Firefox Down: stealing Russia’s fighter secrets

FIREFOX_in_Flight.jpgCraig Thomas’s 1977 novel Firefox sees American pilot ColonelMitchell Gant slipping into the USSRto steal the MiG-31 Firefox. Not the real MiG-31, but a 100% stealthy aircraftwith ramjet engines, Mach 4 speed, and a ceiling of 120,000 feet. The pilotcontrols the aircraft with thoughts, and cameras on the fuselage give completesituational awareness in all directions.

The Firefox was so good that not only did the USA find it worthwhile to steal, but Hollywood made it into amovie starring Clint Eastwood. Thomas wrote a sequel, Firefox Down, that sawGant crash land in Finland,get captured by the KGB, escape a Moscow prison, andtriumphantly fly the MiG-31 to England.

A similar heist nearly played out in the Russian far eastlast year involving an alleged Chinese spy. The stolengoods were far grubbier, however, than a Mach 4 stealth jet. 

After a year of investigations, said Ria Novosti newsagency, Russian investigators finally determined the culprit was attempting tosmuggle parts for the Mig-29 and Su-27 aircraft in his trunk. The parts included “six stepping motors, twopiston pumps, 54 connectors, an elapsed-time meter and other parts.”

Ria Novosti adds that another Chinese man was stopped at thesame checkpoint in 2009 for carrying Su-27 power supply circuits.

While not as glamorous as the Mach 4 stealth fighter stolenby Col. Gant, the case brings a glimmer of hazy light to the dubious world ofChinese copying of Russian military kit. Over the years the Chinese have copied numerous fighter types, most recentlythe J-11 (Su-27) and J-15 (Su-33).  Onewonders how many clandestine shipments of parts have crossed the bordersuccessfully over the last few decades – perhaps aided by a friendly envelopeof cash – and how useful they have proved to China‘s fast developing defenceaerospace sector.  


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