Russia’s air power displayed at international show

ZHUKOVSKY, Russia (AP) — Lines of sleek combat jets and gleaming airliners filled an air base outside Moscow on Tuesday for Russia’s top air show, as the country aimed to burnish the image of its aviation industries and secure new export contracts.

Boeing, Airbus and other international aicraft makers have sent their latest products to Moscow’s International Aviation and Space Show at Zhukovsky air base, the Russian air force’s top flight test center since Soviet times.

Russia’s aircraft industries fell on hard times after the 1991 Soviet collapse when generous government military orders ground to a near halt. Top aircraft makers including Sukhoi and MiG have survived thanks to orders from China, India and other foreign customers.

But steady increases in government defense spending over the past few years have given new incentives to the nation’s aircraft industries.

Mikhail Pogosian, head of United Aircraft Building Corporation, a state-controlled holding that incorporates top Russian aircraft-makers, told reporters Tuesday that Russian military orders will account for more than 50 percent of combat planes produced. He said the Russian air force is expected to get about 20 new aicraft annually in the coming years.

Sukhoi has been working on Russia’s first stealth fighter, intended to match the latest U.S. design. The company’s T-50, which made its maiden flight in January 2010, is expected to make its public debut at the air show.

The twin-engined jet closely resembles the U.S. F-22 Raptor, which first flew about two decades ago and entered service in 2005. The T-50, however, still lacks new engines and state-of-the art equipment, and its serial production is only expected to begin in 2015 at the most optimistic forecast.

Pogosian said the T-50 development is proceeding as planned, but wouldn’t say when a new engine intended to power the plane will be ready. He also said the new fighter will be developed in cooperation with India, helping secure a major export market.

The only other new aircraft designed and built after the Soviet collapse has been Sukhoi’s Superjet, a mid-range airliner developed in cooperation with Boeing and Italian and French companies. The plane made its first commercial flight in April, but its marketing prospects appear less favorable than initially expected.

Russia’s slow progress in building new planes has been blamed on corruption, aging equipment and broken links between subcontractors.

Sukhoi and MiG have continued to produce slightly refurbished versions of their Soviet-era designs, the Su-27 and the MiG-29. They have sold hundreds of them to China, India and other customers, but military analysts have warned that Russia risks losing its export markets in the future if it fails to develop new products.

In a sign of Russia losing its edge on what it considered its traditional turf, MiG recently lost an Indian tender for a new fighter contract worth nearly $10 billion to European aircraft makers.

The U.S Air Force also displayed a batch of planes, including a B-52 strategic bomber. A steady stream of visitors approached the planes, eager to take pictures and speak to their crews.

“We are very excited to be here to help to foster relations with the Russian and U.S governments and for us to meet our Russian counterparts in the air force and to see how everybody does business,” said Capt. T.J. May, a B-52 radar navigator with the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Organizers hope the show will help Russian aircraft makers sign billions of dollars’ worth of new deals, including contracts for Sukhoi’s Superjet.

Boeing Co. and Airbus used the show to display their latest designs — Dreamliner and A380 — as they wrangle for new orders from Russia’s flag-carrier Aeroflot and other airlines.

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