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Last modified on: 12/30/2010 11:18:28 PM<% on Error Resume Next Response.Expires = 0 %> The MIG27 affair - Fighter Pilots reveal what the "defence analysts" forgot to tell

The MIG27 affair - Fighter Pilots reveal what the "defence analysts" forgot to tell

The procurement of MIG 27 fighter jets was purely made by the GoSL to attack the LTTE terrorists who are making desperate attempts to divide the Island. The GoSL made this decision as another step in the right direction since the LTTE continues to threaten the lives of 19 million Sri Lankans irrespective of the 2002 ceasefire agreement. In other words, the fighters were purchased to save the lives of the SL citizens by destroying a terror outfit that murders the people of this country. However, the procurement of MIG 27 fighters seems to have hurt certain segments other than the LTTE.

Some political scum and barrack room defence analysts have been engaged in an absurd campaign against the Defence Ministry even before the deal was actually made. Defence.lk has once edified its viewers on how the MIG 27 was selected and procured in detail.

Now, the United National Party (UNP) has again taken up the issue, may be as a part of its leaders "brilliant" strategy to get popular by belittling the security forces. A report known as "a comprehensive study" on MIG 27 deal was issued to media by the UNP last week. Also, some "defence analysts' whose analysis could easily be doctored with few dollars, have written lengthy reports to support the UNP's view by bringing up some bovine arguments.

It is our duty to give all right thinking Sri Lankans the correct picture. Therefore, defence.lk team met with a panel of senior Air force personnel including the Director Aeronautical Engineering and the Commanding Officer of the MIG-27 squadron.

The Interview in Full

Defence.lk: How do you describe the MIG 27 fighter?

MIG 27 fighter is a fighter jet specially designed to carry out attacks at moving or static targets on the ground. It was built by the former Soviet Union in early 80s. Later, India also started assembling the aircraft. It is still flown in some countries including India as one of the main air arm against ground targets.

Defence.lk: How and why did the SLAF go for MIG 27?

MIG 27 was initially bought for SLAF in the year 2000, when the LTTE launched a massive terror attack at  security forces in the North and Wanni frontiers. The attack was called "unceasing wave 3" by the LTTE. At that time we lacked the capability to engage ground targets and therefore, could not give the much needed assistance to our ground forces effectively. Air Force after a detail study on war planes available in the market found out that MIG 27 as the ideal aircraft that could fulfill our requirements. Then a proposal was made to the then Commander of the Air Force and six MIG 27 aircraft and a MIG 23 trainer were bought to meet the immediate requirements. That is how MIG 27 became a part of the SLAF combat fleet.

Defence.lk: Was it effective?

Yes of course. MIG 27s contributed immensely to crush the LTTE's unceasing wave 3 and shatter its dream to capture the Jaffna peninsula.

Defence.lk: Why MIG 27, why not some other fighter aircraft?

There are many reasons

Firstly, MIG27 is one of the few affordable fighter jets to GoSL in the global defence market. There are of course more advanced, sophisticated fighters like F-16, F117... of US, Mirage of France, and etc..., but it is a well known fact that many of those weapons are either dedicated to the country or offered only to selected countries in accordance with various defence agreements and policies. Sometimes, we can even make a fleet of MIG 27 fighters with a unit price of some of the hi-tech aircraft.

Secondly, by the year 2000, we had only Israeli built Kfir and Chinese built F-7 fighters. Kfir was of course a good multi role aircraft that could accurately achieve ground targets and F-7 on the other hand has very little ground attack capabilities. Yet, both Kfirs and F7s lack endurance to carry sufficient loads of bombs in one sortie. For example, a MIG 27 can carry eight 500Kg bombs in one sortie from Katunayaka to Jaffna, where as Kfir can carry only two 500Kg bombs, and for the F-7 it is only two 250Kg bombs.

Thirdly, MIG 27 has special features that reduce the risk to the pilot when manoeuvring at very low altitudes (at tree top height) to get more accurate hits. We would not explain this further since the terrorists may get undue advantage on such information. Perhaps, the very reason for making such absurd campaigns against the security forces is to unravel vital information to the terrorists. For an example , unless this baseless controversy was built around the MIG deal, the terrorists may still not have known the actual strength of our combat fleet.

Lastly, Price of Kfir jets is higher than MIG27s and its maintenance cost is also very high. On the other hand, MIG27 has several suppliers of spare parts and technical consultation so that the supplier has lesser power to charge unrealistic costs of maintenance.

Defence.lk: What is the best aircraft Kfir or MIG27?

It is wrong to say one is superior to the other. Both are good fighters against ground targets, but it is the combination of these two aircraft that matters most. For instance, Kfir has a more accurate weapon system than MIG27 and therefore can be used effectively against moving or small targets on the ground or at Sea. Yet, it is the MIG27 that can safely fly at low altitudes and deliver devastating impact on the enemy targets and therefore can effectively be used against large enemy camps, weapon dumps, gun positions and etc. The full potential of the both aircraft can be achieved when used in combination rather than taken alone.

Defence.lk: How about their chronological ages, some critics argue that Kfir is younger than MIG?

Neither Kfir nor MIG27 models we presently have in SLAF are produced by the manufacturers any longer. But, they are still operational in some countries. For instance, Indian Air Force has five MIG27 fighter squadrons and the aircraft is still used as a  key air arm against ground targets. Both aircraft were manufactured in early 80s, and therefore are equally old.

Defence.lk: Why did SLAF go for MIG27 for the second time?

Apart from the other reasons explained above, it was still the best option in terms of cost effectiveness and operational urgency.

Firstly, we already had an established squadron, trained fighter pilots, technical staff, spare parts and other facilities to get on the operations as soon as we get the fighters. We also had three MIG 27 aircraft and a trainer (MIG 23) which had been grounded for over two years.

Secondly, there was a vacuum in the country's air defence system since the SLAF's airpower was limited to the Kfirs and F7s. The threat was so imminent that the LTTE was planning to carryout a massive attack against the security force in multiple fronts. Please note that the Air Force proactively proposed to enhance its fighting capability by the end of year 2005. The proposal was made in February 2006 and the aircraft were available by January 2007. If we had to go for a new model of aircraft it would take us another six months to set up the necessary infrastructure and to train necessary personnel.

Defence.lk: What is the contribution made by the MIG 27 fighters in the recent battles?

MIG 27 fighters played a vital strategic role in the battle fought to liberate the Eastern Province from the terrorists. It was extensively used in the battle in the Thoppigala area against LTTE's gun positions, camps and hideouts. Further, SLAF also carried out sporadic air raids at well identified LTTE targets in Wanni in order to weaken the enemy's ability to reinforce the eastern front. For instance we have targeted their fuel storages, communication centres, training facilities etc. Therefore, the aircraft has played an excellent strategic role as a ground attack as well as a ground support air arm.

Defence.lk : Now, let us look into this particular deal, some people who call themselves "defence analysts" argue that the MIG 27s are not worth buying and also a media release issued by a political party said that the aircraft were defunct. What is the truth?

Well, if it is defunct how could we achieve such feats? It is not defunct but it is the deadliest weapon that SLAF has against the LTTE terrorists. Probably those people like the LTTE terrorists want the MIGs to be defunct.

Defence.lk: Their argument is that the life span of the aircraft has been expired, how do you clarify this?

Well the argument itself shows the incompetence or may be the hidden agenda of the so called "defence analysts". When we buy a fighter aircraft it is not the physical thing that is important, but it's the capability or the potential flying hours that matters most. In other words we buy potential flying hours along with the physical aircraft. A fighter that cannot fly is nothing but a piece of metal.

MIG 27 is designed to fly 2500 flying hours without a calendar year or time restriction, provided that correct overhauls are made at the correct time.

Defence.lk: What are those overhauls?

Overhauls are major refurbishments done to the aircraft to extend its serviceability. This is mainly because of the engine wear and tare, and the effects on the airframe and other equipment due to stress caused by G-loads (gravity) etc.

For MIG 27 fighters' overhauls are to be made at every eighth year or completion of every 850 flying hours, from the date of manufacture or the last overhaul date, irrespective of whatever comes first. This is to say that even if the aircraft was on the ground for eight years from the date of manufacture or after the last overhauled date, it should be overhauled again before flying. On the other hand, if the aircraft fly 850 hours even within one year from the date of manufacture, still it has to be overhauled before put into the air. It is unbecoming of a defence analyst to be oblivious on such simple facts.

Defence.lk: How about the serviceability of the earlier batches of MIG27 fighters those were procured in 2000?

The first batches of the MIG 27s that we purchased in the year 2000 had been last overhauled in 1992 and had flown for only 5-10 hours since then. Therefore, the calendar life span of eight years was almost finished for the aircraft. Since the aircraft had been in Ukraine and not flown very much since the last overhaul date, they were cleared for two years of guaranteed operational lives up to 2002 by Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant, Ukraine.

Thus, we had bought two years of operational capability with the physical aircraft at a unit cost of US$ 1.8 million in the first batch and US$ 1.7 million for the second batch. We also bought a trainer which had only two years remaining life for calendar period for next overhaul at a cost of US$ 0.9 million in the second batch. The decision was made because of the requirement to train local pilots to fly the fighters as soon as possible. Remember none of these aircraft were overhauled or serviced before they were taken over by the SLAF from the D.S. Alliance, Singapore.

By the end of year 2002, the operational life span of all remaining MIG 27 fighters and the MIG 23 trainer were ended. Further extension of two years life span was recommended up to 2004 after two separate inspections conducted in 2002 and 2003 by the Ukraine experts. For these annual inspections only, the SLAF had to pay US$ 155,000 in each year to the D.S Alliance. A person with understanding of simple Arithmetic can calculate the large difference between the prices that SLAF had to pay for one operational year of aircraft in the two separate deals; that is the one with the D.S. Alliance in 2000 and with the Ukrinmash in 2006.

For detailed comparison of the prices please read - MIG 27 inside story

Defence.lk : How about the serviceability of the newly purchased MIG 27s?

The newly purchased aircraft were also there at the Lviv State Aircraft Repair Plant, Ukraine, when we went there in the year 2000 to buy the first two batches from the D.S. Alliance. There is no difference in features. Yet, unlike in the previous occasion, we bought them after the overhauls had been completed and therefore with eight years of operational capability or with 850 flying hours per each aircraft. This is the reality that the so called "defence analysts" have tried to conceal. As we stated earlier, the value addition of a fighter aircraft must not be determined by the number of physical frames only. It is the number of flying hours or the amount of fighting capability we get that really adds value to the Air Force.

Defence.lk: But the critics say that the Air Force had rejected these aircraft in 2000, when they had been offered for lesser prices?

That is also a weird falsification of facts to mislead the general public. At the previous deal with the D.S Alliance we could only afford to buy six fighters. So we chose six out of many  other aircraft at the Lviv State Aircraft plant that looks most suitable. It is not understandable why someone should interpret that we rejected others because we chose only the six that had less flying hours and latest manufacture dates. For example, if somebody buys six vehicles he wanted from a dealer who has many similar vehicles in the yard, does it mean that the buyer has condemned the other vehicles as unsuitable? It is an absurd argument.

Defence.lk: Then what about the prices, the critics point out that the aircraft were available at US$1.7-1.8 million while you have bought them at a price of US$ 2.5 million. How would you defend this?

Yes, we could have bought them at price mentioned at that time if we had the money. But remember the aircraft had only 2 years of life span while now we have bought them with eight years of life span. Just calculate the cost paid for a year; in the year 2000 deal we had bought one operational year at a cost of US$ 0.9 million (1.8 /2). But, in the year 2006 deal we have bought one operational year at a cost of only US$ 0.31 million (2.5/8).

Defence.lk: What happens to your argument if the flying hours are expired in a short time? Will it be still valid?

Yes. For a fighter aircraft 850 hours mean a long time. They have only less endurance and are used only for short shuttles. In Sri Lanka, average time of a mission is about 1 hour maximum. It would be very unrealistic to think all flying hours of a fighter fleet with seven fighters would exhaust in a short time span. Even in the intense battle situation in the recent past we have conducted only about 250 sorties within last six months. Therefore, there is a close relationship between the flying hours and the chronological life span of a MIG 27 fighter which is deployed for an actual operation.

Defence.lk : What about the pilot trainer it was bought around for US$ 0.9 million, but its cost of overhaul seems to be higher than the purchase price. How do you describe this?

Yes. The overhaul cost depends on the work scope. If you check the offer made by D.S Alliance for the overhaul cost of the UB trainer (MIG 23) in 2004 you would find that it was US$ 1.2 million. Such arguments are baseless and show the lack of knowledge of the persons who raised them.

Please refer "MIG 27 inside story" for more details

Defence.lk : How was this deal orchestrated . Was it really A Government to Government deal (G2G) deal or not?

It is a Government to Government deal. The offer was made directly to the GoSL by the Ukrinmash and the contract was signed between two authorities that represent the Governments of the two countries.

Defence.lk: What is Ukrinmash? Does it represent Ukraine Government?

Yes. Ukrinmash is a self supporting foreign trade and investment firm and a subsidiary of Ukrspetsexport which is a state owned institution. All exports of military items from the Ukraine must be channelled through Ukrinmash. Remember, Ukrinmash is not an aircraft manufacturing or technical company; it is just the trade arm for military exports. Under Ukrinmash there are three plants involved with MIG aircraft namely, Lviv, Lugansk and Odeza. Lviv plant basically works on the aircraft while the Lugansk is specialized on the aircraft engines. According to the Ukrainian law none of these plants can engage in direct trade with any other foreign body other than through Ukrinmash.

Therefore, Ukrinmash represents the Ukrainian Government when it comes to the export trade of military hardware to foreign nations. The critics seem to mislead the public by trying to make them to believe that the agreement should be signed by a Minister of Ukraine to make it a G2G deal, but it is wrong.

Defence.lk : Then, what is D.S Alliance?

It is a privately owned company that acts as an agent for Ukrinmash. Remember in the previous deal, D.S alliance has got all the quotations from Ukrinmash and offered to the GoSL after adding company commissions to the original quotation.

In the present contract, GoSL traded directly with Ukrinmash and therefore could avoid paying unnecessary commissions to an intermediate party. In the year 2000 deal the GoSL had signed a contract with the D.S. Alliance but not with Ukrinmash.

Defence.lk : What is the role of Bellimissa Holdings?

It is also a privately owned company that Ukrinmash has indicated as its financer in the offer. Why the particular company was selected was only known to Ukrinmash officials. In the initial offer itself, Ukrinmash said that it would indicate a financer to whom the payments to be made prior to the signing of the contract.

Since the contract is done through differed payment scheme, there would be an obvious need of a financer to provide money to the plants to carryout the project. SL Government contracted with Ukrinmash but not with any other. Belllimissa Holding is a designated party by Ukrimash as its financer for the project.

Defence.lk : What is the difference between Bellimissa Holdings and Ukrinmash in contractual terms?

The GoSL in the year 2000 deal signed the contract with D.S. Alliance, a Singapore based company, but not with Ukrinmash. In other words we had bought the aircraft from D.S Alliance and not from the Government of Ukraine. For instance, if the aircraft had failed to deliver required serviceability during its guarantee period, it was D.S Alliance that would be held answerable but not Ukrinmash.

On the other hand, Bellimissa Holdings is not the provider of the aircraft in the year 2006 deal. The contractual terms with regard to the aircraft serviceability is only lying between the GoSL and Ukrinmash but not with Bellimissa Holdings.

Defence.lk : Finally, what is your idea on the MIG 27 deal? Is it a shabby and a shady deal?

It is not for us to comment on the monitory matters. But it is crystal clear to anybody that the Ukrinmash deal has saved large amount of money to the country. For example we had paid US$ 0.9 million for one year of operational life span of a fighter at the earlier deal. But in the latest deal we paid only US$ 0.3 million for the same operational year. This only has saved US$ 0.6 million from each aircraft that had been purchased in the Year 2006 deal.

Further, once we take the reduction of freight charges, the easy payment scheme, increase of life span and finally the increase of the fighting capability, there is huge value addition for the Air Force in the 2006 MIG deal over the year 2000 deal.

Related Article

                         MIG 27-Inside Story

 

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