An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 21 April 2003

The $13.8bn Defence Budget for India stands passed. Hence it is decision time and the Government paid out the first installment of crores for the Air Defence Ship to Cochin Shipyard. The money for the advance for Gorshkov and MiG-29Ks has been ‘set aside’ again in the 2003 Budget but the Indian decision making is taking time.

Financial Express stated that the decision for the MiG-29Ks is now almost sure when the Gorshkov is signed for, but hinted that the decision for Gorshkov itself may take time. We ask why is it so? Media reports it is because of the price difference and it’s linked with the 4 TU-22M and lease of two Akula nuclear submarines. If that be so, why can’t the powers that be, sit down and sort it out or will $1.7bn be returned again next year, just to see that the fiscal deficit is contained?

We offer the merits of MiG-29K to doubting Thomases and some insights. The naval version of LCA can be ruled out as it is totally uncertain to be available when the ADS is launched and sets off for trials. If the Naval LCA comes about it can be accommodated but it should not form the basis of the ADS design.

If the decision is taken the IAF may also gain as the older MiG-21s need urgent replacement. The scaled down SU-30s, which have been appreciated by the IAF Chief and the pilots publicly, could also be thought of. George Fernandes just stated that the IAF request for the 130 fighters is still being considered.

With the announced selection by the media of the Russian MiG-29K and confirmed by Indian naval officials for operation from the aircraft-carrier 'Admiral Gorshkov', the Russian aviation industry is all set to put its best foot forward to impress the officials of both Indian Navy and IAF to secure more export orders. More importantly, the Russians are targeting the possible short to medium term replacement of the accident-prone MiG-21 fleet of the IAF with a "scaled down Sukhoi-30", retaining a good percentage of the avionics component of Sukhoi-30MKI. Their only rival in the endeavour appears to be the French Mirage 2000-5Mk2 while the inconsistent attitude of United States administration in relation to the Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning And Control System) deal has perhaps jeopardised the projected Lockheed Martin F-16 sale to IAF.

MiG-29K (Korablny, meaning ship based) holds the distinction of being the second fighter type to land on the Russian aircraft-carrier 'Admiral Kuznetsov' after Pugachev's Sukhoi-27 and the first type to take-off from that ship. Pilot was Takhter Aubakirov. MiG-29K is based on the fly-by-wire
MiG-29M with more advanced Zhuk (Beetle) PH radar capable of conducting four simultaneous attacks with BVR (Beyond Visual Range) R-77RVV-AE AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles). MiG-29Ks customised for India are likely to accommodate a significant number of avionics components developed for the Sukhoi-30MKI and LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) project. Presently details are
speculative, but in terms of avionics the Indian MiG-29K may well resemble a scaled down Sukhoi-30 rather than an upgraded MiG-29.

Attention should now firmly focus on the Naval LCA project. LCA is somewhat similar in size and configuration to the Swedish Gripen (Griffin) that attained IOC (Initial Operational Capability) in 1997 and is all set to receive a major upgradation before 2010. Ericsson the same radar agency
associated with the LCA is developing ASEA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar for Gripen and hopefully a similar system will arm the Naval LCA. ASEA radar has tremendous growth potential and the capacity to detect even enemy radar transmissions at extended ranges and jam them with "transmission bursts".

Also required is a formidable defensive avionics suite, which detects the threats of not only incoming radar guided missiles, but also of missiles that use the infra-red and ultra-violet spectrum. Add to all these a laser "device" capable of generating directed energy to snap the guidance of incoming radar and infrared guided AAMs seems to be obligatory on all fighters by the middle of the next decade. India's own laser technology status is decades old and at least one less reliable media source has predicted integration of 'Kali' the particle beam weapon, with LCA.

Finally, thrust-vectoring engines may prove to be invaluable in both MiG-29K and Naval LCA. Generally thrust vectoring is associated with WVR (Within Visual Range) combat but may prove to be of immense value in dodging incoming BVR missiles at extreme ranges. Moreover certain manoeuvres like 'cobra' can be very effectively conducted with thrust vectoring engines. Below the "clutter notch" of enemy aircraft are bound to make them invisible to enemy radar at critical moments. Modern pulse-Doppler radar after all, filters out static and semi-static objects at lower level to "gather" moving targets.

Every effort should be made to provide an excellent naval fighter for protection of high-value naval task groups. Modern navies have traditionally assigned their best fighter design to their aircraft-carriers from time to time, exemplified by United Stated F-14 and F-18, Russian Sukhoi-33 and French Rafale. Space and technological restrictions prevented both the Russian Sukhoi-33 and French Rafale to be accommodated on 'Admiral Gorshkov', therefore maximum punch needs to be packed within the MiG-29K and Naval LCA design.

(With Inputs from Sayan Mazumdar)

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