Russia Designers Deny New
Stealth Warplane Faked
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.