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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MiG Upgrades for India Hit Financial Turbulence

Russia's economic woes have claimed another victim - the Indian Air Force.

In 1996, India signed a deal under which the Sokol factory in Nizhny Novogorod would upgrade 125 of India's aging complement of more than 300 MiG-21 fighter jets by 2001, but Russia's economic woes mean that the factory will be three years late in fulfilling the contract, factory and Indian officials have said.

India, one of the biggest buyers of Russian weaponry, is expected to spend more than $370 million on upgrading MiG-21s, Jane's Defense Weekly has reported.

The Sokol plant will be unable to complete the modernization program until 2004, mostly because of difficulties stemming from Russia's ongoing economic and financial crisis, an official from the factory's marketing department said in a telephone interview.

"Everything would have been more or less normal if not for the crisis," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Indian Defense Ministry is aware of the three-year delay, Itar Tass reported, citing unnamed ministry officials.

Sokol officials refuse to disclose the value of the 1996 contract, but confirmed news reports that an upgrade of one MiG-21 would cost around $3 million.

Although the deal included a pre-payment from the Indian side to Sokol, they refused to say how much the factory received. They also would not comment on where that money had gone.

The only comment any factory official would make regarding the factory's finances was a statement from the marketing department official that "some part" of Sokol's work force have been on unpaid leave for several months this year.

However, part of the reason for the delay is apparently technical, centering on "problems" with making French and Israeli-made equipment "compatible" with the fighter's Russian-made avionics, he added.

The Indian defense officials cited by Itar-Tass gave the same reasons as the Sokol factory source - Russia's economic woes along with the failure by French subcontractor Thomson-CSF and Israeli subcontractor Elta to supply avionics equipment in time.

However, Sokol's problems do not appear to have affected India's enthusiasm for Russian military hardware. Russia's top helicopter firm, Kazan Helicopter Plant, is negotiating with India's largest aircraft manufacturer, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd., to upgrade New Delhi's aging military helicopters, Agence France Presse reported Indian officials as saying over the weekend.

Meanwhile, MAPO-MiG is the front-runner to supply the Indian Air Force with 60 to 130 air force training jets - based on the MiG-29 - Reuters reported last week.

MAPO-MiG's design bureau Mikoyan came up with the modernization program, which includes adding advanced avionics from France's Sextant Avionique, and fitting the MiG-21s with the powerful Russian-made Kopyo, or Spear, radar.

MAPO-MiG officials have been at the center of a $237 million dollar bribery and embezzlement scandal involving a falsified contract for MiG-29 fighters supposedly bought by the Indian government.

According to the March 1, 1996 contract Sokol is required to upgrade just two of the Indian Air Force's MiG-21s at its Nizhny Novgorod plant and then send complete sets of upgraded avionics and arms to India, where they are to be fitted into a further 123 MiG-21s.

India has already received the first upgraded MiG-21, which rolled off the Nizhny Novgorod production line in August and arrived in India in November. The second modernized fighter jet was completed last Tuesday and is being made ready for flight tests, Mikhail Vorobyev, the chief of Sokol's advertising department said in a phone interview last week.