Thu, Aug 23, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Putin launches Russian airshow

MOSCOW TRADE FAIR The Kremlin is determined to revive the heyday of Soviet aviation, and the government has invested in enhanced MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets

AP, ZHUKOVSKY, Russia

Russia opened its largest air show in post-Soviet history, showing off its growing military footprint and global assertiveness while seeking lucrative deals as it seeks to boost sagging aircraft development and production.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who last week announced that his country's long-range bombers had resumed patrols over the word's oceans, stressed Russia's prominence in the production of military aircraft but said it must be more competitive in creating passenger planes.

The International Aviation and Space Show, held at a former secret military airfield outside Moscow, is an international trade fair showcasing Russia's latest military and civilian planes.

But reactions to the Russian hardware -- both planes parked in hangers and others whizzing overhead -- were mixed. While the commander of US air forces in Europe expressed admiration for advanced Russian MiG and Sukhoi fighters, one military analyst characterized the same jets as "flying toys."

Putin, meanwhile, conceded nothing to critics of Russia's military aviation industry.

"The task stands before us of maintaining our leadership in the production of military aviation technology," he said on Tuesday at the start of the six-day show at the Zhukovsky military airfield.

Russian manufacturers "must more actively enter the world market for passenger and transport aircraft with competitive production," he said.

After the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Russian government drastically cut spending on its aircraft manufacturing industry. Though factories producing military planes fared better than those building civilian aircraft -- in part because they benefited from arms sales abroad -- Russia fell behind the West in designing advanced warplanes.

Today, Russian passenger planes are so outdated that airlines flying to European and US destinations must use Western-made planes to meet noise and pollution restrictions.

But the Kremlin is determined to revive the heyday of Soviet aviation, and the government -- bolstered by oil and gas revenues -- has invested in a new S-400 missile defense system and enhanced its MiG and Sukhoi fighter jets -- all on exhibition at the show.

"The Russian air forces have some of the nicest aircraft I have ever seen," said General William Hobbins, commander of US air forces in Europe. "With a Sukhoi and MiG today, we have seen lots of new technology."

Others were less impressed.

"There's been nothing new there for 10 years," military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer said.

He characterized the new fighter jets as "flying toys that have not been launched for mass production."

Nearly 800 companies from about 100 countries participated in the biannual show, state arms trader Rosoboronexport said, up from 70 at the last show. The largest foreign delegations were from China, Latin America and Arab countries.

The show follows recent moves to reassert Russia's military strength, including last week's joint military exercises with China -- the first ever on Russian soil -- and Putin's announcement that long-range bombers had resumed patrols over the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic oceans.

The resumption of these patrols, which had been discontinued after the fall of the USSR, comes amid a growing chill in US-Russian relations.

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