Reports indicate that Russia has produced as many as 46 new supersonic MiG-29M fighter jets with rumors that a buyer has been lined up for a $2 billion warplane contract.
In February Russian officials confirmed the sale of 50 MiG-29M fighter jets to a North African country but declined to identify the buyer.
Rosoboronexport signed the deal in April 2015, and expects to deliver the first two aircraft this year. RAC MiG deputy director general Alexey Beskibalov in February said deliveries should be completed by 2020.
The MiG-29M (and two seat MiG-29M2) is an improved version of the MiG-29 featuring longer range due to increased internal fuel, a lighter airframe, slightly more powerful and improved RD-33MK engines, an in-flight refuelling probe, multi-function displays in the cockpit and improved avionics.
In a report submitted to Russian President Vladmir Putin during its last session that was held in the city of Nizhny Novgrod last week, the Commission said Egypt was one of the biggest customers of Russian weaponry in 2015, ordering MiG-29Ms, Buk-M2E (SA-SA-17 Grizzly) and Antey-2500 (SA-23 Gladiator/Giant) missile systems and 46 Ka-52 helicopters worth a combined $5 billion. Deliveries are expected to start this year.
The International Business Times reports that Russia has undertaken a flurry of MiG-29M fighter jet construction producing as many as 46 new supersonic aircraft leading to speculation that a secretive deal to sell the 1616MPH (2600kmh) warplanes.
Moscow has provided no official confirmation about which country, if any, has signed a contract to acquire the fighter jet that analysts estimate is worth upwards of $2 billion although qualified speculation suggests that the purchaser may be the Egyptian government.
The belief that the Egyptian government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is the buyer is predicated upon an Egyptian media report that the country’s minister of military production traveled to Moscow in March to discuss military cooperation.
Snapshot from State TV of Egypt’s military production minister Mohamed El-Assar
Egypt’s minister of military production Mohamed El-Assar traveled to Russia on Sunday with a high-level military delegation to discuss cooperation with Russian officials in the field of joint military production.
Strategic and military cooperation between Egypt and Russia has been on the rise since Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi took office in June 2014.
Moscow and Cairo have recently signed a number of agreements whereby Russia would sell jet fighters and other military hardware to Egypt.
In November 2015, Russia and Egypt also signed a deal to build a nuclear plant in Cairo.
Russian and Egyptian militaries have been coordinating their efforts in the fight against terrorism by sharing information, training personnel, and delivering specialised technology.
On official report also detailed Algerian defence acquisitions in 2015, which included the delivery of six Mi-26T heavy lift helicopters, Pantsir S-1 air defence systems, T-90 tanks and modernised BMP-2 vehicles.
According to the report, Algeria is negotiating for the acquisition of additional aircraft, aerial defence systems and aircraft self-protection systems.
The country is due to take delivery of additional Mi-26T2s and Mi-28NE helicopters this year.
According to the Commission report, excerpts of which were published by the TASS news agency, Russian earned a total of $14.5 billion from weapons sales in 2015 while its global arms sale order book swelled to $56 billion.
“Combat gear was exported to 58 countries, but the key customers for Russia’s materiel were India, Iraq, Vietnam, China and Algeria.
For instance, India received 12 Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter knockdown sets, 23 Mil Mi-17V-5 helicopters and AL-31FP and RD-33 aircraft engines and had its Project 877 (Kilo-class) Sindhukitri diesel-electric submarine, six Kamov Ka-31 helicopters and other hardware upgraded to the tune of a total of $4 billion.”
Military equipment was exported to Iraq in 2015 under deals clinched in 2013.
The deliveries included Mi-35M, Mi-28NE and Mi-171Sh helicopters, Pantsir S1 (SA-22 Greyhound) air defence systems, TOS-1A self-propelled flamethrowers and T-72B main battle tanks, with the hardware being worth in excess of $4 billion.
Vietnam took delivery of two Project 6361 Varshavyanka-Class (Improved Kilo-class) diesel-electric submarines, four Su-30MK2 fighters and associated munitions – worth a total of about $1 billion, the Commission report said.
China ordered several Ka-32 (Helix) helicopters and D-30KP2 aircraft engines in 2015. Azerbaijan received T-90 tanks, BMP-3 infantry fighting vehicles and Mi-17 helicopters. Belarus received four Yak-130 aircraft and Kazakhstan four Su-30 fighters.
The report said the Russian Defense Ministry exported four S-300PS air defence systems free of charge to Belarus while Kazakhstan received five S-300PS systems and Kyrgyzstan received ten BTR-70M vehicles.
It was noted that Russia’s military deployment to Syria was expected to drive further arms sales, as the Russian equipment in Syria has now been proven in combat.
This could drive another $6 billion worth of sales to Russia, reports Russia’s Kommersant newspaper, which said the Kremlin’s intervention in Syria had created a “marketing effect” leading to increased interest from Algeria, Indonesia, Vietnam and Pakistan. Russian officials told Kommersant the countries were interested in buying Sukhoi fighter and strike jets.
Russia has also looked in recent years to China, India, and Iran as potential markets for its military hardware.
Analysts believe that conducting a deal for the 46 supersonic aircraft with Iran is unlikely given that the deal would likely fall victim to a veto by members of the United Nations Security Council under the terms of last year’s Iran nuclear deal.
Analysts are downplaying the possibility, but India may be an equally likely partner in light of the two country’s cooperation in the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA fifth-generationT-50 fighter jet program and may make sense as New Delhi looks to patch a capability gap vis-à-vis China until the fifth generation fighter goes into serial production in 2017.
Given the short wait until the T-50 becomes combat ready, the purchase of an entire 46 aircraft fleet may be excessive even in an increasingly tense region.
Beijing seems to be the least likely trade partner for the MIG-29M in light of reports of new J-20 fighter jets surfacing over the skies of China signaling that the warplane program is nearing a critical phase before mass production.
Ultimately, the sale of 46 MiG fighter jets would be a boon for Russia’s military aviation industry.
The once iconic MiG aircraft company, now known as Mikoyan, has been hit since the 1990s with lost deals and production slowdowns falling behind Russia’s other major aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi.
The rumors of a major fighter jet deal are also in keeping with a statement from Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier this month that Moscow would look to increase military exports in the coming years.
“The exports of Russian-made weapons and military equipment have reached $4.6 billion, and our contract portfolio is worth more than $50 billion,” said Putin in early July.
“Russian weapons and military equipment have proven efficient and reliable in vastly different conditions.”