Howard Gethin/MOSCOW

Russia is to assist Cuba in modernising its Soviet-built combat aircraft and air defence equipment, following a visit by senior Cuban military officials to Moscow.

A Cuban military delegation headed by General Julio Casas, deputy minister of the revolutionary armed forces, is arriving in Moscow on 1 May, according to the Russian defence ministry.

Cuba wants to overhaul and upgrade its fleet of Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed, MiG-23 Flogger and RSK MiG-29 Fulcrum fighters, many of which are not airworthy or lack modern systems. The Cubans also want to modernise ground-based air defence equipment such as ZU-23 and ZSU-23 anti-aircraft artillery systems, Vympel 2K12 Kvadrat (SA-6 Gainful), Strela-2M (SA-7Grail) and Strela-10M (SA-13 Gopher) air defence missiles. No details are available as to what level of modernisation Cuba is considering.

Russia has carried out a number of upgrade programmes for its older combat aircraft designs, including a refit of India's MiG-21 fleet with new radars, missiles and avionics. The Russian air force is in the midst of modernising its own Fulcrum fleet, bringing early MiG-29s up to SMT standard with new radar, avionics and a precision air-to-ground weapons capability.

While no nation has embarked on a major upgrade for the ageing MiG-23 (most of which have been scrapped), Mikoyan unveiled a prototype modernisation package for it in the late 1990s, which gave the aircraft an active radar guided missile (Vympel R-77/AA-12 Adder) and new avionics.

The modernisation programme is the result of a military and technical co-operation deal signed by the Russian and Cuban defence ministers in December 2000. The two nations will also co-operate in training military personnel.

Casas will meet Russia's new defence minister Sergey Ivanov, chief-of-staff Anatoly Kvashnin, and Mikhail Dmitriyev, deputy defence minister and chairman of the international military-technical co-operation committee.

The two sides will hold a meeting of the joint Russian-Cuban military commission to discuss future bilateral military-technical co-operation. The Cuban delegation is also expected to visit a number of defence factories and military establishments.

Cuba was a major recipient of military aid from the Soviet Union prior to 1991, but the supply dried up after the fall of communism in Russia. Cuba has since suffered economic difficulties and had problems paying Moscow for its equipment in hard currency.

Source: Flight International