Desperately short of fighters, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is moving the government to get an additional 21 Russian-made MiG -29 ground attack and air-defense aircraft, a senior official with knowledge of the development said.
IAF needs a minimum of 42 squadrons [each comprising 16 -18 fighters] but has only 30. More squadrons will be decommissioned in the coming months. India is anticipated to get first Rafale fighter jets — the French-made medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) — in September 2019.
The Indian Air Force already has three squadrons of MiG-29. All three are positioned along the western borders. The Indian Navy too uses the naval version of the MiG-29 fighters. They are positioned on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
Before, in February 2019, a team of senior Indian Air Force officials rushed to Russia to examine the fleet of the MiG 29 fighters.
“The airframes are ready and Russia has promised to deliver all 21 fighters within 18 months,” the senior IAF official who demanded not to be named said.
“The air-frames are ready and available in Russia.”
The 21 MiG -29 are upgraded with a more effective radar system, controls, and avionics systems, dorsal and wing tanks, and air-to-air refueling making the aircraft 4.5 generation fighters — the ones that first appeared on the scene between 1990 and 2000. It costs Rs 285-300 crore per fighter. “The price is extremely competitive,” another senior defense ministry official told. “The endurance of the aircraft is now nearly 5 hours with the additional fuel tanks.”
The Indian Air Force is also flagging its MiG-29 repair and maintenance facility, based in Ozar, Nashik, to the government as one of the positives.
“We do not need to set up a fresh facility to maintain the fighters. In addition, the Ozar facility has ensured that at least 75% of the fleet is always available for operational deployment,” the second official stated.
“Importantly, the IAF already has crew and maintenance staff trained. Induction of the fighters will not require a fresh effort,” the official further said.