Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 84

Last week, the latest version in the highly successful MiG-29 jet fighter series had its maiden flight at the Zhukovsky air base near Moscow. Funding for the development of this MiG-29SMT was said to be provided by the state-owned arms export company Rosvooruzhenie–indicating that the Russians hope to market it abroad. Reports also suggest, however, that the Russian Air Force will adopt the new plane.

Rosvooruzhenie and MAPO–the conglomerate that designs and builds the MiGs–might have come up with another winner this time. Customers flying older MiG-29 models will be able to upgrade their planes rather than buy new ones. Although earlier models were designed primarily to counter other aircraft, the MiG-29SMT is a multi-role aircraft with both air-to-air, air-to-ground and anti-ship capabilities. It features a new radar, a modern “glass” cockpit display, aerial refueling capability, “open” avionics architecture to accommodate Western equipment and weapons, and a significantly larger fuel load to extend both range and flying time.

MAPO chief Mikhail Korzhuyev announced that the German aerospace firm DASA would promote the new version in Europe. Germany inherited twenty-three MiG-29s from East Germany after reunification. All have been modified to conform to NATO standards. Nineteen of these planes would be prime candidates for upgrading. The other four are two-seat trainers. The German Air Force has been generally happy with the Russian-built fighters save for concerns about their limited range. Two other countries soon to join NATO–Poland and Hungary–also have older MiG-29s. The Polish Air Force has twenty-two. Hungary has twenty-eight, which it received from Russia a few years ago in partial repayment of national debt. Upgrading these aircraft should be a very attractive option to both countries, especially if Germany were to lead the way. Korzhuyev indicated that Romania–which has fifteen MiG-29s–was also interested in the new model. Slovakia and Bulgaria, with twenty-four and twenty-one older planes respectively, are additional potential customers. (Russian media, April 22, 23)