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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Modernizes French Fighter Jet in Pilot Project

The MiG corporation and arms export giant Rosoboronexport are overhauling a French-made jet fighter for South Africa — the first time Russian manufacturers have been contracted to modernize a Western-built plane.

Rosoboronexport and MiG, together with South Africa's Armscor, are planning to unveil the revamped Mirage F1 at the Moscow Air Show later this month, according to a source close to organizers of show.

MiG and Rosoboronexport confirmed the plan to show off the new Mirage and said the plane belonged to the South African air force, but gave no further details.

The craft will be equipped with a Russian RD-33 engine, which is fitted on the MiG-29 and P-73 air-to-air missiles.

The Mirage F1 was developed and manufactured by French company Dassault in the '80s. South Africa bought scores of the planes and has been negotiating with Russian companies to upgrade them since the early '90s. The deal broke down, however, when the conditions of the deal were protested by both sides as the first consignments of equipment were being sent abroad. The project was frozen and negotiations were renewed only in the past year.

The Mirage F1 is one of the last aircraft of its kind in the South African air force, as the country has sold the majority of its fleet. The Russian-South African project, therefore, is aimed at demonstrating its engineering ability to third parties — states that do not have the means to replace their out-of-date military hardware, but can spend about $3 million to $4 million per plane on modernization.

Likely clients include countries in Latin America and Africa — which is where South Africa sold its old Mirages — and potential buyers include "pariah" states, which for political reasons are unable to apply directly to the Mirage's manufacturer but can try to modernize the aircraft with Russian help.

The concept of modernizing, however, is unclear, said Konstantin Makiyenko of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.

The vast majority of such projects are aimed at improving in-flight equipment, and the aim is to turn aircraft into multifunctional warplanes capable of attacking ground targets. This is what foreign clients demand over increasing engine capacity or fitting air-to-air missiles.

But according to Makiyenko, Russia's priority at present is not so much to conclude modernization agreements as to demonstrate to potential buyers that Russian companies are capable of modernizing Western equipment.

"This is what our main competitors — the Israeli companies — are doing with Soviet and Russian technology," Makiyenko said.