Aviation Week & Space Technology Mar 01 , 2010 , p. 34
Russian fighter takes on bigger role in India’s defense
Printed headline: MiG-29K Rebound
The Indian navy has inducted the first four of 16 Mikoyan MiG-29K multi-role naval fighters and is establishing shore-based training while it pushes Russia to speed up arrival of the aircraft carrier they were bought for.
The fighters were purchased in 2004 as part of a $1.5-billion deal that included the Kiev-class Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier. Their Feb. 19 induction ceremony marked the first new aircraft in the navy’s inventory in two decades.
Now that India is beginning to receive shipments of MiG-29K naval fighters, flying here with a Sea Harrier in the lead, it is building a shore test facility for them in Goa. Pix Credit: INDIAN NAVY
The navy has a pending deal to boost its MiG -29K inventory to 45 with a follow-on order for 29 aircraft. As a result, the new jets have become so high-profile in Indian procurement circles that some Western suppliers wonder if their purchase will influence other deals.
One is the navy's recent request for information for a carrier version of the air force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. Flight trails have begun on the Indian air force program, which is aimed at the acquisition of 126 fighters valued at $10 billion or more. It is easily the biggest pending military procurement project in India.
Western contenders include the Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed Martin F-16, EADS Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab Gripen and Dassault Rafale.
There is a potential bonus for the winner: The air force contract could grow to include a naval variant, but that will not be decided until 2018 at the earliest.
As for the MiGs, the K model was developed in the 1980s as a carrier-version of the multi-role MiG-29 and includes a larger wing, strengthened landing gear for carrier operations, air-to-air refueling capability, and an RD-33Mk engine with full-authority digital engine controls. All are improvements over the MiG-29s now flown by the air force.
Given India’s military experience with the fighter and its long-standing relationship with Russian suppliers, the MiG-29K seemed to be a natural for the Admiral Gorschkov deal —a Russian fighter for a Russian aircraft carrier.
But one Western observer notes that Mikoyan underbid Dassault, which offered the Rafale. So does Mikoyan gain an advantage in the air force fighter competition from such high visibility? “The commonality is clear,” says one rival manufacturer, drawing a dotted line from the Gorshkov to the pending air force deal. “The Russian MiG-35 is just a souped-up MiG-29.”
To add to his skepticism, he questions how much the air force’s technical evaluation will weigh against the finance ministry’s concern over cost. “Unfortunately, the Indian air force is a user, not a chooser,” he says.
At the induction ceremony, Defense Minister A.K. Antony praised Mikoyan for providing India with “a world-class aircraft.” Asked about complaints about Russian spares support, Antony responded, “We hope they will do better.”
Despite long-standing links between India and Russia , some observers say U.S. competitors are the ones with the edge, thanks to the political and technological thaw nurtured by the administration of then-President George W. Bush.
Meanwhile, the Indians are hoping a political settlement will break a logjam over financing of the refurbishment of the 44,570-ton Admiral Gorshkov. India, which has renamed her the INS Vikramaditya, expected delivery in 2008. She is now not expected until 2013. When the purchase was signed in January 2004, the cost was $974 million. But the Russians have insisted that exchange-rate losses prompted by the weak U.S. dollar keep pushing up its costs. In November 2007, they sought $1.2 billion, pushed that to $2.2 billion last year and are now asking for $2.9 billion. It has been noted that India has been requesting technology advances not available when the original deal was signed.
An agreement on the additional MiGs and financing the carrier’s refurbishment is expected to be on the agenda when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin visits this month .
While it awaits the carrier, India has started work on a 1,255-meter (4,120-ft.) runway at the Goa airbase Hansa for a shore-based test facility financed by the Aeronautical Development Agency. The ADA is the fulcrum for design and development of a naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft.
The MiGs will be able to use the same runway, which will incorporate a 14-deg. ski-jump takeoff ramp. The ramp will include capture cables for arrested landings, says INS Hansa commanding officer Capt. Surendra Ahuja. Delivery of a Rheinmetall flight simulator is pending.
In 2007, Ahuja was the first of 32 Indian navy pilots to complete carrier flight training on the USS Enterprise, flying T-45C Goshawks. Before returning to India to head flight training in Goa, he was a flight instructor at Kingsville (Tex.) NAS.
The new ski-jump test facility is similar to the Research and Flying Training Center in Nitka, Ukraine, where India expects to send 10 of its naval pilots, once the Gorshkov funding issue is resolved. They will be part of Sqdn. 303, for MIG-29Ks, which is being formed this year.