Faced with the dilemma of losing operational aircraft faster than they can buy new ones, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is in talks to buy 21 MiG-29 fighters from Russia, local media reports.
Currently sitting unassembled since the 1980s, the deal would see the unused Soviet-era jets shipped to India for reassembly, and upgraded with the latest weapons and avionics. The deal is worth some Rs 6,000 crore (around $848 million), the Economic Times said citing government sources.
First designed in the 1970s as an air-superiority fighter, the MiG-29 has undergone several redesigns in the recent decades with modernized variants including a naval version and multirole fighters.
Moscow had put a “reasonable price” on the additional 21 jets, an IAF officer told ET. It is reported that a team from New Delhi visited Russia to inspect and discuss the warehoused airframes in January and had found them to be in good condition.
The deal also envisions an upgrade program for the jets including new engines, the latest avionics and weapons packages. That latter are smart air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, transforming the aircraft from an air-superiority fighter into all-weather multi-role warplane, Times of India reports.
Meanwhile, a life extension upgrade will bring the jets’ 25 years (2,500 flight hours) operational life to 40 years (3,500 hours), helping to ease the wear and tear on the IAF’s dwindling supply of combat-ready fighters.
A similar upgrade program between New Delhi and Moscow was signed in 2008, with about half of the 62 MiG-29s in India’s inventory now modernized with the latest tech and weaponry.
In addition to MiG-29, the IAF’s fighter inventory boasts the MiG-21, MiG-27 and SU-30 MKI. Non-Russian fighters include the ageing Anglo-French Jaguar and the French Mirage. In total, these make up 31 functioning squadrons, however, military planners recommend that 41 squadrons are needed to keep the air force fighting fit.
As part of this effort, the IAF has already placed orders for French Rafale fighters as well as for its first domestic fighter, the Tejas.
However, without a full legacy program in place, these purchases are not enough to plug squadron depletion and it is projected that this number will continue to drop to 27 by 2032 and a mere 19 by 2042, local media says.
US defense firms are keen to help remedy this shortfall, offering the F-16 and F-18 fighters. At the same time Washington keeps pressure on New Delhi to ditch Russian arms, especially a purchase of the S-400 air defense system.
Reiterating its “independent policy,” towards arms deals, Indian military planners have regularly rebuffed this US request. Additional Indo-Russian military deals in the works include purchases of four new naval frigates and a potential order for tanks. Next-generation submarines and a new fighter jet program with Russian partners are also being mulled.
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