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An unusually camouflaged plane catches visitors' eye at the ILA-2008
An unusually camouflaged plane catches visitors' eye at the ILA-2008 Air Show in Berlin. It is an upgraded Soviet-made MiG-29SD fighter plane from the Slovakian Air Force that meets all NATO standards.

The issue of using Soviet military equipment cropped up a long time ago, following the merger of the two Germanies. The new Germany was the one to demonstrate two possible ways of dealing with the matter: keeping the more advanced models, including MiG-29s, in operation for a definite period, and selling the older systems to other countries and regions, such as Turkey and Africa.

As former Warsaw Pact countries joined NATO, things got more complicated. The vast numbers of Soviet-made weapons in the Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian and other armies threatened to upset the delicate balance between alliance and non-alliance arms in NATO.

A seemingly simple solution - replacing the Soviet weapons with Western models - could not be implemented because Western-manufactured equipment was too costly for the young democracies, while older systems when demothballed often had worse characteristics than the Soviet arms of the 1960s and 1980s, and called for huge sums of money to modernize them.

The way out was found by upgrading and converting Soviet equipment to Western standards. A lot can be said about various projects to convert different models of ground, naval and air equipment, but two stand out: the MiG-21 Lancer in Romania and the MiG-29SD in Slovakia.

Israeli specialists, with a background in the aircraft business, helped to bring the Lancer up to par. Israel's IAI company fitted Romania's MiG-21M/MF combat planes and MiG-21UM trainers with new avionics, including multi-functional LCD panels, a helmet-mounted targeting system, and an onboard computer, as well as all-purpose pylons to use both Soviet/Russian- and Western-made arms and equipment containers.

The project, promising to be a success, nevertheless almost flopped. Upgraded without the manufacturer's advice and refitted with parts of doubtful quality, MiG-21 fighters started to crash and lost the fame of the practically indestructible machines they enjoyed since the 1950s. This made other countries using Soviet aircraft with plans to re-engineer them sit up and take notice of their contractors.

As a result, Bulgaria and Slovakia using Soviet fighter planes - this time MiG-29s - decided to turn to the manufacturing country for their repairs and improvements.

Slovakian MiGs are perhaps the most successful example of adapting Soviet aircraft to NATO standards. These planes have been equipped with an improved Russian-designed radar, a mid-air refueling system, and Western-made communication, friend-or-foe identification and radio navigation systems. The cockpit is fitted with multi-functional LCD screens. The armaments have remained unchanged - Russian-built R-27 and R-73 missiles satisfy the Slovakian top brass.

The upgraded MiGs have also been completely overhauled, enabling them to stay in service until the early 2030s. During this time they may undergo several more refits and may be provided with more advanced equipment to keep them in proper fighting condition.

The success of the Slovakian contract shows that Russia's defense industry can stand its own against the West in its home field - aircraft for NATO's air forces. And not only in aircraft - Greece's purchase of Russian ships and air defense systems is another fine example. Hopefully, contracts, both filled and to be filled, are only a beginning, the beginning of the Russian defense industry's comeback to the European market.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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