| Russian President Vladimir Putin at the air show near Moscow. (AFP)
Moscow, Aug. 19 (Reuters): The US sent its top fighter planes to Russia today for the first time, handing a huge boost to Moscow’s annual air show at the expense of the Paris Air show that Washington largely boycotted.
Jubilant Russian officials said the presence of F-15s, F-16s and the B-52 bomber had turned the Moscow air show — normally a modest affair compared with similar west European displays — into the most prestigious air event this year.
“The participation of not only civilian but military equipment, including from the US, has made this air show unique in scale,” said Mikhail Pogosyan, general director of Russian Sukhoi plane-makers.
President Vladimir Putin watched from a stand as Russian Sukhoi fighters and US fighters performed intricate aerobatic stunts at the Zhukovsky display outside Moscow.
He even took a keen interest in the Su-27 military bomber at the air show.
US officials and firms such as Boeing would not be drawn into comparisons with the conspicuous US “no-show” at Le Bourget in June.
One Western military official would say only that the US military contribution, given its logistical scale, had been more than a year in the planning.
The Pentagon banned the traditional aerial displays by its military pilots and scaled down its presence at Le Bourget in what was widely seen as a deliberate snub because of France’s opposition to the US-led war in Iraq. Russia also opposed the US-led military operation in Iraq, but has managed adroitly to stay “onside” with Washington.
Russian officials showed little awareness of the irony as they praised the US air striking power on show at Zhukovsky — much of it used against Iraq in the opening phase of the war.
“Our show is cast in a more favourable light than others this year,” Pogosyan told journalists. “Of course, Le Bourget is bigger but we have a lot of significant extra advantages.”
The show gave Russian aviation officials a rare chance of seeing the F-15 fighter — a big rival to Russia’s Su-30 on the world arms market — up close.
“A comparison of the Su-30 with the F-15 provides food for thought both for our designers as well as the Americans,” said Pogosyan.
About 57 per cent of Russia’s arms sales on world markets come from fighter jets including the Su-30, with China and India the main clients.
If arms exports continue at their present pace, Russia could match or even beat its 2002 record of $4.8 billion worth of arms sold through the state-owned company that is the principal outlet for Russian arms onto world markets.