Moscow: In an apparent reversal of positions, Moscow may have cleared the re-export of the RD-93 fighter jet engines, which are meant to power the China-Pakistan developed JF-17 Thunder fighter. If correctly understood, a report in the Russian online daily Kommersant would suggest that Russian president Vladimir Putin himself gave the final sanction for the deal.
"President Vladimir Putin personally supervised the deal and inked sanctioning documents, representatives of president's administration specified. The deal was backed up by all parties concerned - Defense Ministry, Federal Industry Agency and Rosoboronexport, which is the state exporter of weapons," the report says.
"This permission will enable the supply of 150 Chinese JF-17 fighter aircrafts to Pakistan, and help implement the contract for the supply of Russian engines worth USD 238 million," the daily said.
What is not clear from the report is whether president Putin "personally supervised" the original deal with China for supply of the engines, or its re-export to Pakistan.
At the start of the year, the Russians had apparently blocked re-export of the engines just ahead of the delivery of the first two aircraft to the Pakistan Air Force. The 'decision' sparked off a certain amount of glee in the national media here. This, in turn, aroused a certain amount of irritation amongst the country's defence observers, who felt there really was no need for India to get into this constant game of one-upmanship with its neighbour.
Militarily the RD-93 engine may not turn out to be a 'force multiplier' of any kind, which makes the reported 'request' by India to Russia to block the transfer, appear all the more strange.
RD-93 engines are a variant of the RD-33 engines, developed to power MiG-29 fighters. The RD-93 has been developed specifically by Klimov to power the JF-17. The Russians have already signed a deal for the manufacture of the series 3 version of the RD-33 engine with Hindutan Aeronautics Limited. The technology transfer could also lead to the local manufacture of the thrust-vectoring version of the engine if the MiG-35 should be selected as the Indian Air Force's MRCA candidate.
It would appear that the whole 'drama' around the blocking of the transfer may well have been stage managed in advance of President Putin's visit to India as the country's chief guest on its Republic Day. This would have created the necessary 'PR vibes' of Russia being an old trusted friend of this country. (See: Sino-Pak JF-17 fighter loses its Thunder, as Russians say Nyet)
Pakistan plans to acquire 150 JF-17s, known in China as Fighter China-1 (FC-1). China has contracted to buy 100 RD-93 engines from Russia for the FC-1, with an option to buy another 400. Now Kommersant, in its report, suggests that the contract may eventually be enlarged to 1,000 engines, and be worth up to $3.75 billion.
The FC-1 'Xiaolong' is a single-seat, single-engine, multi-role fighter aircraft developed by Chengdu Aircraft Industry Corporation (CAC) for the export market. A joint venture between CAC and Pakistani Aeronautical Complex (PAC) the aircraft has been designated as the Joint Fighter-17 (JF-17) Thunder in the Pakistani Air Force.
According to the report, under a Sino-Russian Fighter Assembly Agreement, the fighter can be exported to a range of other countries in South-East Asia and in Africa, where "China has been traditionally strong". The range of countries includes Pakistan.
Quoting official sources, the report says that Kremlin officials however clarified that "the sanction doesn't mean adding Pakistan to the list of states of direct military and technical cooperation with Russia. It is rather the matter of a single contract."