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Russia upgraded Su-27SM fighters
Russia’s aging fighter jets will be fitted with new engines and electronics as part of the most ambitious military modernisation plan since the 1991 Soviet collapse intended to strengthen the armed forces’ sagging might, officials said on Friday. The first batch of five upgraded Su-27SM fighters flew on Friday from the aircraft plant in Komsomolsk-on-Amur in the Far East to the air force’s Lipetsk combat training centre in Western Russia for evaluation and tests. Russian TV showed the sleek, twin-engine blue-and-grey fighters landing at a snowy airfield and enthusiastic pilots hailing their performance. "They still smell of fresh paint. They are like factory-fresh cars," a smiling squadron leader, Yuri Gritsenko, told NTV television. Maj. Gen. Alexander Kharchevsky, Lipetsk commander, said the upgraded fighter features the latest achievements in electronics, weapons and navigation. The planes have computer displays instead of analog gauges, a satellite-guided navigation system and sophisticated weapons control systems. "While the original Su-27 was designed as a fighter, its upgraded version can also be used as a ground attack aircraft," Kharchevsky said in televised remarks. President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly promised to increase funds for combat training and modernize military arsenals. Next year will see the most ambitious weapons modernisation programme since the Soviet collapse. The government plans to spend 341.2 billion rubles (US$11.7 billion), or about 14 percent of the 2004 federal budget, on modernizing fighters, upgrading strategic bombers and buying new helicopter gun ships, missiles and other weapons. Ivan Safranchuk, head of the Moscow office of the Centre for Defence Information, a Washington-based think-tank, said fitting old Soviet weapons with modern electronics was the cheapest way to upgrade Russia’s aging arsenal. "The military has a lot of hardware that can remain in service for a long time," Safranchuk said in a telephone interview. "Modernising it by inserting new software appears to be the most cost-efficient way," he added. Lt. Gen. Alexander Zelin, air force deputy chief, said the programme to overhaul Russia’s fleet of Su-27s would be completed in 2005, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported. Zelin wouldn’t say how many of the several hundred Su-27 fighters in service would be converted to the new standard. Zelin said the plane’s new version has better capabilities than the Su-30MKK and Su-30MKI —the advanced versions of the Su-27 sold to China and India in recent years. "We can’t have aircraft in our inventory that would be worse than those sold to foreign customers," Zelin said. The Su-27, built as an answer to the US F-15 Eagle fighter, entered the Soviet arsenal during the 1980s. The Russian air force has bought just a handful of new jets since the Soviet collapse, and had lacked funds for modernising Soviet-built aircraft.
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