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Fighter aircraft
Indian Navy has acquired an unmatched capability in Indian Ocean. The MiG-29Ks, deployed on the Aircraft Carrier Vikramaditya, will establish total control over the 1000 km radius in the Indian Ocean or wherever deployed. The floating air field in the Indian Ocean with its roaring fighters will play an A2AD i.e. Area Access and Area Denial role in the maritime area from Australian and African to Indian coasts.  

The Aircraft Carrier with a 45000 ton displacement will roam around the Ocean with a complement of 16 MiG-29Ks and 21 reconnaissance and utility helicopters, which includes the Kamov-31, Kamov-28 anti-submarine warfare and maritime surveillance helicopters along with Indian made Advanced Light Helicopters Dhruv.

These air assets on the Carrier will deny entry to all enemy aerial, surface or sub surface crafts within a radius of 1000 kms. Armed with defensive Barak-8 missile systems the Carrier will not have to bother about its self defence while the MiG-29Ks will roam with impunity over the entire Ocean skies.

The fourth generation air superiority fighter MiG-29Ks will have a flight range of 700 nautical miles which can be enhanced by in-flight refueling to the extent of 1900 NM. Armed with array of weapons like anti-ship missiles, close combat air to air missiles and BVR missiles and  equipped with latest avionics and EW systems the MiG-29Ks will ensure its survivability in the air while at the same time scare away the enemy aircrafts and warships within the combat radius of the aircraft. Its 2000 km range can be increased to 3000 km by using the three under wing fuel drop tanks. Its RD-33MK engines have smokeless combustion chamber and new full authority digital engine control system (FADEC).

Multirole fighter

The MiG-29Ks will be very ably supported by most modern communication complex CCS MK II   based on the Carrier which will meet the external communication requirements along with the Link II tactical data system which allows the aircraft and the Carrier to be fully integrated with the Indian Navy’s network centric operations.

The operational network of the Carrier has an onboard Combat system called the Computer Aided Action Information System (CAIO), LESORUB-E. It is capable of gathering the data from the ship’s sensor and data links which can process, collate and assemble the total picture of the tactical scene. This will help the MiG-29K fighters to take swift offensive or defensive action.

The MiG-29K has a multirole, multimode Zhuk ME pulse Doppler radar from Faztron-NIIP corporation which has a wider scanning angle and longer target detection range. Zhuk ME is capable of tracking ten air targets at a time and can engage four targets simultaneously. With its latest target designation system called the Multichannel Infra red search and track (IRST) system, the pilot of the fighter will find it much easier to accurately hit the target in the air or sea surface. The fighter is armed with RVV-AE and R-73E air to air missiles, Kh-31A and Kh-35E anti-ship missile along with Kh-31P anti-radar missiles.

This fighter is said to be only Carrier borne fighter among all the navies which can fire Kh-31 A supersonic anti-ship missiles which can effectively take on any air defence measure.

Though Russia had offered the more capable and larger naval fighter SU-33 but Indian naval headquarters decided for MiG-29Ks because Indian Air Force already possessed the MiG-29s which promised compatibility in training and maintenance. And later Russian Navy also decided to induct the MiG-29K for future use on its own Aircraft Carrier.  

Since India had by then already planned an indigenous Carrier Vikrant which would have been smaller size of 37,500 tons, and the MiG-29K would have proved to be ideal on Vikrant also. Hence, India had ordered for 12 MiG-29K single seat and four MiG-29KUB two seat fighters in January 2004 after finalizing the deal for the Gorshkov (Vikramaditya) carrier. And in March 2010 India signed another US$ 1.5 billion for an additional 29 MiG-29K. Under the 2004 order, six aircraft had been delivered by March 2010. In May, 2011 five MiG-29K \KUB fighters were delivered to the Indian Navy under the first contract and supplies for the rest has been completed. The MiG-29Ks will also be deployed on the Vikrant class future indigenous aircraft carrier under construction at Kochi.

The MiG-29K was initially developed for the Soviet Navy and the first MiG-29K took to the skies on 23 July 1988 and performed its first Carrier landing on the Soviet Aircraft carrying Cruiser Tblisi later renamed as Admiral Kuznetsov in 1989 but the project was suspended because of the disintegration of the Soviet Union.

Developed by Mikoyan, the MiG-29K project was revived after it received orders from Indian Navy. Ultimately it obtained its air worthiness in 2007 and Indian Navy decided in favor of its induction without any debate.

Cost effective

Almost 15 percent of the airframe of the MiG-29K is made of composite materials and is fitted with folding wings, arrestor hook and a catapult for carrier operations. The MiG-29K reposes confidence among Indian aviators because of the extensive flying experience of the IAF pilots on the Air Force MiG-29s and its reduced radar signatures by four to five times compared to MiG-29s. The Carrier variant has got a more powerful RD- 33MK engine, which has replaced the RD-33k turbofan engines employed in earlier versions.

The biggest advantage of the MiG-29K is the double flight hour duration with lesser cost reduced by 2.5 times and overhauling requirements are also much more spaced. The two seater trainer version is mainly for flying training but can also be utilized during combat similar to the single seat MiG-29K.

While the Chinese PLA Navy has also acquired an old aircraft carrier from Russia named as Liaoning, Indian naval planners are not too overly worried over this acquisition as it cannot pose any challenge to Indian Navy in Indian maritime area of interest. It still is not operational. The Chinese Navy is right now having the first hand experience of an aircraft carrier. The Carrier is supposed to deploy the J-15s fighters but ship’s limited size and lack of catapult is posing a problem for its flight with heavy weapon load.

However for India there are areas of concern also. The Indian Carrier will have no aerial defence until 2017 according to India’s public audit agency CAG.  Those close in weapons systems are required to be integrated with the LESORUB-E combat system, the weapon installation would be difficult until the Carrier’s refit is over. The Navy has also planned to deploy the Barak-8/MR SAM missile for medium and long range defence, but its deployment on the ship poses a big challenge.

Since Indian Navy has the monopoly in the Indian Ocean operating two aircraft carriers, though the US and French navies do position their Carrier flotilla in the Indian Ocean because of the Diego Garcia base and the French owned Island in the Indian Ocean, Indian Navy will have total dominance over the Indian Ocean when it acquires the second indigenous Carrier Vikrant by the end of 2018.

Among the Indian Ocean littoral states, India has achieved the status of the most powerful navy because of Carrier inductions, which has vastly improved its Area Access and Area Denial capability.