THE TERRITORIES of the former Warsaw Pact are threatening to become a battlefield once again. This time however, it is going to be a dog fight for market share, rather than a Cold War confrontation.

US and European combat-aircraft manufacturers, are excited by new market prospects, in the likes of Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. Lockheed Martin, for example, in cahoots with the US Air Force, sees the opportunity to offload surplus F-16s and Swedish manufacturer Saab is also looking at these countries, as potential customers of its JAS39.

Besides aggressively pursuing the market opportunities it sees, countries such as the USA also profess the loftier political aim of drawing the likes of the Czech Republic and Poland towards Europe and, eventually, into some form of expanded security structure under NATO.

Such a scenario causes considerable consternation in the Kremlin, with Russia keen to retain both military and economic influence in a region it has long viewed as a buffer against potential aggressors. In market terms, the Mikoyan and Sukhoi design bureaux have long dominated the supply of combat aircraft to this area of the world, and it is a market they will not easily relinquish.

Mikoyan, now merged with one of its main production plants in MiG-MAPO, has already been making overtures to Poland, offering combat upgrades to its MiG-29E fleet, while at a governmental level the possibility of the Polish industry manufacturing the MiG-29M under licence has also been suggested.

In the Czech Republic and Poland there is a keen desire at a political level to purchase in the West, sending all the concomitant signals about where these states see their future. While Western manufacturers are understandably enthusiastic about the chance of additional sales to bolster flagging home orders, there is a larger political equation that needs to be handled delicately if Russia is not to feel additionally disadvantaged by an economically aggressive West.

The importance of the export market, to both Mikoyan and Sukhoi, can be gauged by the fact that projects such as Mikoyan's fifth generation fighter, the MiG 1.42 and the advanced derivative of the Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker, the Su-35 are in part, being kept afloat by hard currency gained from the export, of present generation combat aircraft. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if one of these two is to go out of business it will be the one, which fares worst in the export market.

It is against this background that Western governments and in particular, the USA must gauge their military sales policy towards former Soviet clients. While the US Administration will be keen to support its own aerospace industry, it must also take into account the impact of its export drive on its foreign policy aims. It is a difficult balancing act.

Source: Flight International