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Thursday, 31 January, 2002, 16:25 GMT
A fleet of fighters is sold for a euro
MiG29
MiG29 is thought to be one of the best modern fighters
by BBC News Online's Alexander Koliandre

Polish air forces have got a real bargain - they have purchased 23 Soviet-made light tactical fighters MiG29 Fulcrum for just one euro.

A new Fulcrum costs around $25m and is considered to be one of the best modern fighters.

Warsaw got them, as Polish Defence Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski put it, for "a notorious euro".

Under the current law, Poland was obliged to pay for the planes, albeit a symbolic price.

Soviet legacy

Two years ago Germany proposed that Poland should get the planes along with 120 second-hand Leopard tanks as a goodwill gesture to help the Polish army meet Nato technical standards.

Under the deal, Warsaw will get the fighters which were inherited from East Germany after unification.

In the early 1990s those MiGs were considered by Germany's airforce Luftwaffe as the only German Democratic Republic fighters worth upgrading.

Millions to come

Although the purchase can hardly be considered as an expensive one, it may bring some badly needed cash to the military industries in Poland and Russia.

MiG29 basic performance data
Max weight 18,000 kg
Max speed 2,400 km/h at altitude
1,500 km/h at sea level
Max range 1,500 km
Max weapon load 3,500kg
When Poland joined Nato, its army needed to catch up with the alliance's technical standards.

The bulk of Polish military equipment was inherited from the times of the Warsaw Pact and the cost of upgrading it all totals hundreds of millions of dollars.

Only 11 planes of Germany's 23, meet all the Nato requirements. The rest needs to be upgraded, mainly by installing new radars and other electronic equipment.

Analysts in both Moscow and in Warsaw say the cost of upgrading exceeds $20m. But it is unclear who will get the contract.

Polish option

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish daily newspaper, the most probable candidate for the contract is a military aircraft plant, based in Bydgoszcz in Northern Poland.

Polish soldier
Nato is an expensive club to join
It is the country's only plant able to do the job, and it has already updated Poland's MiG29s and Su22 bombers.

Jan Zuk, the plant's head, sounded quite upbeat when asked about the future of the contract.

Warsaw is thought to be keen to give the contract to a local company, but largely improved relationships with Russia might help Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG to get the job.

Russia's bonanza

While Moscow was rather unhappy to see the former allies flocking to Nato, the transition was a source of hard currency in the mid-nineties for Russia's military industry.

Last year MiG Corporation signed a deal worth $40m with Hungary for upgrading its jets and is considered to be the favourite in a similar Bulgarian tender.

If the upgrade goes ahead, Poland's MiG's might be the last East European ones.

The plane is praised by pilots for its resilience and good flying qualities, but its radars and some electronic equipment are thought to be less sophisticated than Western ones.

The price of commitment

Warsaw got its first 12 MiG29s during the last years of the Soviet Union and bought another 10 in the Czech Republic in 1995.

MiG29
MiGs serve in dozens of countries
The upgraded MiGs are thought to be in service in Poland until 2015.

Luftwaffe was going to get rid of the planes anyway and offering them to Poland has helped the country to cope with its commitments.

Poland committed itself to having 160 modern fighters when it joined Nato in 1999.

It is obliged to have 16 new multipurpose fighters ready for Nato operations by 2003, and 60 by 2006.

Due to a permanent budget shortage, Warsaw was forced to delay an aircraft tender that drew interest from Lockheed Martin, a British-Swedish consortium of BAE Systems and Saab, and France's Dassault.

The result of the tender - worth around $3bn - is expected in mid-August.

Meanwhile the MiG Corporation offered to export the new MiG29M2, thought to be rather attractive for potential buyers considering its low price and overall good quality.

See also:

22 Dec 01 | Europe
MIG warplanes in demand
13 Aug 01 | Media reports
High hopes for Yak-130 combat plane
22 Jun 01 | Business
Russian planes fly to freedom
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