Confronted with exhausted fighter squadrons, IAF 21 seeks to secure molded MiG-29 jets from Russia
NEW DELHI: Desperate times call for desperate measures. Grappling
with a free fall in the number of its fighter squadrons amid the
ongoing political dogfight over the Rafale deal, the IAF is now looking to
acquire 21 MiG-29 jets lying in an unassembled, mothballed
condition with Russia since the later-1980s.
The MiG-29 acquisition plan comes soon after IAF got 35 old airframes and spares of the British-origin Jaguar strike fighters from France, UK and Oman in order to cannibalize them for improving the operational availability of its existing fleet of 115 Jaguars, as was first reported by TOI + .
But the 21 MiG-29s, if the deal is inked with Russia, will not be cannibalized. They will instead be assembled into fully-formed fighters of “MiG-29 upgrade” standards by Russia. IAF has so far upgraded half of its 62 MiG-29s fighters under a Rs 3,842 crore contract inked with Russia in March 2008, which is running over five years behind schedule.
The upgrade with new weapons and avionics is aimed at turning the twin-engine MiG-29 from an air defence fighter into a far more lethal all-weather multi-role fighter, which can also unleash ground strikes with missiles and “smart bombs”. The operational life of the MiG-29s is also being extended from 25 years (2,500 flight hours) to 40 years (3,500 hours).
As for the 21 additional MiG-29s, Russia had offered “a good price” for them. “These fighters were built in the 1980s but never assembled and flown. Our team visited Russia last month and found the MiG-29 skeletons to be in a good condition,” said an officer.
IAF vice-chief Air Marshal Anil Khosla, in turn, added, “The massive IAF firepower demonstration exercise `Vayu Shakti’ at Pokhran on February 16 will also include the MiG-29 upgraded fighter in an air-to-ground role for the first time.”
India will get the 36 new Rafale fighters, contracted from France for Rs 59,000 crore, in the 2019-2022 timeframe. But the Rafales alone will not make the numbers, with IAF down to just 31 fighter squadrons (each with 16-18 jets) when at least 42 are required for the “collusive threat” from China and Pakistan.
The number will plummet further because six old MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons will be retired in phases by 2024. “Induction of 36 Rafales will not mitigate the overall requirement. So, IAF is also fully backing the indigenous Tejas fighter,” said Air Marshal Khosla.
IAF has ordered an initial 40 Tejas fighters, with another 83 Tejas Mark-1A jets “with 43 improvements” in the pipeline. The overall development and production cost of these 123 Tejas, of which only 12 have been delivered till now, is estimated to be over Rs 75,000 crore.
IAF is also open to inducting 201 Tejas Mark-II jets if they are entirely new fighters with much better avionics and radars, enhanced fuel and weapons carrying capacity, and more powerful engines, as earlier reported by TOI.
Incidentally, the force is also looking to acquire nine Sukhoi-30MKI fighters to replace the ones lost in crashes. The force has so far inducted 249 of the 272 twin-seat Sukhoi fighters contracted for over $12 billion from Russia, with the bulk of them being licensed produced by HAL.