Death of Mikoyan

On October 21, the labor union of the Engineering Center of the Experimental-Design Bureau (OKB) named for A. I. Mikoyan went public with its claim that  well-known aircraft maker RSK MiG is in a catastrophic state.  Metronews.ru published part of the union’s open appeal as well as MiG’s official reaction.  The union’s letter is addressed to the president, prime minister, and heads of political parties, and dated October 11.

Union chairman Yuriy Malakhov says:

“The situation taking shape in our engineering center forced me to write this letter.  We’ve always been the brain of the company, it’s right here that new aircraft models were developed.  For a long time, we’ve had no new orders.  In the past five years, six general directors have been replaced, they all come from the Sukhoy company, and the impression’s created that they are strangling us, they want to close our company.  All the best orders go there [Sukhoy].  For example, we aren’t even allowed to participate in developing unmanned aerial vehicles.  Sukhoy is working on them, but this aircraft company doesn’t have our experience.  They focused on heavy fighters.  The pay of our colleagues is lower than in the trolleybus yard next door.  Lead engineers get 8-10 thousand rubles [per month].  Sometimes with occasional bonuses they get 30 thousand.  Talented young specialists leave for other firms, for example, Boeing, where they get two-three times more.  Now 10 percent of orders come from Russia, the rest from abroad.  In the course of several years we tried to get a response from our leadership, but no one wanted to start negotiations with us.  And the engineering center’s director decided to meet with employees only after this letter.  We are very much hoping for this meeting.  We expect new orders and increased wages.”

 MiG’s press-secretary offered this response:

“The absence of the Gosoboronzakaz in the 1990s was a serious blow to the country’s defense industry, including to RSK MiG.  Only those companies that had large export contracts could develop successfully, for example in that period the Sukhoy company managed to conclude contracts with India and China.  At that moment, MiG had only a contract with Malaysia.  In recent years, RSK MiG’s been headed by directors from Sukhoy corporation – Nikitin, Fedorov, Pogosyan, Korotkov.  From outside this could look like a raider’s seizure of MiG.  But who needs to seize debts and problems?  A positive dynamic began precisely with the arrival of these people – large foreign contracts were signed, the contract with the Defense Ministry to supply MiG-SMT.  Aircraft were supplied against this contract and they’re being successfully employed in the RF VVS.  Presently, a contract with the Defense Ministry to supply the MiG-29K is being discussed.”

“Today RSK MiG’s order portfolio is more than $4 billion, serial production of new aircraft is unfolding. There is a positive dynamic, maybe it’s not as quick and wages not as high as all of us would like.  Some young specialists come and stay, some leave.  But on the whole the company has good prospects.”

A couple points on these claims.  We know raiders take and sell what’s good, and leave “debts and problems” behind.  The Defense Ministry’s acceptance of the Algerian MiG-SMTs was more a financial bailout for the company and face-saving maneuver for Russia writ large than a real contract.  Not mentioned is Aleksandr Sukhorukov’s October 11 statement that MiG-29K procurement won’t come until 2013-2015.

The text of the union’s letter says MiG is simply dying.  It cites many problems and complaints, including a 48-billion-ruble debt, losses and delays in contracts, moving engineers to Zhukovskiy, closing MAPO, etc.  It says crucial pay bonuses can’t always be paid, and MiG is just supplying skilled people to Sukhoy and Irkut.  The letter calls OAK an incomprehensible middle layer blocking competition, but allowing personal lobbying.  Finally, it blames Mikhail Pogosyan for closing MiG’s promising future projects.

Scanning other recent MiG headlines – the Indian tender wasn’t the only blow to the MiG-35, its chances with the Russian Air Forces didn’t look too rosy anyway, and the early September MiG-31 crash indicated again what dire straits that old airframe is in.

Izvestiya’s Ilya Kramnik published recently on the MiG-29’s fate.  He wrote that (unlike the Su-27 or Su-24) the Defense Ministry doesn’t plan to modernize the MiG-29.  His military source says replacement of these worn-out aircraft in the future is deemed more cost-effective.

Kramnik’s source describes production of the generation “4+++” (?!) MiG-35 as an unavoidable but not yet decided step.  He sees the MiG-29 variant line ending since it’s outclassed by updated Su-27s.

Kramnik’s OPK source sees 20 or 24 MiG-35s being produced each year, for about 25 billion, to replace 150 or 160 MiG-29s in Russia’s inventory.

He cites Konstantin Makiyenko who sees the MiG-35 as important not just as a MiG-29 replacement, but also to keep Russia in the light- to medium-, $60-million-range fighter export market and not leave this industry segment to China and its J-10.

But Konstantin Bogdanov tells Kramnik he thinks the MiG-35’s loss in the Indian tender hurt its chances at home because it raises questions about MiG’s ability to support a production program for the Russian Air Forces.

One also wonders how much MiG-35 and MiG-29 will be needed with T-50 / PAK FA, with Su-35, and with Su-27 upgrades out there.

It’s hard to see the MiG story as anything but another chapter in the painful and necessary process of post-Cold War industrial downsizing and restructuring.  After all, the U.S. is down basically to Boeing and Lockheed Martin.  In MiG’s case, one can question whether the selection is really natural and the fittest are truly surviving.  The answer is probably yes.  However they managed it, Sukhoy and Irkut played their post-Soviet hand better, and it shows today.  The Russian aviation sector will be better off with further consolidation.  Still it doesn’t need Sukhoy to be a monopolist.  Managing that outcome will be tricky.

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6 responses to “Death of Mikoyan

  1. No matter what you do to the Flanker series it will not become a stealth fighter, so inevitably Russia is going to need a light stealth fighter to make up numbers.
    Russia cannot afford enough PAK FA aircraft to defend all Russian air space… to put it in perspective, a single Su-27 can carry twice the number of AAMs than a standard Mig-29 and it can fly twice as far, so on paper you would save a lot of money by replacing two Mig-29s with a single Su-27 because the Su-27 is not twice as expensive as a Mig-29.
    You save further money because you have half the number of planes and the extended flight range means more airfields can be closed.
    Of course this means the enemy has half as many aircraft to worry about, and despite its range and weapon capacity an Su-27 can’t be in two places at one time like two Mig-29s can.

    In the far east long flight range is useful, but in many regions the range of the Mig-29 is enough.

    The program that was cancelled by Sukhoi managers was most likely the light 5th gen fighter, which would be the Russian equivalent to the F-35 except cheaper.
    Something Mig could develop with Brazil if they were interested, South Africa could even be included… the result would be a light cheaper option to F-35s that Russia could use to fill out their air units with a real stealthy light fighter.

    Regarding the situation at Mig, the most likely problem is politics… when Stalin died everyone who was in favour suddenly lost favour under the next regime. Sukhoi had no history of making fighters, the main product was interceptors (Su-9/-11/-15/-21) swing fighter/bombers with emphasis on bombers (ie equivalents to the Jaguar) like the Su-7/-17/-20/-22) and strike aircraft (Su-24) and CAS (Su-25).

    At the end of the day the Mig-29 and Su-27 were not really different enough when times were tough to justify both, and in most parameters the Flanker had the advantage of size and scale.

    I would argue that with the SMT and M and K and M2 models of the Mig-29 that Mig actually tried harder to improve their aircraft, their problem was that the Russian AF wasn’t buying anything no matter how good it was or was not.

    It is now 2011 and there is only a trickle of upgraded aircraft in service, with the lions share of in service aircraft the Su-24s and Su-27s, with Mig-31s and Mig-29s not hugely far behind in numbers.

    Of course the transition from the PVO to “Space and Air Defence Force” structures the Air Force will likely hand most of its Mig-31s to this new structure and the future development and any potential replacement will be in other hands.

    As far as the Russian AF is concerned there is no point in upgrading the Mig-31s as they might not retain them for long. The SMT upgrades for the Mig-29s make little sense either because they are interceptors and the SMT upgrade replaces most of the electronics to give extended air to ground capabilities… and they have plenty of Su-24s and Su-25s for that role already.

    The plan all this time was to upgrade existing hardware first eliminating all obvious problems but without fundamental changes that would be expensive (ie T-90AM, Su-35, Mig-35, BTR-82, etc) and get those into production for domestic and export customers. The second step was to use the money from this production to develop from scratch totally new systems that will be of world standard and start production for domestic use (Armata, Pak fa, light 5th gen fighter, Kangaroo, etc).

    Making the upgrades means production facilities get upgrades and workers get experience in using the new tooling, so when the next gen stuff is ready to make you have a skilled workforce and production capacity to make it.

    The problem is that the military seems to have decided that spending on upgraded stuff will reduce the amount of new stuff they will be able to but further down the line.
    They really didn’t factor in that the upgraded and the new stuff will be much more expensive than the older stuff they used to buy.

    Half of the problem is that when buying new equipment instead of sending generals that would be in charge of the soldiers using the new stuff who could be quite generous with the cheque book, they are now sending bean counters who care more about where all the money was spent.

    Many of the products the military are buying come from towns and cities with one or two major producers so those producers don’t just pay out to the share holders, they have picnics for the employees, and pay tuition for local kids to get university educations, and look after the local community where local government fails.

    • Thanks again for all the thoughts and perspectives you bring. They’re informative, useful, always constructive, and never abusive. One thing this author would dispute though is the inevitability of having a light stealth fighter. There are Russian commentators willing to venture that maybe even PAK FA is unnecessary, depending on how and with whom Russia intends to fight, and what other arms and equipment Russia needs worse. Proving the existence of an imperative or a requirement in the Kremlin, Defense Ministry, General Staff, or Air Forces leadership is a difficult thing. And even if it does emerge at one level or another, it’s not certain it’ll ever make it into metal and into the forces. Thanks for continuing to visit.

  2. I am an indian, just like any indian i see russia as my 2nd home and russians as own brothers, sad to see the mig story, it was indias front line fighter, i think the sale of mig engines to pakistan might be the reason india opted for rafale fighters ahead of mig 35, and gorshkow cheating, any way brezhnev has to come back, any possibility of indian take over of this mig, i see now thousands of russian ladies in india married by indians, may god bless our friend ship

  3. Migs Failure in the indian mmrca was because of the mig engine supply to pakistan, and the reluctance of cryogenic tech transfer, may be, indians trusted the russians, but russians fell to 4oo million usd from americans

  4. I think the Mig-35 loss in India was inevidible.
    The Indian airforce has a habit of not buying all from one source, so with Su-30s in service as the heavy fighter and Mig-29s being upgraded and Mig-29Ks in naval service, they pretty much wanted an aircraft to replace the Mirage 2000s. They asked the French for more and the French demanded they buy Rafales instead, for a lot more money.

    This whole MRCA stunt has been an ongoing attempt to get France to reduce its prices and to be honest… it has failed.
    There was no way the Indian Air Force wanted to move forward with a future 5th gen fighter made with Sukhoi, Su-30s, and Mig-35s in Indian service. They wanted to buy european engines and weapons too, so they had to buy the Rafale from the very begining.

    Now they will end up spending 20 billion on 126 aircraft, which is strange… the contract to buy a Russian carrier ended up 1 billion dollars over budget and everyone was pointing fingers claiming it was unfair and was cheating, yet the MRCA is 10 billion over budget and no one is wondering what happened there. It seems it is not acceptable for Russian stuff to be expensive, but it is expected with French stuff.

    I am sure the Rafale will perform very well for India and despite the high price paid I think it will be valuable for them and I wish them all the best.

    Regarding the light 5th gen fighter I think having a cheaper lighter, perhaps single engined fighter makes a lot more sense than a big heavy fighter does.

    I think it is critical that they don’t try to make it a super do everything plane and I believe the best way to ensure it stays cheap(ish) and simple is to restrict engine power to about 12 tons and therefore aircraft weight to the 8-10 ton range.

    The USAF has mentioned how much trouble the upgraded Mig-21s from India caused them, think of a smaller lighter model with an AESA radar and modern AAMs. You could even develop an unmanned model for a UCAV design and call it a 6th gen aircraft.

    The point is that a light relatively cheap numbers plane will sell very well on the export market… not everyone has $160 million for a Rafale, or $200 million for an F-35.

    It doesn’t need enormous range, it doesn’t need a 10 ton weapon payload, it doesn’t need to fly at mach 3.

    Just a simple light capable fighter bomber that is small and manouverable with 6-8 AAMs carried internally, and for light strike missions perhaps 2-4 AAMs and 2 x 500kg guided bombs or anti radiation missiles to deal with enemy air defence.

    Once that is dealt with then it can go for external stores with large payloads when being stealthy is no longer critical.

    Everything the F-16 could have been till it got fat and expensive.

    The Su-35 and Mig-35 are nice, but not very stealthy… they are soldiers wearing bright orange uniforms.

    The question to ask is do you want stealth aircraft to go in and break everything up and then when the enemies system is broken enough and it is safe enough to send in the non stealthy aircraft, or would having lots and lots of stealthy aircraft be more useful.

    If the enemy starts with swarm attacks with lots of UCAVs and UAVs then the more interceptors you can get into the air the better.

    Stealth aircraft make the enemies job much harder… not just at the fighter level where the Rafale and Typhoon are straining to find targets and are never quite sure if their radar screens are showing them everything that is out there… the Mig-35s and Su-35s will be there but are there 5 or 6 PAK FAs there is the question they will be asking in 10 years time. If the light 5th gen planes go forward they will be wondering if there are 30-40 extra.light fighters out there too.

    Lots of light fighters provide better coverage and generally lower operational costs.

    The Sukhoi production factories will be cranking out Su-30s for export, Su-35s for domestic use and export, Su-34s for domestic use, and PAK FAs. Mig production factories will be making Mig-35s and Mig-29Ks and then sitting largely idle. The Mig-35 will have the first Russian fighter AESA in operational service most likely… would be a waste not to fit that to a light 5th gen fighter, the DAS for the Mig-35 could be adapted to the new 5th gen fighter in a newer more compact model… it will practically make itself.
    Most importantly if price can be kept below $100 mil per aircraft I honestly think that some F-35 customers might reconsider their decision to go American…

  5. I would add that Sukhoi is also busy with Super Jet, and of course an upgrade for the Su-25 and then a replacement model aircrft for the CAS role.

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