Murphy's Law: Su-30s Swarm To North Africa

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November 26, 2009: Russia has completed delivery of 28 Su-30MKA fighters to Algeria. These were ordered three years ago. Algeria has also bought 22 Su-24 bombers and six Il-78 aerial tankers. There was also a purchase of 28 MiG-29 fighters, but this turned into a major scandal. Russian prosecutors recently tried and convicted several aviation company executives for passing off defective, or used, aircraft parts as new. Many of these parts made their way into MiG-29 jet fighters that were sold to Algeria. Two years ago, Algeria told Russia that it was cancelling the 2007 purchase of 28 MiG-29 fighters (for $1.3 billion), and returning the fifteen already delivered. Algeria insisted that there were quality issues, and that some of the aircraft were assembled from old parts.

The MiG-29 has been in service for 25 years, but stocks of Cold War era spare parts are still around, and it was first thought that some were put to use to build the Algerian aircraft. These are supposed to be "new," but some of their components were definitely not. Some MiG employees were very unhappy with the corrupt practices involving aircraft parts. This sort of crime is increasingly common worldwide, and usually involves parts for airliners. The MiG employees felt personally responsible for any defective aircraft leaving their plant, and didn't want to be flying in an airliner containing fraudulent parts either. Russian prosecutors, already involved in an anti-corruption program underway for several years, jumped on the allegations, and quickly found senior executives presiding over widespread fraud in the aircraft components industry.

Meanwhile, Algeria found itself still needing some modern jet fighters. They were soon receiving offers from France for more modern Rafale fighters. France presented itself as a more useful ally than Russia, and France wanted to sell some of those Rafales real bad. Russia responded with an offer the Algerians could not refuse, if only because there were billions of dollars worth of other Russian weapons that the Algerians were still accepting.

Meanwhile, Algeria was offered 15 Su-30s, as a suitable alternative to the MiG-29s. A decision has not been made on this yet. Algeria forced Russia to take back the MiG-29s by halting payments on the Su-30 order. Russia then halted deliveries of the Su-30s, but soon reconsidered that, took back the MiG-29s. Payments on, and deliveries of, Su-30s resumed. The rejected Algerian MiG-29s were sold to the Russian Air Force, to prevent the manufacturer from going bankrupt.

Russia's Sukhoi aircraft company has sold over a billion dollars worth of Su-27/30 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 aircraft 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, which was called 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), add Su-30 production and you have over 1,000 aircraft (including license built ones in China and India). Algeria received a model similar to the Su-30MKI sold to India.

 


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