After first offering to sell the advanced MiG 35 fighter plane to Bangladesh in April this year, Russia has now offered the same to India.
First publicly presented at the 2007 Bangalore air show, the MiG 35 has since been much improved. According to one report, during Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley’s last visit to Moscow, officials of both countries discussed the possibility of India purchasing the plane to enhance its air force.
Experts say the fourth generation MiG 35 is a vastly updated version of the earlier MiG 29 series specialised aircrafts. It has highly advanced avionics and weapons systems, including the NESA radar. It has a multi-role profile and its new location system enables it to operate freely from inputs provided from ground, adding to its operational flexibility.
Interestingly enough, of all the countries in South Asia, Russia first offered to sell the plane to Bangladesh. The proposal was made right after the recent Hasina-Modi summit meeting on April 7 this year, where it was announced that the Indian government would extend a special $500 million line of credit to Bangladesh to enable it to strengthen its armed forces.
In addition to Bangladesh, Afghanistan has also secured much needed weapons for its army with India’s help via a similar arrangement.
At the time, the BNP had alleged that the Bangladesh government would end using the Indian line of credit to pay for obsolete arms and weapons. Bangladesh should not buy “old Russian warplanes,” BNP members had said, adding that India’s motives were “suspect”.
The opposition leaders had further alleged that there were some undeclared, hidden clauses in the deal worked out between Prime Ministers Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi and had urged that these be made public.
In the case of the MiG 35, however, the BNP’s charges do not seem convincing. Bangladesh and India aside, Egypt has already ordered 46 MiG 35s under a $2.5 billion deal with Russia. Each plane costs around $46 million. Other countries, including the UAE, which is in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with Russia, and Kazhakstan, have also expressed interest. Had the plane been truly “obsolete” as the BNP claimed, this would never have been the case.
The allegation of obsolescence is further weakened by the Nizhni Novgorod Russian MiG producing unit’s current record: A reported 11,000 have been sold abroad out of an aggregate of 45,000 planes in 2016.
India too has just concluded a $10.5 billion arms purchasing deal with Russia.
In terms of Bangladesh, there is little doubt that between India and China there is a clear economic rivalry concerning project implementation, securing of orders and various other issues, including the sale of arms. China enjoys a big lead. Though India has pressed for a 25-year Defence Pact with Bangladesh, Prime Minister Hasina did not accept. While Bangladesh is keen to maintain cordial relations with its neighbours, it also clearly does not wish to put all its eggs in one basket.
Irrespective, Bangladesh is reportedly looking into buying 8 MiG 35s in the first phase.