Old is New Again for Military Manufacturing

August 29, 2007

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From weapons to transport, the military has long been a catalyst for new, cutting-edge technology. Now a different strategy is taking place in military forces throughout the world, as a string of recent developments involves the resuscitation or recycling of retired military machines.

First up is news that Iran claims to have developed a new 2,000-pound "smart" bomb, the production line for which was inaugurated on Sunday. The delivery method for such a bomb is where it gets interesting.

The Associated Press reported last week:

The guided bomb, named Qased or Messenger, can be deployed by Iran's aging U.S.-made F-4 and F-5 fighter jets and will be officially unveiled next week, said the broadcast quoting a Defense Ministry statement. Iran often announces new weapons for its arsenal, but the United States maintains that while the Islamic Republic has made some strides, many of these statements are exaggerations.

Meanwhile, China's Xinhua news agency reports that a four-part production line for making low-caliber piercing bullets, dubbed Saqeb or Meteor, was launched on Sunday.

Xinhua notes that Defense Minister Brigadier General Mostafa Mohammad Najjar "stressed that the machineries of the two production lines could not be imported from other countries due to the West's sanctions on the Islamic Republic."

Related, Iran announced earlier this month that it will begin production on a new line of fighter jets to upgrade the old fleet, "much of which dates before the 1979 revolution," AP further reported.

Iran's military isn't as developed as other countries, so it makes economic sense for the country to get the most bang for its buck.

Russia seems to be following a similar strategy with its recent desire to reassert its aging military. Russia's aviation power has been on "spectacular display" as of late, due to a combination of old and new fighter jets staged in a big defense show recently for a crowd of onlookers that included Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to Australia's ABC News.

Putin says he wants more military production out of Russia. While Putin's tactics are being backed up by Russia's oil wealth and its booming arms sales, detractors say it's another country with another pipe dream of becoming a superpower.

The point here isn't to criticize military forces throughout the world. Quite the contrary, as the aforementioned points to Russia's desire to make great use of technology that might not be "bleeding edge" but has worked well in the past...

And the country's manufacturers seem to be good at making old things new again, as India Defence points out.

In essence, India is finalizing plans to have its fleet of 67 MiG-29 multi-role fighters refurbished for $888 million by the Russian company RSK-MiG, in order to keep pace with the country's growing economy. The program is part of the Indian Air Force's (IEF) "long-term plan to modernize its fighter fleet with the aim of expanding its strategic reach, firepower and area of responsibility over the next decade as India's burgeoning economy and regional importance proliferate," a senior IAF officer told the Indo-Asian News Service.

Part of India's MiG upgrade includes fitting the MiG-29s with upgraded weapons, a new avionics suite and mid-air refueling capabilities to increase their endurance. The upgraded MiG-29s will remain in service for 10-15 years. Not bad.

India Defence further states:

The IAF is currently refurbishing 125 MiG-21 Bis and 40 MiG-27ML fighters. These two jets are being equipped with advanced avionics, improved electronic warfare systems and precision weaponry to boost the IAF's ageing combat fleet that also faces a sharp reduction in numbers over the next decade.

Already delayed by more than two years, the MiG-29 upgrade project is now likely to commence in fiscal 2006-07 and be completed around four years later, officials said.

"The avionics architecture that the IAF is firming up will be a mix-and-match of Russian, local and imported systems that are likely to be sourced from France, Israel and possibly even the U.S.," a senior official said.

Russian corporation MiG is the first national aircraft manufacturer, a state full-cycle enterprise combining all aspects of production, sales, post-sale support and overhaul of MiG family aircraft, according to GlobalSecurity.org.

Even the Czech Republic is getting into the game by giving away repaired helicopters. Check it out what the Prague Daily Monitor is reporting:

The Czech Republic decided to give the helicopters to Afghanistan in April. The military loyal to President Hamid Karzai's government is gradually to acquire six transport helicopters Mi-17 and six combat helicopters Mi-24.

The use of the helicopters will be decided on by the Afghans.

The repairs of the Russian-made helicopters, before they are transferred to Afghanistan, have been "covered by NATO and mainly by the U.S.," according to the Prague paper.

Is this type of "mix-and-match" mentality between different countries becoming an accepted means to put a new spin on once-retired military gear?

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