Russian aircraft designers have ten years to create a promising aviation platforms demanded by both the domestic air force and the foreign market.
Although the first flight of the prototype MiG-29 fighter took place back in the distant 1977 year, aviation systems based on this platform still remain highly competitive. This is promoted both by the peculiarity of the general situation in the market, where all the remaining offers in the light and middle class have serious price, technological and political limitations, and the constant efforts of engineers and designers of RAC "MiG" to increase the capabilities of this family of fighters.
The life cycle of fourth-generation fighter aircraft is unusually long. Previously, generations changed every ten to fifteen years (except for the special case of the F-22), but the mass transition to the fifth generation begins only now - more than 35 years after the first flights of the previous generation prototypes. At the same time, it’s not a fact that the F-35 will be able to force out older cars: the cost of this “cheap” fighter was too high, it’s too expensive to operate. The capabilities of the newest American car are still not obvious for some or obviously excessive for other Air Force. Meanwhile, fourth-generation aircraft demonstrate remarkable market survivability. For example, while the production of the fifth-generation F-22 American fighter is discontinued, the latest Stilnt Eagle’s latest Stealth version of its predecessor, the F-15, which Raptor was actually designed to replace, continues to be considered by some air forces as a possible future procurement. Although the offers of the fifth generation already have an obvious effect on the market, sales of fourth-generation cars will continue, if not dominate, for another ten to fifteen years, since they are financially and technologically more accessible to the vast majority of countries.
But even among the fourth-generation fighter aircraft, the MiG-29, being a relatively light machine, stands out with additional price and political advantages. This is not only one of the most affordable modern combat aircraft on the market, its supplies are also characterized by low political sensitivity compared to sales of powerful heavy fighters. This factor is of particular importance when it comes to contracts with states or regimes whose relations with the western mentors of all mankind are not quite good. The MiG also has numerous price, political, and technological constraints that competitors face.
The arms market is influenced by many different factors, but roughly, simplifying and vulgarizing, they can be reduced to three large groups: policy, cost and technology.
From the point of view of political prerequisites and cost, Chinese fighters FC-29 and F-1 could become the most dangerous competitors of the MiG-10. The Chinese have enormous opportunities for economic incentives for their defense exports - from dumping to granting highly attractive loans or offering comprehensive cooperation programs, the main content of which concerns the construction of infrastructure and the development of the commodity sector, and the supply of weapons is a pleasant, but by no means the most important addition. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the PRC can offer political support, which, first of all, states that are inclined to acquire just Russian equipment need. In general, almost any Russian client, with the exception of India and Vietnam, may consider purchasing in China acceptable or even desirable. Venezuela and Algeria, Egypt and Sudan, Iran and Syria - all these countries at various times showed or could show interest in Chinese aircraft. In general, China works in the same markets as Russia, but it may offer more attractive financial terms of transactions. And after Russia joined the sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, it did not prevent European neo-colonizers and Arabian obscurantists from tearing to pieces and plundering the Libyan Jamahiriya, politically, China, perhaps, became even more preferable than Russia. However, fighters conditionally fourth generation sold by China only to Pakistan. There are many explanations for this, but one thing is beyond doubt: Russia is still able to block any potential sales of FC-1 and F-10, since both fighters are equipped with Russian engines. China is actively working to create its own analogues of our AL-31F / FN and RD-93 engines, but judging by the fact that in the past two years, purchases of Russian engines have not only not decreased, but have also become more ambitious, the results of these works leave little to be desired the best.
Another potentially very dangerous competitor to the MiG-29, the Gripen ultra-light Swedish fighter, combines high technology and excellent price parameters. It is the cheapest in operation of fourth-generation fighter jets, the hour of its flight costs 4,7 thousand dollars compared to the 17 – 18 thousand from the Typhoon and Rafale and the extreme 31 thousand from the F-35. The aircraft is optimized for serving conscripts in field conditions. At the same time, Gripen became the first European fighter that implements the concept of network-centric actions and the first aviation complex capable of using the latest European Meteor over-the-horizon rocket. In general, it is an ideal machine for countries with a small territory and modest resources, not only for the purchase, but also for the operation of modern fighters. The disadvantage of this masterpiece of Swedish engineering was the presence in the design of the aircraft of critical important elements of foreign production, primarily the American engine, as well as extremely strict Swedish export legislation, which closes sales of this aircraft to a number of countries. Just as Russia can control the export sales of Chinese aircraft that are motorized by our engines, Americans can always block Gripen contracts. There is credible evidence that the air forces of at least two countries, namely Poland and Jordan, would prefer to buy a small Swedish plane at one time, but under pressure from the USA they were forced to choose non-optimal F-forces for these states' air forces. 16. Hard Swedish export control, in which the system is influenced by representatives of the legislature, makes it difficult to supply military systems to countries with political systems that are not ideal from the point of view of Western standards. It is known, for example, that Colonel Gaddafi showed an active interest in Gripen, but the Swedes even refused to enter into negotiations with the Libyans. As a result, until now, Gripen has only four foreign customers, two of them - the Czech Republic and Hungary - did not buy planes, but rented. Now the future of the car depends entirely on the outcome of their purchase by the Swiss Air Force, who are ready to order 22 units and finance the creation of a new version of Gripen NG. However, this decision must be approved in a national referendum. If the Swiss vote against it, in fact it will mean the end of the heroic stories brilliant Swedish aircraft industry.
Direct European counterparts of the MiG-29 in terms of weight and dimensions - twin-engine fighters Rafale and Typhoon - as platforms for half a generation more modern than the Mikoyan machine and passed the test of battle (against defenseless Libyans and even more defenseless Islamists in Mali). However, as combat systems, they do not have a radical advantage over modern and prospective members of the MiG-29 family. Moreover, in some areas, the Mikoyan people are even ahead of the Europeans. To date, only the MiG-35 demonstrator has launched missiles on guidance from a radar with an active phased array; not a single European fighter has yet this capability. The fantastic price of these, of course, serious cars and the high cost of operation severely limit their export opportunities. The record holder at a cost among fourth-generation Typhoon fighters is sold only to Austria, where a corruption scandal broke out in this connection, and to Saudi Arabia, whose ruling dynasty usurped power after this World War I only thanks to the British, with whom it has since symbiotic relationship. Rafale, who lost to the Americans tenders in South Korea and Singapore, was repeatedly literally on the verge of success in the overseas market. But every time deals broke down. Neither Brazil, nor the United Arab Emirates, nor Qatar, nor Oman have yet bought a French car. Dassault remains the finalist of the Indian megatinder MMRCA, but in this case the contract has not yet been concluded, and the prospects for its signing are not obvious. In general, European cars are positioned in a higher price category. It seems that even the first-tranche Eurofi ghter, which can be offered for sale during the economic crisis, is being discussed in Britain, will lose much of the MiG-29 for the price and quality requirements of the staff.
Paradoxically, serious competition for the Russian MiG-29 can be ... MiG-29. Of the actual composition of the Air Force fraternal, and at times and places even the allied countries of the CIS. In any case, contrary to what is often written, the main competitor in concluding the last export contract for the sale of Russian MiG-29 (and this is a deal worth 410 million euros for the supply of 20 machines to Myanmar) was not China, but Belarus. In fact, in the summer of 2009, the Burmese had already agreed on everything with Minsk, and only an emergency and highly effective intervention by Rosoboronexport and specialists in foreign economic activity of MiMiGK rectified the situation. The contract with Russia was signed in December of the same year. It is also known that Azerbaijan acquired Ukrainian MiG-29, in the place of which there could well have been Russian cars. By the way, it is the Ukrainians, and not the Americans, who are most actively intriguing against the purchases of the Russian weapons Iraq who is interested in MiG-29. Every Iraqi dollar spent on Russian products is a loss for Kiev. In November last year, Ukrainian agents managed to suspend the implementation of a package agreement with Russia for the purchase of helicopters and air defense systems, but now the contracts have been re-signed. In principle, Russia has all the tools to influence Kiev and Minsk. But sometimes, as in the case of Myanmar, they work, and sometimes, as in the case of Azerbaijan, they do not.
We state: there is no shortage of competitors in the MiG-29 on the market, but all of them are either located in a different price niche, or face serious political and technological constraints when promoting for export. The most modern versions of the MiG-29 — the MiG-29М / М2 and the MiG-29UPG — and the particularly promising MiG-35 — preserve high competitiveness.
Medium term "shipbuilders"
In the perspective of the next 8 – 10 years, the main capabilities of the company are associated with the unique niche offer of the MiG-29K carrier-based fighter aircraft and the MiG29UPG modernization solution, unsurpassed by the cost / efficiency criterion.
The primary impetus to the creation of the MiG-29K ship fighter in its current form was given with the start of the program for the construction of the Indian aircraft-carrying cruiser Vikramaditya. In accordance with the contract signed by 20 on January 2004, RSK РMiG≫ was to conduct a significant amount of research and development to build a new aircraft and supply the Indian Navy with 16 of such machines. The development of a new deck fighter is not a trivial task, in this particular case it is complicated by the need to create a full cycle production from scratch and build a new cooperation. This task was successfully accomplished, and already in 2010, the company began a formal transfer of fighters to the customer, although the construction of the carrier — in fact, the aircraft-carrying cruiser — was behind schedule. The attitude of the Indians to the work carried out at RSK was best reflected by the fact of signing in 2010 of the second contract for the purchase of another 29 MiG-29K.
Thanks to the Indian order, a unique niche product was created and launched into large-scale production. At present, this is the only proposal in the world for a deck fighter of horizontal take-off, which can be operated from aircraft carriers with a springboard. In the future, probably there will be a heavy Chinese J-15, which, however, is unlikely to ever be offered for export. Both other ship-based fighters on the market — the American F-18E / F Super Hornet and the French Rafale — need expensive, capricious, and catapult-devouring for weight and volume. There is no doubt that full-fledged aircraft carriers with catapults will be less widely used (if they are built at all) among the new carrier-based powers than ships with a springboard.
Prospects for new orders for the MiG-29K associated with the development of the Russian Navy and the Indian Navy. The domestic fleet has already ordered the 2012 20 MiG-29K and 4 MiG-29K-UB in February, thus deciding to change the type of its deck plane. As in the case of Russian orders for the frigates of the 11356 project and Su-30CM fighters, previous Indian purchases determined Russian military-technical policy, which in itself is an interesting phenomenon. There is no doubt that the Russian sailors will continue to purchase and at least the contracting of another such party will follow.
New Indian contracts are also possible. Indian Carrier Development Program fleet involves the acquisition in addition to Vikramaditya of two more aircraft carriers of national construction. Forty-five contracted fighters for three ships, taking into account the need to have a reserve or even removable air wings, is clearly not enough. An additional requirement will be at least another 20–25 aircraft. Moreover, the rapid development of the Chinese aircraft carrier program in general may raise the question of expanding the aircraft carrier base before the Indian Navy. Given the slow construction of aircraft carriers at national shipyards, the best solution would be to order another aircraft carrier from Russia - sister ship Vikramaditya or its improved and modernized version.
In addition to purchasing a second aircraft carrier, it would be logical to order a second nuclear submarine in a pair of the Chakra II nuclear submarine and the third tranche of Talwarclass frigates. The Northern Machine-Building Enterprise and the Nevskoye Design Bureau in the course of fulfilling the contract for Vikramaditya acquired the necessary competence, and their current financial and production situation is noticeably better than in the middle of the zero years. So building from scratch such a ship would require even less time and is fraught with less technical risks than the 2004 contract of the year. It is clear that such a decision would entail an increase in the order for the MiG-29K.
We summarize. As of today, MiG has partly completed contracts for the production of a total of 69 ship fighters: 45 MiG-29K for the Indian Navy and 24 vehicles for the Russian Navy. According to the most modest estimates, new orders will increase this number by 40 – 50 units, bringing their total number to the 110 – 120 deck-based aircraft. If you do not take into account the unattainable US, in the long term only China can potentially deploy a larger-scale production of ship-based fighters.
In the atmosphere of impending global economic stagnation, even relatively dynamic Asian countries are paying increasing attention to modernization. In the face of growing budgetary constraints, modernization is an increasingly attractive alternative to the procurement of new weapons. With the help of Indian partners, MiG Corporation caught this trend on time. By order of the Indian Air Force, the company has developed a relatively inexpensive, but highly effective, upgrade option for the MiG-29 according to the MiG-29UPG standard. Aircraft receive a new weapon system, built around the modern radar "Beetle-ME", new aviation weapons and new engines. The upgrade provides the ability to extend the fighter service life cycle by 15 years. The main thing is to eliminate the most unpleasant flaws of the old versions of the MiG-29 - the lack of multifunctionality, a small radius of action and the high cost of operation. The new weapon control system transforms this maneuverable melee fighter into a fully multi-functional vehicle. Additional fuel tanks make it possible to significantly increase the radius of action that is clearly insufficient in the past. Finally, the transition to operation as it sharply reduces its cost. In essence, the MiG-29UPG program is an opportunity to actually get a new and relatively modern fighter at a more than modest price.
In March, 2008, the Indian Air Force signed a contract worth 964 million dollars to upgrade the 63 MiG-29 standard UPG. The MiG corporation, seeing India as a strategic partner with whom there is a long-standing trust relationship, accelerated the conclusion of this agreement, although it could delay negotiations and get a higher price. However, realizing the urgent need for Indians to support the operation of the MiG-29 fleet, and hence the strength of the air force under the prolonged MMRCA tender, RAC sacrificed short-term commercial gain for the long-term interests of both partners. As a result, the Russian MiG-29 modernization program is two years ahead of the similar and more expensive modernization program of the French Mirage 2000.
It seems that the example of India influenced the Malaysian military, who also thought about the possibility of upgrading their MiG-29N fleet. Previously, there were plans to write off the remaining MiGo's in the 16 Royal Malaysian Air Force and replace them with new multi-role fighters, to select which it was planned to hold a tender between the American, European and Russian proposals. The harsh economic reality and sudden military and political complications in the state of Sabah corrected the ambitious plans of the Malaysians (in March, armed groups of separatists with logistical support in the Philippines landed in this remote state). Although the rebellion has been eliminated, the likelihood of the conflict continuing is high. In order to avoid such a development of events, the Malaysian military needs, first of all, to block the possibility of penetration of new militant groups, which use small water craft to cross the Malaysian territory. Modernized according to the UPG standard or at least the SMT, the MiG-29 fighter jets will become an effective and cheap tool to fight against attempts to break through in Sabah new rebels. The modernization itself may take less than a year, while holding a tender, obtaining and mastering new production machines takes five to seven years. The radar "Zhuk-ME" allows for the review of naval targets and the targeting of anti-ship missiles on them or their destruction using a cannon. Note that, for example, the European Typhoon does not possess such anti-shipping capabilities.
Modernization of the MiG-29 and the installation of a new modern radar is an attractive solution not only for such advanced air forces as the Indian or Malaysian, but also for less well-off countries. Moreover, for such states, modernization is becoming an urgent need dictated by budget constraints.
Today, in all markets, including the market for military products, two largely opposite trends are facing. Manufacturers themselves strive to constantly increase the complexity of their products, saturating them with additional and, as a rule, expensive, but non-obvious functions. Following the fashion, the consumer sometimes perceives this dictate of the proposal, but in most cases follows the rational logic of finding the best balance between cost and capabilities. Top products will always and everywhere occupy a relatively narrow niche, but the mass consumer wants to have simple and functional products. Complexes based on the MiG-29 - this is the second category of proposals. Nothing superfluous, no additional functions imposed, but at the same time an absolute ability to fulfill its mission with minimal resources. In the context of depression and financial restrictions, more and more air forces of the world are beginning to appreciate these qualities.