MiG-29 K –– Navy’s Future Sea Warrior

By Ranjit B Rai


New Delhi, 05 March 2004

Twenty-first January 2004 was a red-letter day for Indian Navy’s ambitions to become a true Blue Water Navy in the coming decade. On that day, Sergey Ivanov and George Fernandes Russian and Indian Defence Ministers respectively, addressed media personnel outside South Block in Delhi and announced that the final signature for several contracts for the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov (Ex Baku) and its complement of MiG-29Ks, Ka-31 and Ka-28 helicopters had been signed.

The long wait for this announcement came as a shot in the arm for Naval aviation, and brought to close the protracted discussions of technicalities and contracts in which lie the details for the acquisition of the Navy’s Sea Warrior planes, the first lot of 16 MiG-29Ks. The carrier will be refitted and upgraded by the Servmash Yard at Severodvinsk, at a cost of around $700 million and the additional cost of the aircraft, helicopters and associated equipment that will accompany the carrier will amount to another $700 million. The target date for the acceptance of Gorshkov as an operational unit in the Indian Navy is set for 2008.

At present there are only two operational MiG-29Ks in the Russian inventory, which have operated off a carrier and shore designed deck. The MIG 29K has been designed by the Aviation Scientific Industrial Complex ‘MiG’ (ASIC “MIG”), and manufactured by the “State Unitary Enterprise Moscow Aircraft Production Organization “MIG” (MAPO “MIG”). The plane’s sea going capabilities have been demonstrated to Indian Naval Aviators near Moscow and the machine is planned to be a multifunctional ship based aircraft, which will be capable of free take off from the flight deck of Gorshkov, which will also be provided with a ski ramp of around 14º

The aircraft is a derivative of the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum A/B that the Indian Air Force flies. The design is a low-wing monoplane, with leading edge swept back at 42 degrees with large ogival wing roots, leading and trailing edge flaps without tabs. Almost 15% of the construction is of carbon-boron composite material and the planes that will be supplied to the Navy will be provided with improved 2 RD 33K turbofan engines, each rated at around 11,250 lb dry and 18500 reheat capability.

The naval version of the aircraft will be lighter with strong under carriage with a take off weight of around 20,000 kg to enable it to have capability of landing back and be arrested by one of three arrestor wires. On the tactical side the aircraft have a service ceiling of 17500 m and an operational radius of 850 km. The plane will also have the ability to carry out probe mid air refueling from IL-78s that the Indian Air Force have recently acquired from Uzbekistan, and plan to have a fleet of six operating from Agra.

In view of the fact that the planes will be custom built for the Indian Navy, studies of the IAF experience and new fitments in the Su-30MKI would be incorporated to ensure that the operational characteristics, avionics, pressurized air-conditioned cockpit and UHF/VHF communications have compatibility and improvements on the current two MiG-29Ks operating as demonstrators in Russia. The MiG-29K was deemed to be the only suitable and optimal carrier borne fighter to equip the Admiral Gorshkov. 

Despite negative inputs by the Indian Air Force which has been plagued by technical difficulties and short intervals for engine overalls in the case of the three MiG-29A/B squadrons extensively flown by it, the Navy had to take hard decisions on this acquisition which is likely to also cater for the air complement of the 37,500 ton Air Defence Ship which stands sanctioned to be built at Cochin Shipyard. Four two seat MiG-29K trainer aircraft are also to be procured and a view has emerged that in due course some twin seaters could be fitted with AEW radar for air patrol and air interdiction facilities.

The Indian Navy has always thought “out of the box” and with integrated radar sighting systems, integrated optronic and laser gyro navigation, helmet-mounted displays, multi-function colour LCDs and GPS system (GLONASS/NAVSTAR compatible), the MiG-29K may well prove that the Navy’s decision has been the best one under the circumstances. Finally, if the BrahMos missile succeeds for the Indian Air Force the Indian Navy too will gain from the induction as a front line long range sea and land attack weapon.

The IN has planned the training programme for its pilots for the new aircraft, and the first of these may well  begin training on the MiG-29KUB two seat trainer of the IAF. Later, training exercise will focus on operating the aircraft from a mock-up aircraft carrier deck abroad.

It was reported that RAC MiG’s Voronin Production Centre in Moscow is building the first four MiG-29K production aircraft. The aircraft underwent assembly and testing at Lukhovitsy, near Moscow. The current offer version introduces an improved wing with enlarged trailing edge flaps, a quadruplex digital fly by wire control system and marinised Klimov RD-33 series 3M turbofan engines, with emergency fuel draining and an emergency thrust rating of 85.3kN (19,180lb/st). Equipped with Phazotron NIIR’s Zhuk-MX band monopulse pulse-Doppler radar, the MiG-29K has an aerial target detection range of 130km and can track-while-scan 20 targets and simultaneously engage four targets.

The aircraft’s avionics suite has yet to be disclosed, but will probably incorporate systems from French, Israeli and Indian companies, as is the case for the IAF’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI and upgraded MiG-21 Bison combat aircraft. The IN’s MiG-29Ks are capable of deploying weapons, including the subsonic Zvesda-Strela Kh-35 Uran E and supersonic Krypton anti-ship missiles, which have ranges of 130 km and 70km, and Vympel’s R-73RDM2 and R-77 air-to-air missiles, and possibly the BrahMos India’s missile of the future.

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