Procurement: Arabia Rescues MiG

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May 12, 2017: In early 2017 Russia confirmed that Egypt has ordered fifty MiG29M fighters with the first of them arriving by the end of 2017. Russia has offered to supply Egypt with MiG-29M jet fighters in 2015 but there were questions about financing. Egypt is broke and dependent on gifts of cash and oil from the Arab oil states just to keep going. Apparently Saudi Arabia or some other Gulf Oil state helped arrange the $2 billion to pay for the MiG-29s in a deal that includes training and maintenance support. This is actually a favor to Russia but the Russians have been trying to get closer to their Cold War Arab arms customers and this sort of thing helps.

The Egyptian sales is also essential to the survival of a key part of the Russian defense industry. Russia has been taking desperate measures to keep the MiG company in business and their main product, the MiG-29, in production. The problem is that the MiG-29 is outclassed by the rival Su-27/30 aircraft from Sukhoi.

Even foreign users have openly complained that the MiG-29 is too expensive to maintain. It costs about $5 million a year, per aircraft, to keep them going. Most of the MiG-29s provided satisfactory service but nations that also operate Western aircraft, like the F-16, are able to compare Russian and American warplanes. The Russian aircraft cost less than half as much as their American counterparts but require highly trained pilots to perform anything like Western fighters.

The MiG-29 entered Russian service in 1983. Some 1,600 MiG-29s have been produced so far, with about 900 of them exported. The 22 ton aircraft is roughly comparable to the F-16 but it depends a lot on which version of either aircraft you are talking about. Russia is making a lot of money upgrading MiG-29s. Not just adding new electronics but also making the airframe more robust. The MiG-29 was originally rated at 2,500 total flight hours. At that time (early 80s), Russia expected MiG-29s to fly about a hundred or so hours a year. India, for example, flew them at nearly twice that rate, as did Malaysia. So now Russia offers to spiff up the airframe so that the aircraft can fly up to 4,000 hours, with more life extension upgrades promised. This wasn't easy, as the MiG-29 has a history of unreliability and premature breakdowns (both mechanical and electronic). To counter that reputation Russia is sending the latest model of the MiG-29 to Egypt. This one has a more powerful and reliable RD-33MK engine and improved electronics including updated radar and flight controls.

The Egyptian Air Force currently has over 200 F-16s, a hundred French Mirage 5 and 2000 fighters and 24 new Rafale fighters. There are still about fifty Cold War era MiG-21s flying for Egypt but these are being phased out.

 

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