Mig 31 248.88.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Damascus will take receipt of advanced MiG 31E fighter jets in the near future, the outgoing head of the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency Lt.-Gen. Michael D. Maples told the Senate earlier this month.
Reports of the sale surfaced in 2007 but were quickly denied by Moscow and the official state arms-trading monopoly Rosoboronexport, which issued a statement saying "Russia has no plans to deliver fighter jets to Syria."
In his testimony "annual threat assessment" to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Maples provided the first official confirmation that the advanced fighter jets will be delivered to Damascus soon.
"With regard to its external defense, Syria's military remains in a defensive posture and inferior to Israel's forces, but it is upgrading its missile, rocket, antitank, aircraft and air defense inventories," Maples told the committee. "Recent Syrian contracts with Russia for future delivery include new MiG-31 and MiG-29M/M2 fighter aircraft."
Israeli defense officials said they were not surprised by Russia's intention to sell Syria the advanced jets but expressed concern that if the deal went through it would alter the balance of power in the region.
"Syria currently has an obsolete air force based on outdated MiGs," one official explained. "If Syria gets new MiG 31s then this will pose a definite threat to our air force."
The contract will be the first export deal for the MiG-31E, a heavy twin-engine interceptor fighter capable of flying at nearly three times the speed of sound and simultaneously shooting several targets at ranges of up to 180 km.
The aircraft was designed in the 1980s for tackling low-flying cruise missiles and other difficult targets and remains the mainstay of Russia's air defenses. The MiG-31 was considered a key component of defenses against a possible US attack.
Damascus will also receive a number of MiG-29M fighters - a version that features a significantly improved range, has an improved radar and carries a broader array of weapons compared to basic MiG-29 model.
In his testimony, Maples also referred to Syria's development of chemical and biological weapons. He said that Damascus did not have a biological weapon but was at the stage where it knew how to manufacture one.
"Based on the duration of Syria's long-standing biological warfare program, we judge some elements of the program may have advanced beyond the research and development stage and may be capable of limited agent production," he said. "Syria is not known to have successfully weaponized biological agents in an effective delivery system, but it possesses a number of conventional and chemical weapon systems that could easily be modified for biological agent delivery."