Indian Air Force wants to urgently buy 21 MiG-29 fighters

IAF needs a minimum of 42 squadrons, each comprising 16-18 fighters, but has only 30, The Hindustan Times reports. Worse: more squadrons will be decommissioned in the coming months. India is expected to get its first MBDA Rafale fighter jets — the French-made medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) — in September 2019.

Indian Air Force wants to urgently buy 21 MiG 29 fighters MiG-29UPG (Picture source: Indian Air Force)

Desperately short of fighters, The Hindustan Times reports, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is moving the government to urgently buy an additional 21 Russian-made MiG -29s. The Indian Air Force already has got three squadrons of MiG-29UPGs. All three are positioned along the north-western borders, which means Pakistan. The Indian Navy too uses the naval version of the MiG-29K fighter. They are positioned on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. Earlier, in February 2019, a team of senior Indian Air Force officials rushed to Russia to examine the fleet of the MiG 29 fighters.

India was the first international customer of the MiG-29. The Indian Air Force (IAF) placed an order for more than 50 MiG-29s in 1980 while the aircraft was still in its initial development phase. Since its induction into the IAF in 1985, the aircraft has undergone a series of modifications with the addition of new avionics, sub-systems, turbofan engines and radars.

Indian MiG-29s were used extensively during the 1999 Kargil War in Kashmir by the Indian Air Force to provide fighter escort for Mirage 2000s attacking targets with laser-guided bombs. According to Indian sources, two MiG-29s from the IAF's No. 47 Squadron (Black Archers) gained missile lock on two F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) which were patrolling close to the border to prevent any incursions by Indian aircraft, but did not engage them because no official declaration of war had been issued. The Indian MiG-29s were armed with beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles whereas the Pakistani F-16s were not.

The MiG-29's good operational record prompted India to sign a deal with Russia in 2005—2006 to upgrade all of its MiG-29s for US$888 million. Under the deal, the Indian MiGs were modified to be capable of deploying the R-77RVV-AE (AA-12 'Adder') air-to-air missile. The missiles had been successfully tested in October 1998 and were integrated into IAF's MiG-29s. IAF has also awarded the MiG Corporation another US$900 million contract to upgrade all of its 69 operational MiG-29s. These upgrades will include a new avionics kit, with the N-109 radar being replaced by a Phazotron Zhuk-M radar. The aircraft is also being equipped to enhance beyond-visual-range combat ability and for air-to-air refuelling to increase endurance.

In 2007, Russia also gave India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) a licence to manufacture 120 RD-33 series 3 turbofan engines for the upgrade. The upgrade would also include a new weapon control system, cockpit ergonomics, air-to-air missiles, high-accuracy air-to-ground missiles and "smart" aerial bombs. The first six MiG-29s were upgraded in Russia while the remaining 63 MiGs were upgraded at the HAL facility in India. India also awarded a multimillion-dollar contract to Israel Aircraft Industries to provide avionics and subsystems for the upgrade.

In March 2009, the Indian Air Force expressed concern after 90 MiG-29s were grounded in Russia. After carrying out an extensive inspection, the IAF cleared all MiG-29s in its fleet in March 2009.

In a disclosure in Parliament, Defence Minister A. K. Antony said the MiG-29 is structurally flawed in that it has a tendency to develop cracks due to corrosion in the tail fin. Russia has shared this finding with India, which emerged after the crash of a Russian Air Force MiG-29 in December 2008. "A repair scheme and preventive measures are in place and IAF has not encountered major problems concerning the issue," Antony said. Despite concerns of Russia's grounding, India sent the first six of its 78 MiG-29s to Russia for upgrades in 2008. The upgrade program would fit the MiGs with a phased array radar (PESA) and in-flight refuelling capability.

In January 2010, India and Russia signed a US$1.2 billion deal under which the Indian Navy would acquire 29 additional MiG-29Ks, bringing the total number of MiG-29Ks on order to 45. The MiG-29K entered service with the Indian Navy on 19 February 2010.

The upgrades to Indian MiG-29s are designated MiG-29UPG standard. This version is similar to the SMT variant but differs by having a foreign-made avionics suite. The upgrade to latest MiG-29UPG standard includes the latest avionics, Zhuk-ME Radar, engine, weapon control systems, enhancing multirole capabilities by many-fold. In 2012, the Indian UPG version was the most advanced MiG-29 variant. The first three aircraft were delivered in December 2012, over two years behind schedule.