,
including real-life defense industry conversion, will make it
possible to calmly implement current and future R&D projects,
making full use of Russia's remaining engineering potential.
Konstantin Bogdanov is
RIA Novosti military commentator. The opinions expressed in this
article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of