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by Roy Cochrun
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Chinese Fighters Cause Salyut and Saturn Clash

The two leading Russian aircraft engine building groups, Salyut and Saturn, have begun a struggle for contracts to upgrade engines which were delivered earlier to China for the Su-27 and Su-30 fighters. The total cost of the upgrade of all airplanes may be up to 2 billion dollars, of the first batch in 2007 – 2008, 180 million dollars. Market participants think that it will not be so much as for technical but for political reasons that Rosoboronehksport will select the contract’s executor.

Sources close to the contract negotiations have told X that several days ago FGUP Moscow Salyut Machine Building Production Enterprise and the Rybinsk OAO NPO Saturn (together with OAO Ufa Motor Building Production Association, UMPO), have proposed their own upgrade variants for the Chinese fighters. MMPP Salyut is proposing to deliver to the Chinese the AL-31F-M1 engine which was developed by its own design bureau with increased thrust and increased service life. In the middle of October, Russian Federation air force commander-in-chief, Vladimir Mikhaylov, approved a state commission document for the acceptance of the AL-31F-M1 engine into the inventory. For its part, UMPO together with NPO Saturn is offering to deliver the new 117S engine for the Chinese fighters which is undergoing tests now. It was created based on the AL-31FP which with the Su-30MKI is outfitted, which are being delivered to India by the Irkut corporation.

At the present time, taking into account several crashed aircraft, China has 273 fighters of the Su family at its disposal. The upgrade period for 20 Su-27SK and 6 Su-27UBK will be suitable in 2007 – 2008, and afterwards – 16 Su-27SK and 6 Su-27UBK.

In the beginning of November of this year, the FGUP Rosoboronehksport chief of the air force special property and services export department, Aleksandr Mikheev, said that “the company has an Su-27 upgrade program which is being offered to users of these airplanes.” “As regards their modification using the new AL-31F-M1 engine, upon approval of this subject directly by the developer – the Sukhoy OKB – we are ready to offer it to customers,” Mr. Mikheev explained.

Yesterday, they specified to X at Rosoboronehksport that Russia is offering China “to increase the airplanes’ capabilities significantly,” having replaced the engine, installing a new control systems and equipping with more modern weapons systems. The contract for replacement of the engines on the first 26 aircraft will be comparatively small: 52 engines have to be replace for a total cost of nearly 180 million dollars. However, all the fighters Beijing has on hand are supposed to undergo such upgrade gradually, thus, the contracts for replacing the engines may be up to two billion dollars.

They have declined to comment on the upgrade program until the completion of negotiations at Salyut, Saturn, UMPO and the Sukhoy Aviation Holding Company. According to X, Rosoboronehksport’s negotiations with the Chinese partners is at the stage of defining the upgrade parameters. The final selection of the engine type which will be proposed to China sill has not been made.

It is noteworthy that Salyut is responsible for shipment of the engines to China through a distribution of delivery regions which was done by the Russian government as early as the ‘90s. At the end of 2005, Salyut, through the mediation of Rosoboronehksport, signed a contract with Beijing for the delivery of 150 engines of the prior AL-31F modification for replacement of motors delivered for Su-27 and Su-30 fighters earlier. True, according to X, Salyut itself assemble of them only 100 motors, and the remaining 50 will be assembled by their competitor, UMPO.

“The choice of the engine type will be a question of the technical risks for China, Beijing is supposed to chose between the AL-31F-M1, which is already has been made and adopted into the inventory, and the 117S, which more technologically improved, but still undergoing tests,” the editor of the profiling magazine Russia/CIS Observer ((in English)), Maksim Pyadushkin, thinks. And a highly placed representative of one of the Russian aircraft plants supposes that the Chinese “will take what Rosoboronehksport will be marketing more actively.” In the opinion of X’s source, in this case the new contracts may be a means of negotiations with UMPO and Saturn for attracting them into an engine building holding company.

Source: 27.11.06, Kommersant, Correspondent: Nikolay Gul’ko, Aleksandra Gritskova