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Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies
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The Algerian Deal
On 10 March 2006, during a short visit to Algeria, President Putin signed a set of contracts for the transfer of several weapons systems to Algeria. Information disclosed to the public regarding the portfolio is far from complete, though the aviation contract is relatively clear. For $3.5 bln, Russia is to sell 28 Su-30MKA fighters ($1.5 bln), 28 MiG-29SMT and 6 MiG-29UBT fighters ($1.8 bln, of which up to $300 mln will go back to purchase 36 Algerian MiG-29 as a trade-in), and 16 Yak-130 trainers ($200 mln).
Aside from a large purchase of aviation equipment Algeria will also receive many air-defence weapons and armaments for its land forces: eight battalions of S-300PMU-2 Favorit (SA-20) SAM systems, probably for $1 bln, and 300 T-90S main battle tanks for another $1 bln, with the first 40 tanks to be delivered this year.
The delivery of Su-30MKA fighters should begin in 2007 and continue for three years. The most likely schedule is for eight fighters to be transferred in 2007, ten in 2008 and another ten in 2009. The Algerian version of the Su-30 will be based on the Indian Su-30MKI version, but with Russian rather than Israeli-made systems, which for the Su-30MKI include head-up displays, digital map generators and overhead laser target indicators.
Deliveries of MiG-29 fighters are set to begin in 2006, including three MiG-29UBT two-seat planes. The transfer of the first batch of Yak-130 trainers is planned for 2008, by which time the aircraft should be fully certified by the Russian Air Force. A second production line is being set up at the Irkut plant to assemble the Algerian Yak-130, while the Nizhniy Novgorod line of aircraft will be used by the Russian Air Force.
Aside from these systems, Algeria intends to upgrade its current fleet of T-72S main battle tanks, and to purchase Metis-M1 (AT-13) and Kornet-E (AT-14) anti-tank missile systems, two Project 636 improved Kilo class submarines with Club-S (SS-N-27) missile systems, and Tunguska-M1 (SA-19) self-propelled anti-aircraft gun-missile systems. A range of ships and submarines are to be repaired, and while the content of the options is not known, it is likely that 12-20 MiG-29SMT fighters and 14-16 Yak-130 trainers will be purchased.
This deal could not have been possible without an agreement to write off Algeria’s debts to Russia, which amounted to $4.7 bln. This part of the deal was criticized by several observers and was quietly opposed by the Ministry of Finance. Nevertheless, it seems that a new mechanism for promoting Russian armaments to former Soviet markets has been found, similar to that used in the 1990s, when Russian armaments were transferred in exchange for the writing off of Soviet debts to Central and East European states, South Korea and a range of other countries. The cost of the contracts signed with Algeria will exceed the sum of the forgiven debts, and by a large margin if all options are exercised.
Main characteristics of the deal
The first and most important characteristic of the Algerian deal is its unusually large cost, at $7.5 bln, with the possibility that further agreements for another $2-3 bln will still be signed. This is quite remarkable considering that at the entire portfolio of Russian contracts at the end of the nineties varied between $6-7 bln.
The second noteworthy feature is the comprehensive character of the deal, which includes deliveries of aviation, naval, land and missile weapons, giving the Russian military-industrial complex a well-balanced load of orders across several sectors.
In effect the deal converted foreign debts owed to Russia into orders for Russia’s defense industry. It seems that Libya, which has the resources to make similarly large purchases of Russian arms, might be the next country in line for a similar deal.
In 2000-2002 the St. Petersburg Dvigatel factory sent 24 533mm TEST-71 torpedoes to Algeria. By some accounts the state Splav scientific-production enterprise transferred to Algeria 90P Zapad self-directing depth charges for the Project 1159 frigates. Also in 2000, the delivery of 96 3M24E anti-ship missiles of the Uran-E (SS-N-25) missile system created by Zvezda-Strela scientific-production enterprise (part of Tactical Missiles Corporation) for corvettes upgraded according to Project 1234EM began. Zvezda companies concluded a contract in the spring of 2004 for the delivery and repair of size-type 16/17 diesel engines for the Algerian Navy. The cost of this contract was 3.6 mln Euros.
Return to a traditional market
The Algerian deal represents Russia’s return to one of its traditional markets. From 1962 to 1989, the Soviet Union delivered approximately $11 bln worth of arms, including 210 MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters, Su-24MK bombers, T-55 tanks and about 300 T-72 main battle tanks, three Project 1159T Koni class frigates, two Project 877EKM Kilo class submarines, missile corvettes, fast attack craft, patrol and landing ships and craft.
In the 1990s the volume of trade between the two countries fell dramatically as Ukraine and Belarus offered similar products at dumping prices. These two countries sold Algeria Mi-24V attack helicopters, T-72 main battle tanks and BMP-2 AIFVs, Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters. Important steps towards the reestablishment of Russian-Algerian arms trading were made in 1999 and 2001, with the signing of intergovernmental agreements on military-technical cooperation and strategic partnership.
Major contracts of recent years include an agreement signed in 2000 worth $120 mln for the delivery of 22 Su-24MK bombers. The aircraft were taken from the Russian Air Forces’s surplus and were repaired and modernized at the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association (NAPO). Although a contract for the modernization of 22 Su-24M was to be finished by the end of 2002, it was put off several times and concluded only in 2005. According to the general director of NAPO Alexander Bobryshev (who left his position in May 2006), Algeria is the only current purchaser of Su-24MK aircraft.
In June 2004 the Ulan-Ude Helicopter Plant completed the delivery of a batch of Mi-171Sh helicopters to Algeria. This contract, signed in 2002, was for 42 helicopters priced at $200 mln. In 1994-1995, Russia also sold 47 Mi-8T transport helicopters. Algeria also purchased in 2000 eight IL-78 tanker aircraft to service its tactical aviation.
The upgrade of a single Project 1159T frigate at the Kronshtadt Naval Repair Yard and a single Project 1234E missile corvette for the Algerian Navy mark the only significant ship-building contracts. The transfer of these ships was difficult. Due to delivery problems at Kronshtadt the ship was sent partly unfinished, such that payment for the contract (about $100 mln) was received only after testing on the Algerian shores was completed in 2002. Whilst waiting for this payment, Kronshtadt was itself unable to pay its creditors and was put under external management. Negotiations are now underway to modernize another four ships of the Algerian Navy (two from each of the above mentioned projects). It is expected that a firm contract will be signed in 2006, to be executed by Severnaya Verf shipyard.
The most recent ship-building contracts include a 2005 agreement worth $100 mln to repair and upgrade two Project 877EKM Kilo class conventional submarines for the Algerian Navy. Admiralteyskie Verfi shipyard is the contractor and will complete the order by 2007. As distinct from the Indian ships being upgraded at Zvezdochka shipyard, the Algerian ships will not be equipped with the Club-S anti-ship missile system. In June-July 2006 Admiralteyskie Verfi will sign another contract for the delivery of two Project 636 improved Kilo class conventional submarines for a total of about $400 mln. Finally, in 1995 Russia supplied 150 BMP-2 AIFVs, for which more than 2000 anti-tank missiles for Fagot (AT-4) anti-tank missiles were purchased. In 1999, Algeria purchased 18 Smerch 9A52 MLRS. In 1999, 324 air-air missiles and in 2001 the Orion radio intelligence station were purchased. And the latest information - on 28 June 2006 Rosoboronexport state concern and Algerian Navy signed a contract for delivery of two Project 636 Kilo-class submarines.
The signing of the Algerian deal also strengthens the position of the “Irkut Alliance,” or the informal union of Irkut, MiG, the Yakovlev Design Bureau and the Sokol Aircraft Building Plant. All three factions of this alliance will get their share of the pie in the form of orders for the Su-30MKA, the MiG-29SMT, the MiG-29UBT and the Yak-130. The factories of the alliance now have sufficient orders to work until 2010, while Sukhoi Corporation has no current orders whatsoever.
Effect on the structure of Russian exports
The Algerian deal will have a marked effect on Russia’s aviation industry and the structure of its arms exports.
First, all doubts regarding the future prospects of MiG Corporation have been put to rest. This enterprise was in a deep and prolonged state of crisis throughout the mid-1990s. The first steps towards its reanimation began in 1999 when contracts for the sales of inexpensive earlier models of the MiG-29 fighters were concluded with several poor states in south and southeast Asia and Africa, and when R&D for the radical modernization of the MiG-29 fighters was launched, including the installation of the Zhuk-ME radar.
The next step was connected with the successful program to deliver to the Yemeni Air Force 20 MiG-29SMT fighters, which was to conclude in 2005. The program foresaw the sale of 14 MiG-29B/UB as per a contract signed in 2001, and their subsequent modernization to the MiG-29SMT/UBT standard and the delivery of another six new-build MiG-29SMT.
The third step towards the revival of MiG was the signing of a contract in 2004 for the delivery of MiG-29K carrier-based fighters to India. The noteworthy element of this program was the high level of technological risk together with very tight deadlines and financing envelopes that made it comparable with the Su-30MKI fighters program in terms of its complexity and influence on the structure of the aviation sector as a whole.
Finally, the signing of the Algerian deal has at last evened out the position of MiG Corporation vis-а-vis Sukhoi. In view of the expected exercise of at least half of the Indian option for 30 MiG-29K carrier-based fighters (i.e., 15 planes for a total of $750 mln) in 2006, and a potential contract for the upgrade of about 70 Indian MiG-29 fighters to the MiG-29SMT variant, MiG’s total portfolio of orders will reach $3 bln, second only to that of Irkut. (This figure does not include the 2004 contract of $732 mln for R&D and delivery to the Indian Navy of 16 MiG-29K/KUB, part of which has already been paid).
The Algerian contract provides MiG with sufficient funds to ensure the successful completion of the contract for the MiG-29K carrier-based fighters – extremely important from both the political and technical points of view. Until recently, MiG’s precarious financial situation put in doubt its ability to conduct the necessary R&D and to build the MiG-29K. Now that MiG’s finances are no longer an issue, all that remains are ordinary technical and organizational risks, and the latter have decreased since the arrival of Alexey Fedorov and the mixing of personnel with that of Irkut.
In addition, MiG Corporation’s hand will strengthen considerably in the Indian Air Force tender for the purchase of 126 (or 200, according to some sources) fighters to replace their stock of MiG-21 (both Soviet and licensed Indian production). Finally, with the signing of the Algerian and possibly the Indian contracts for MiG-29, the ability of MiG Corporation’s to force a revision of the tender (won by Irkut) for the development of a Russian fifth-generation fighter has increased considerably. This hypothesis is lent credibility by the stance taken by Vladimir Mikhailov, the Commander-in-chief of the Russian Air Force, who occasionally comments on the need to develop a “light” fifth-generation fighter together with India’s apparent interest in jointly developing such a fighter.
Finally, the Algerian contract will have a marked effect on the geographic distribution of Russia’s arms exports for the next three or four years at least. Up until now, between 70-80 % of Russia’s military exports have gone to China and India. Algeria will now account for about 20% of Russian deliveries, and the share of China and India will shrink to 30% and 20%, respectively. And with the Malay and probable new Indonesian aviation contracts, this distribution will become even more diversified.