MiG vs Sukhoi and the future of Russian Military Aviation market

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The military aviation industry of Russia is dominated by  PJSC Sukhoi Company and JSC RSK MiG. They are a part of the Soviet Union legacy which included the A S Yakovlev Design Bureau. The two have emerged as advanced competing design groups and their success is due to the Soviet era designed fighters, the heavy Su-27 and the light MiG-29. Both the companies have been merged with the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Military Aviation Division, which includes  PJSC Sukhoi Company,  JSC RSK MiG, A S Yakovlev Design Bureau, Tupolev and Ilyushin Aviation Complex.

UAC was supposed to merge and or consolidate these entities to create a streamlined R&D, production, sale and lifecycle maintenance. However, the merger did not achieve its goals except  the share holding pattern. One of the main issues for not merging these entities is because of their legacies, differing philosophies and a lack of a financial plan to bail out JSC RSK MiG. It was felt that during the merger, Sukhoi which was the stronger of the companies, would have dominated at the cost of MiG. UAC simply does not have an effective strategy to merge the two entities. This is a part of a larger problem which UAC faced and has been partially alleviated by formation of the Rostec Cluster.

Sukhoi vs MiG

The Russian military aviation is more comeptitive and profitable when compared to the Russian civilian aerospace section. The military aviation has seen huge investments into R&D, cutting edge product development, mass production, domestic sales and exports.

During the Soviet era, Sukhoi was a moderately visible name in military aircraft production. Post Soviet Union, Sukhoi seized the opportunity and makes fighter planes which looks good in sales and war fighting literature. The Russian military aviation survives on Sukhoi. Sukhoi has managed to create multiple variations of 4th Generation + military planes derived from heavy fighter Su-27, one fifth generation military plane and even a commercial airliner (Sukhoi Civil Aviation Company has been merged with Irkut Corporation). Sukhoi ecosystem consists of the JSC Sukhoi Design Bureau, JSC Sukhoi Holdings, Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KnAAPO) and Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association (NAPO). The most known aircrafts from Sukhoi include Su-27, Su-30, fighter bomber Su-34, Su-35 and Su-57.

During the Soviet era, MiG was a name to recon with in the military aviation sector. In war fighting, more is written about MiG’s than Sukhois. Today, MiG will be unable to even survive on its own resources. It started as a design house for an aircraft manufacturing plant in 1930’s. The design house had two very talented designers viz Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich. The design house was named Mikoyan OKB after Artem Mikoyan. Mikoyan Mig-21 became one of the most famous aircraft of the Cold War era. It was succeeded by light fighter MiG-29 which was much feared by the opponents. Mig-23, MiG-27, MiG-31 and MiG-35 are the other most known planes from the MiG stable. MiG too started the post Soviet Union era with orders from India and Algeria. However, product deficiencies and scandal (in case of Algeria) ruined the reputation and financial health of the company. Even the aircraft carrier based MiG-29K in the service of the Indian Navy lacks performance and has maintenance issues. MiG couldn’t even capitalise on a large post cold war invetory of MiG-21’s in the service of various nations including india. India had blamed the frequent crashes of the MiG-21’s on the lack of spare parts availability.

In the early 2000s, there were attempts to restart MiG. Limited deliveries of MiG-29s were made to the countries of Southeast Asia and Africa. But all this did not lead to the rapid take-off of JSC RSK MiG. MiG-35, which is the result of the evolution of the MiG-29K / KUB and MiG-29M / M2 aircraft, has not yet found a buyer. MiG even lost the fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft project to Sukhoi. For the fifth Generation fighter, MiG proposed a light, single-engine Mikoyan LMFS design, based on the former MiG-1.44 project.

MiG is currently working on MiG-31K  which is a modification of MiG-31 and it is meant to carry the Russian carrier killer  Kh-47M2 Kinzhal Hypersonic missile system. The current MiG-31 fleet of the Russian Air Force is to be converted to MiG-31K standards. Based on MiG-31K,  JSC RSK MiG is also creating a long-range fifth generation interceptor called the MiG-41. However, this is still a developmental project and will take years to mature. MiG-41 is most likely to be for the use of the Russian Air Force and not for exports due to its strategic nature.

End of the line for Su-27 and MiG-29 derivatives and for other 4 + genration fighters

Russia has so far milked the Su-27 and MiG-29 platforms to a large extent and is plateauing. This is complicated by other market factors. China and India were a huge market for Russia in the past. However, both these countries have their own aircraft projects and Russia faces tremedous comptetion in India from the US and French fighter aircraft makers. All major companies have shown interest in the latest Indian Air Force tender for 114 fighter aircrafts. This includes Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70, Boeing Advanced Super Hornet F/A-18E/F, Dassault Rafale, Swedish Saab Gripen JAS-39E/F, Russian MiG-35, European Eurofighter Typhoon and Sukhoi Su-35. This tender is probably the last major order for the 4+ generation aircraft. This tender involves local production and hence the work share for the OEM is not of full potential.

The future of the Russian Military aviation market

The 5th Generation aircraft is very expensive and there is a limited scope for exports. Take for example the case of the joint development project by India and Russia. In 2008, India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and Sukhoi teamed up for the joint development of Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) or the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF). After several years India could not finalize the deal due to pricing and work sharing issues. Ultimately the Indian side gave up in 2015. The Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAV) have begun replacing the lower end of the combat fighters worldwide. The export orders for 4th + generation aircrafts are projected to be in smaller quantities in the future. Sukhoi has a portfolio of Su-57, Su-39, SU-35 and Su-30 aircrafts. The MiG has Mig-29 and MiG-35 in current portfolio and expected to have MiG-41 in the future. MiG and Sukhoi are jointly creating the sixth generation Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B UCAV (former Mikoyan Skat UCAV). These are formidable offers and have export potential. Russia will not have the luxury of sale to the India and Chinese markets  in future and will have to rely primarily on the domestic market for its survival. 


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