- MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian plane makers dismissed as "pure madness"
a newspaper report that said they had faked the unveiling of their newest
stealth fighter, but said it would be years before the aircraft was ready
to be deployed.
- The new plane was unveiled last week
with great fanfare before dozens of reporters, foreign military attaches
and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, who said it would greatly increase
the effectiveness of Russia's air force.
- But journalist Alexander Zhilin wrote
in the latest edition of the weekly newspaper Moskovskiye Novosti that
the new MiG 1.42 stealth aircraft existed only as a wind tunnel model
and officials had displayed an a different plane, a 1.44, instead.
- The article, headlined "Bluff,"
caused a stir in Moscow. It described the entire exercise as an attempt
to hoodwink the government into continuing to fund a useless program.
- The 1.44, Zhilin wrote, was not a stealth
aircraft at all, meaning it did not use advanced radar-evading technology.
- "The widely advertised 'Russian
fighter of the 21st century' does not exist in metal," he wrote.
- But officials from the MiG design bureau
and other firms working on the project defended it at a news conference
as necessary for Russia's defense, and said the 1.44 was a step on the
way to completing the 1.42.
- "The 1.44 is the first flying prototype
of the 1.42 project," test pilot Anatoly Kvochur said. MiG chief Mikhail
Korzhuyev added: "The 1.42 is not an aircraft. It's a program."
- Korzhuyev described Zhilin's article
as "pure madness." Earlier he told Reuters by telephone: "This
is spitting in the face of Russia."
- "How could we deceive the minister
and commander-in-chief?" he said. He added that the 1.42 program
would have its first actual test flight in March.
- Engineer Yevgeny Fedosov, also at the
news conference, said the new aircraft was not intended to resemble U.S.
full stealth aircraft, such as the B-2 bomber and F-117 fighter, but to
"incorporate elements of stealth technology without sacrificing the
functionality" of more conventional aircraft.
- Russia not only supplies its own market
with Sukhoi and MiG warplanes, but also exports them, mainly to China,
India, the Middle East and former socialist countries.
- Arms have been an important money-spinner
for Russian industry, but experts say the country will have to continue
to upgrade its technology if it wants to stay competitive.
- Korzhuyev said that, with Russia's finances
in a mess, the 1.42 program was unlikely to produce a battle-ready aircraft
for many years. But he said that Russia must continue the program to maintain
its scientific edge.
- "You cannot be a world power without
aviation," he said.
- Air force chief Col.-Gen. Anatoly Kornukov
was expected at the news conference but did not appear.