Saturday, October 3, 2009

India to buy more MiG-29Ks


Decks have now been cleared for India to order another batch of MiG-29Ks after the specially-designed maritime fighters underwent successful flight-deck trials from Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov in the Barents Sea on September 28-29.

Defence ministry sources said the fresh order for 29 more MiG-29Ks from Russia for around Rs 5,380 crore (around $1.12 billion) will "soon'' be sent to the Cabinet Committee of Security for the final approval.

These jets will be in addition to 16 MiG-29Ks already contracted through the initial $1.5-billion Admiral Gorshkov package deal, which earmarked $974 million for the aircraft carrier's refit and the rest for the fighters, inked in January 2004.

While the military asymmetry with China is quite stark, aircraft carrier operations is one particular arena in which India is ahead of its much larger neighbour.

Grappling it may be with only 11 Sea Harrier jump-jets now, India's solitary aircraft carrier, the 28,000-tonne INS Viraat, has just undergone an 18-month life extension refit to ensure it can run smoothly for another five years.

China, in contrast, does not have an aircraft carrier. But it's furiously working to build them, apart from refurbishing the former Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier Varyag and seeking to buy Su-33 carrier-borne fighters from Russia.

India, of course, will get the fully-refurbished Gorshkov only by early-2013, with New Delhi and Moscow likely to agree to a revised refit cost of around $2.6 billion. The first four of the contracted 16 MiG-29Ks, however, will touch down in India in October-November this year.

Though the fresh order for 29 more MiG-29Ks was cleared by Defence Acquisitions Council, chaired by defence minister A K Antony, quite some time ago, it was hanging fire since the fighters developed for India were still to be tested for take-offs and landings on an aircraft carrier.

"India wanted the MiG-29Ks to be proven in carrier-deck operations before inking the follow-on order for 29 more fighters...it was critical. Now, only a few weapon trials of MiG-29Ks are left,'' said a source.

MiG-29Ks will operate from both 44,570-tonne Gorshkov -- rechristened INS Vikramaditya after India has already paid $602 million for its refit -- as well as the 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier being built at the Cochin Shipyard, which should roll out by 2014-2015.

Armed with eight types of air-to-air missiles, including extended range BVR (beyond visual range) missiles, as well as 25 air-to-surface weapons for land-attack missions, the MiG-29Ks will provide the Navy with a lethal punch on the high seas.

The jets will also be capable of mid-air refuelling from IL-78 tankers as well as other MiG-29Ks under `buddy-tanking'. While 12 of the first 16 fighters will be the single-seat `K' variants, the other four will be twin-seater `KUB' trainer versions. Similarly, four of the next 29 jets will be `KUB' trainer versions.

To prepare for MiG-29Ks, 10 Indian naval pilots have already undergone training on them, even as shore-based training facilities have been established at INS Hansa in Goa.

Moreover, some naval pilots have also trained on the MiG-29s flown by IAF, while a few others have done courses in the US on combat manoeuvres undertaken from aircraft carriers under a $26 million agreement.

All this is needed since Indian naval pilots do not have the experience of `conventional' fighters like MiG-29Ks, which land on ship decks with arrestor wires. The `unconventional' Sea Harrier jump-jets in use land vertically on INS Viraat.

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