Attrition: Another MiG-29 Grounding

Archives

June 28, 2011: In Russia, a MiG-29 recently crashed during a test flight. Both test pilots were killed, and all 445 Russian MiG-29s were grounded until the cause of the accident could be determined. This is a common occurrence with the MiG-29, but even the more highly regarded Su-27 has had such problems.

Last year, all 450 Russian Su-27s were grounded until it could be determined what caused one to crash on January 14th, 30 kilometers from its airbase at Dzemga (in the Far East). The pilot died in the crash, but the flight recorder was recovered. Two years ago, two Su-27s crashed. The Su-27, which entered service 25 years ago, is showing its age. It's still a first line fighter, but is fading fast. Russia's Sukhoi aircraft company has sold over a billion dollars worth of these aircraft (plus components and technical services for them) a year for the last few years. Sukhoi mainly supplies Su-27/30 jet fighters to India, China, Malaysia, Venezuela and Algeria. The 33 ton Su-27 is similar to the U.S. F-15, but costs over a third less.

Developed near the end of the Cold War, the Su-27 is one of the best fighters Russia has ever produced. The government helped keep Sukhoi alive during the 1990s, and even supplied money for development of an improved version of the Su-27 (the Su-30). This proved to be an outstanding aircraft, and is the main one Sukhoi produces. There are now several Su-30 variants, and major upgrades. While only about 700 Su-27s were produced (mostly between 1984, when it entered service, and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), adding Su-30 production and you have over 1,000 aircraft (including license built ones in China and India).

But the problem child of the Russian Air Force is the MiG-29. Last year, Malaysia admitted that it was getting rid of its MiG-29 fighters because the aircraft were too expensive to maintain. It cost about $5 million a year, per aircraft, to keep them in flying condition. Malaysia had already ordered 18 Su-30 fighters, and then ordered more to replace all of its retired MiG-29s. Russia has offered better prices on maintenance contracts for new Su-30s, in addition to bargain (compared to U.S. planes) prices.

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 is offering to spiff up the airframe so that the aircraft can fly up to 4,000 hours, with more life extension upgrades promised. This won't be easy, as the MiG-29 has a history of unreliability and premature breakdowns (both mechanical and electronic).

In the last two years, Russia grounded its MiG-29s several times, in order to check for structural flaws. Compared to Western aircraft, like the F-16, the MiG-29 is available for action about two thirds as much. While extending the life of the MiG-29 into the 2030s is theoretically possible, actually doing so will be a real breakthrough in Russian aircraft capabilities. Algeria, and several other nations, have turned down the MiG-29, which has acquired the reputation of being second rate and a loser. Russia, however, wants to preserve MiG as a brand, so it is not solely dependent on Sukhoi for its jet fighters. At this point, it looks like an uphill fight. MiG and Sukhoi are now both divisions of a state owned military aircraft company (United Aircraft). Technically, the MiG division is bankrupt. Sukhoi is profitable.

 


Article Archive

Attrition: Current 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 


X

ad
0
20

Help Keep Us Soaring

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling. We need your help in reversing that trend. We would like to add 20 new subscribers this month.

Each month we count on your subscriptions or contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage. A contribution is not a donation that you can deduct at tax time, but a form of crowdfunding. We store none of your information when you contribute..
Subscribe   Contribute   Close