MIGs at a Crazy Price

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WASHINGTON: The price of knowing your enemy has seldom been cheaper. In the military bargain of the century, the Pentagon purchased 21 top-of-the-line MIG-29C fighters from the former Soviet republic of Moldova for a totally crazy $40 million. But what exactly does the U.S. military plan to do with the planes it bought, ostensibly to prevent them being sold to Iran?

“I don’t think they’re going to do that much with the MIGs,” says TIME Pentagon Correspondent Mark Thompson. “The U.S. military always tried to acquire Soviet weapons from Third World countries, to take them apart, see what weaknesses could be exploited and what strengths could be adapted.”

And the asking price was too good to turn down — the F-15, the U.S. equivalent of the MIG-29C, goes for around $50 million per plane. “It really was a steal,” says Thompson. “I think they’d have bought the MIGs at that price even if Iran hadn’t been interested. They want to see how the engines work, the electronic boxes, the missiles and other subcomponents. I don’t believe they’re even necessarily going to be flown.” Coming in a couple of years: one heck of a garage sale at the DOD.