Procurement: The Mysterious Malfunctioning MiGs


April 23, 2016: Croatian military police are investigating corruption in the 2013 deal that sent seven elderly Croat MiG-21s to Ukraine for refurbishment and bought five refurbished MiG-21 fighters that Ukraine had bought from Jordan. Croatia knew they were getting second-hand aircraft and Ukraine was receiving $22 million to refurbish the aircraft so that they would have a decade or more of use left in them. Some questions were raised because the other finalist in the contract competition, a Romanian firm, offered to do the same job but for over $40 million. Aviation experts agreed that the Romanian offer was the most realistic.

The experts were right. After the dozen MiG-21s arrived back in Croatia in 2015 is was gradually discovered that Ukraine had cut lots of corners in order to save a lot of money. After doing the math the Croats wondered who got the millions of dollars that was not spent on the aircraft. Meanwhile after eight months only three of the MiG-21s are able to fly and five of them have been written off as unrecoverable.

The list of deficiencies in the delivered aircraft is long and getting longer. First, the five MiG-21s that were supposed to be from Jordan, which has a reputation for taking good care of its aircraft, were from somewhere else. Checking serial numbers it was found that five of the MiG-21s belonged to Yemen. Worse the investigation also revealed that these five MiG-21s apparently still belonged to Yemen. Given that Yemen has been in chaos since 2011 and is in the midst of a civil war, it was not surprising to hear from Yemen that they did not know what happened to the five MiG-21s and are now starting an investigation on their end.

Then there was the problem with the parts used in the refurbishment. The parts were supposed to be new or refurbished and certified as “like new.” Many of the parts used were not “like new” and some were not even suitable. Worse after a few months of use half the MiG-21s were inoperable because of all these problems and that’s what triggered an investigation that is continuing.

Since the 1990s Ukraine has established a reputation for supplying competently reconditioned Cold War surplus weapons at a good price. While Ukraine also has a reputation for corruption that sort of thing rarely extended to weapons exports because it was a primary source of foreign exchange. This MiG-21 deal hurts that reputation at a time when Ukraine needs all the export income it can get. The investigation is expected to show misbehavior in Ukraine and Croatia. Meanwhile Croatia is looking a Western aircraft, either second-hand F-16s, leased Swedish JAS-39, refurbished Israeli Kfirs, used French Mirages or the combat version of South Korean T-50 jet trainers. All of these aircraft come from vendors with much better reputations although also higher prices.


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