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Frequent crashes cast doubt on Russian made Kazakh AF jets

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By Farkhad Sharip

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the morning of February 12, a MiG-29 fighter jet from the Kazakh Air

Force crashed while landing at a military airfield in Almaty region. Just

seconds before the plane hit the ground, crew members ejected from the

cockpit, but because of the low altitude, their parachutes did not have

enough time to deploy.


The plane broke into pieces six kilometers (3.7 miles) short of the

airfield, near densely populated Zhetygen. Alexander Kovyazin, an

experienced pilot familiar with various types of Russian-made military

aircraft, died on impact. Vitaly Dilmukhamedov, who miraculously survived

the crash, was hospitalized with multiple injuries.


Kazakh Air Force officers, who arrived at the scene immediately after the

crash, conducted a meticulous inspection and concluded that the accident

could not have been caused by human error, as Dilmukhamedov, like Kovyazin,

was a well-trained pilot who had logged 890 flying hours. Experts from MiG

Corporation, one of Russia’s largest aircraft manufacturers, admitted that

the crash was due to the failure of the on-board electrical power supply

unit. MiG Corp. executives hastened to assure Kazakh military authorities

that they would address the technical flaws of the jets delivered to

Kazakhstan and make the necessary modifications to the aircraft power supply

system (Komsomolskaya pravda Kazakhstan, March 1).


Kazakh military authorities began to question the technical reliability of

the obsolete Russian military aircraft after a similar crash of a MiG-31

interceptor jet in Qaraghandy region, Central Kazakhstan, during a training

flight just four days after the Almaty crash. Two pilots died in that

incident. But the Kazakh military elite, largely dependent on Russian arms

to modernize its armed forces, hushed up the crash.


Russian MiG-31 interceptor jets, which constitute the bulk of the Kazakh Air

Force, are 25 years old. The jet is designed to carry air-to-air long-range

missiles and intercept and destroy low-altitude winged missiles undetectable

for enemy radars, and it was a formidable weapon in the Cold War. But

dilapidated MiGs have lost most of their luster for Kazakh military leaders,

who find the technical maintenance of these machines to be an endless,

unrewarding task.


Russian arms manufacturers seem to be in an awkward position. On the one

hand they see Central Asia as an enormous market in which to dump their

obsolete weapons, while simultaneously limiting their neighbors’ access to

cutting edge military hardware. On the other hand, Russian arms

manufacturers are desperately short of qualified workers to modernize the

outdated military aircraft currently in service in Commonwealth of

Independent States countries. At least two years ago 2006 Russian aircraft

manufacturing plants told a military delegation from Kazakhstan that they

lacked a qualified workforce to update and repair more than four SU-27 and

two MiG-31 jets for the Kazakh Air Force (Delovaya gazeta, December 12,



Despite all these drawbacks, Kazakhstan remains one of the largest buyers of

Russian arms. Last year the Kazakh Air Force had 40 MiG-31 fighter jets and

14 SU-27 aircraft. In order to get military supremacy over its neighbors,

Kazakhstan has to constantly increase its military spending. This year

roughly 60% of its military budget is earmarked for the purchase of

sophisticated equipment. But Kazakhstan’s military ambition cannot be

satisfied in the foreseeable future. Experts estimate that it would cost

$200 million to modernize all fighter jets now in service with Kazakhstan’s

air force.


Accidents involving Russian-made aircraft have become so frequent over the

last two years that even the most pro-Moscow media have begun to raise

doubts about their safety. The latest tragedy occurred on February 27 in

Kyzylorda region, South Kazakhstan, when an Mi8 helicopter carrying the

governor of the region, Mukhtar Kul Mukhamet, top officials from the

Emergency Ministry, and journalists suddenly fell from the sky. Three people

were instantly killed and 15 others were rushed to the hospital with severe

injuries. Vladimir Bozhko, the newly appointed Kazakh minister of

emergencies, summoned his Russian counterpart, Sergei Shoigu, to Astana to

air his grievances. Shoigu only reluctantly admitted that the crash was due

a malfunctioning fuel-injection unit (Express K, March 1).


For Russia, Central Asia is more than just an arms purchaser. Moscow would

like to see relatively well-equipped military forces in Kazakhstan and

Uzbekistan to serve as deterrents to potential threats from militant

Islamists. Russia has effectively monopolized the arms trade in the region,

forestalling Western arms manufacturers who have little, if any, interest in

militarizing the already explosive region. At the same time, Russia’s

reluctance to update its planes operated by the Kazakh Air Force is forcing

Kazakhstan to look for partners with no political agenda attached. Last

November the defense ministries of Belarus and Kazakhstan signed a contract

to modernize 10 Russian-made SU-27 planes manufactured in the late 1970s.

Observers warn that if Russia continues to insist that political loyalty is

part of its dealings with Kazakhstan, Moscow may lose that market. Never

before these pessimistic notes sounded truer.

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Planes get old and start crashing - everyone seems to be in the same boat dont they. How frequent Russian planes really crashing is something we probably wont find out - but a lot are going down everywhere it seems regardless!


Perhaps someone will design an uncrashable rubber plane. :beta1:

Edited by CoolHand29

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