Sunday, August 2, 2009

IAF MiG-29 upgrades may be delayed

The cost escalation and time overrun that is plaguing the multi-billion dollar Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier deal could soon haunt another mega Indo-Russian defence deal. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is worried over the likely delay in the MiG-29 upgrade programme.For the IAF, already facing a serious depletion of fighter squadrons owing to a number of aircraft being ‘number plated,’ the delay in deliveries of the frontline MiG-29 could mean compromising India’s air superiority.


In a contract signed in March 2008 of nearly $850 million between India and the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (RSK MiG) , the MiG-29 was to have been upgraded from an aerial interceptor and air dominance aircraft to a fighter-bomber capable of striking mobile and stationary targets on the ground and at sea with high-precision weapons under all weather conditions.As per the contract, 54 single-seat fighters and eight trainers are being refurbished.


While six aircraft will be upgraded by the MiG-29’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the remaining aircraft will be refurbished with kits supplied by RSK MiG at the IAF’s 11 Base Repair Depot (BRD) at Nasik. As per the original schedule, the first upgraded MiG-29 was scheduled to fly into India in March 2010.However, officials from the OEM told The Hindu that there will be a delay of at least eight months in the arrival of the first upgraded aircraft. The Russians are attributing this to a delay in the IAF finalising the ‘buyer furnished equipment.’


The delay will translate into a year-long delay in the start of production aircraft at 11BRD. Fourteen aircraft are scheduled to roll out of 11BRD between April 2010 and March 2011.Under the contract, the IAF have to indicate to RSK MiG the list of equipment and their physical dimensions that they want fitted on the upgraded MiG-29’s. Many of these items are to be sourced or integrated by Indian companies.The upgrade programme had also run into rough weather last year after a Russian Air Force MiG-29 crashed in December, with talk of the IAF even toying with decommissioning the fighter.

However, with the Russians furnishing the reasons for the crash - structural faults in the aircraft due to corrosion on the fin root ribs – and after the IAF conducted a thorough inspection of its entire fleet, flying recommenced.

Extension of life

The upgrade will allow the IAF to extend the life of the MiG-29 from 25 years (and 2,500 hours) to 40 years (3,500 hours). The Air Force had first proposed the upgrade after the Pakistan Air Force added beyond-visual-range missiles and other advanced weaponry in 2003, something that the IAF’s MiG-29s presently do not carry.

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