MiG-AT poised for service

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The Russian air force will place an order for ten VPK MAPOMiG-AT advanced jet trainers within the next 12 months, according to Russian press reports. If confirmed, the move is the clearest indication yet that the MiG-ATis emerging as the air force's preferred jet trainer over the rival Yakovlev Yak-130.

According to press reports, defence officials claim that the aircraft will be delivered to the air force in the latter half of 1998, shortly after the trainer is certificated. A Russian air force decision in favour of the MAPO trainer would end Yakovlev's interest in military-aircraft design, leaving it as a sports-aircraft and airliner-design house.

The Russian air force has an outstanding requirement to replace its Czech Aero L-39 Albatros trainers which, since the break-up of the Warsaw Pact, have become increasingly expensive to operate.

Neither MAPO nor Yakovlev were available for comment. Russian sources suggest, however, that in recent months it has become increasingly clear that the MiG-AT is the preferred choice. MAPO is also understood to have exerted considerable political influence in attempting to secure the order.

MAPO expects a further two prototype MiG-ATs to join the first aircraft in the flight-test programme early this year. A fourth airframe is likely to be used the fatigue-test rig.

The MiG-AT has taken on increasing importance for MAPO, with other combat-aircraft programmes being shelved by the air force. Work on the MiG-29M advanced Fulcrum variant and the design house's fifth-generation fighter, the Object 1.42, have been halted.

Funding from a MiG-AT procurement would be used to prime other combat-aircraft developments. MAPO is now attempting to develop further the MiG-29 with a thrust-vectoring derivative, dubbed the MiG-35.

It might also attempt to fly one of the 1.42 prototypes as an advanced demonstrator, with some of the avionics and weapons being used on the MiG-35.