A MiG 31 warplane..
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The four MiG-31E fighter jets that Russia will
deliver to Syria will be without offensive capabilities and used for
intelligence gathering alone, according to reports that reached
Jerusalem from Moscow this week.
According to these reports, Russia did not sell
more planes to the Syrians for the simple reason that Damascus does not
have the ability to pay for any more. The reports said that two of the
planes would be operational, and the other two would be purchased for
"cannibalization" purposes, amid a Syrian realization that Russia would
not provide effective "after-sale service," and that these planes would
be used for "spare parts."
Reports of a potential sale of MiG-31E fighter jets to Syria
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."
Earlier this year, however, the former head of the Pentagon's
Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt.-Gen. Michael D. Maples, confirmed in
testimony before the Senate that Damascus and Moscow had finalized a
deal and that the jets would be delivered to Syria
in the near future.
The MiG-31, officials explained, mainly serves today
as an intelligence-gathering plane. The plane is a newer version of the
MiG-29, which is already operated by Syria and is also used for
"Due to its ability to fly fast and at high altitudes, it is
suitable for gathering intelligence but does not maneuver well at lower
altitudes," explained Yiftah Shapir, head of The Middle East Military
Balance project at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel
The contract, Syria's first purchase of fighter
jets in more than 20 years, is also 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.
The aircraft was designed in the 1980s for intercepting
low-flying American nuclear-tipped cruise missiles and remains the
mainstay of Russia's air defenses. The MiG-31 was considered a key
component of defenses against a possible US attack.
While Israel does not need to be concerned with the MiG-31
sale, defense officials warned on Monday about the sale of MiG-29
fighter jets to Syria, which are very similar to the F-16s operated by
the Israel Air Force and can function as interceptors and bombers.
Syria is interested in the SMT model of the MiG-29, which
features a significantly greater range than the older versions, has
improved radar systems and is capable of carrying a broader array of