Alexander Velovich/MOSCOW

SOUTH AFRICA and Russia are involved in a bout of mutual recriminations over the abortive plan to re-engine the former's Mirages with Klimov RD-33s, part of a deal which also included the supply of the Vympel R-73 (AA-11 Archer) air-to-air missile.

Work on installing Klimov RD-33 engines in South African Mirage F1s began under a veil of secrecy in 1991 because it violated United Nations sanctions against South Africa's then-apartheid regime.

A joint venture called RusJet was established with the participation of Klimov, Mikoyan, the Temp Accessories design bureau and the Marvol company headed by a Russian emigrant Mark Voloshin, now residing in South Africa. Another joint venture, SIV, was later established by Marvol and the Vympel missile design bureau to adapt Russian missiles to South African fighters.

Four RD-33 engines and 14 R-73 missiles had been shipped to Armscor of South Africa before the UN sanctions were lifted in 1994.

Fight-test evaluation programmes of re-engined Mirage F1s and Mirage IIIs totalling 74 flights were successfully completed. No contract for further deliveries followed, although initially the second phase of the project called for purchases of 100 modified engines.

According to Yuriy Golovin, general director of RusJet, Armscor had a change of attitude by 1995 and began to look for a justification to cancel the contract. It was then discovered that the Russian side shipped the engines and missiles on the condition that they would be returned after evaluation.

It is claimed that instead Marvol, acting as an intermediary, sold the hardware to Armscor, making a profit of about $70 million.

The arms links between the two countries also spawned an investigation into the attempted illegal shipment of hardware from the Akhtubinsk flight-test centre in 1993. The Antonov An-124 flight was halted by military security. This investigation was stopped by deputy prime minister Oleg Soskovets.

In January 1995, Timur Khetsuriani, the first general director of RusJet, was found dead in his car with six bullets in his body. In February 1996, Valentin Stepanov, chief designer of RusJet, was shot at, although not injured, while he was riding in his car.

Source: Flight International