March 05, 2008

MiGs for NATO

12:39 | 05/ 03/ 2008

MOSCOW. (Military commentator Nikita Petrov for RIA Novosti) - On February 29, the Slovakian aircraft repair and manufacturing company Letecke Opravovne Trencin (LOT) returned 12 revamped MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters to the national air force at Sliac air base.

Slovakia's Defense Minister Jaroslav Baska and General Lubomir Bulik, chief of the national Armed Forces' General Staff, were present at the ceremony. The men, who are both experienced air-force pilots, watched several planes take off in cloudy weather to perform breathtaking stunts. Baska and Bulik later said they were quite happy about the fighters' specifications.

Engineers and designers from the Moscow-based MiG Aircraft Building Corporation took an active part in overhauling several of the Slovak Air Force's single-seat MiG-29AS fighters and two-seat MiG-29UBS combat trainers, for the first time in the history of Russia-NATO relations.

But for the fact that Slovakia is a NATO member, this episode would not be worth discussing. However, it ought to be mentioned in this connection that Brussels dislikes Russian military equipment and wants the newly admitted East European countries to scrap it and to adopt the more familiar U.S., French or Swedish warplanes instead.

However, Slovakia prefers the cheaper MiG-29s, which cost $25-30 million apiece. The F-16 Fighting Falcons now being supplied by the United States to Poland cost $40-50 million each. Moreover, it costs only $5-7 million to upgrade one MiG-29 fighter. And the price of the $74.2 million modernization program was deducted from Russia's debts owed to Slovakia.

The service life of the revamped warplanes has been prolonged by 20-30 years. In effect, they can now log up to 4000 hours in mid-air before being overhauled again in 2030-2035.

Bratislava has also chosen to upgrade its MiG-29s because their avionics are now fully compatible with NATO systems. A MIL STD 1553B open-architecture multiplex data-exchange channel has merged their new functional systems into a single whole. Consequently, Slovak experts now can install any optional equipment.

The revamped Slovak MiG-29s also feature systems and equipment manufactured by leading Western companies. BAE Systems has installed IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) systems. Rockwell Collins has provided its VOR/ILS/MKR multi-band receiver for short-range landing and navigation, the TACAN tactical navigation transceiver, the main UHF/VHF radio station with a control console and a satellite navigation receiver.

Russian-made equipment includes the BTSVM MVK-03 computer, a multi-role color indicator, a video-registration system and other highly specialized systems.

The BTSVM MVK-03 computer will provide the backbone of weapons control systems, because the Slovak Air Force has large stockpiles of Russian-made bombs and missiles that are difficult to combine with Western weapons control systems.

At the same time, NATO and Russia use different IFF systems, and possible security leaks were a major problem during the modernization of the Slovak fighters.

It may be strange, but American-made IFF systems, the same used by F-16s and other Western warplanes, fitted nicely inside the Slovak MiG-29s and were coupled with Russian radars. NATO experts who oversaw this operation reported no security leaks at all.

The MiG-29AS features an automatic IFF system; and the MiG-29UBS that can only respond to other aircraft and ground control will receive additional data from ground radars.

Russian experts have long been able to install automatic IFF systems without violating NATO security requirements. For instance, the entire air-defense system of Greece, a longtime NATO member, comprises Russian weapons, including the Igla (Needle) man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), as well as the short-range, medium-range, and long-range Tor-M1, Buk-M2 and S-300PMU1 Favorit surface-to-air missiles with NATO-class IFF systems.

However, none of these systems has revealed any sensitive military secrets to date. This is another convincing argument against those NATO and American politicians and generals who try to prevent the sale of Russian weapons in the West due to alleged technical incompatibility. They are guided by a desire to lobby for the economic and financial interests of national defense companies, often completely ignoring those of small nations.

However, Slovakia's decision to adopt revamped MiG-29s shows that the national interests of some NATO countries are sometimes more important than the so-called Euro-Atlantic solidarity, under which NATO members must obey all orders from Brussels or Washington.

On the other hand, the Russian defense industry has displayed impressive potential, proving that it can easily meet the requirements of European companies and armed forces. This can be accomplished if only European nations display the political will.

Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland are also NATO members who operate MiG-29 fighters. Their national governments will also have to choose between political considerations and cheap, top-quality and cost-effective modernization programs.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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