India is likely to ink a deal to purchase an additional 29 MiG-29K fighter jets, valued close to $1.12 billion, from Russia during the visit of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in March.
The deal will be signed along with two other major defence contracts - for the joint development of fifth generation aircraft and multi role transport aircraft.
"The deal will be inked during Prime Minister Putin's visit. The decision will be formally announced a few days before the visit," a senior Russian official said in New Delhi. The visit by Putin, a former president, will be his first to India after becoming prime minister.
Talks are also expected on the final price of Russian-built aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. The price has been finalised and is awaiting the approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security.
The two contracts - for Gorshkov and additional MiG-29Ks - will further consolidate Russia's position as the largest defence supplier to India, having notched up defence sales worth over $35 billion since the 1960s.
The MiG-29K is a modernized naval variant of the MiG-29 operational with the Indian Air Force (IAF). The MiG-29K operates from aircraft carriers.
The Indian Navy is keen to replace its fleet of Sea Harrier aircraft. The new fighter jets will operate from the indigenous aircraft carrier being built at Cochin Shipyard. They will be armed with air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles.
India has already contracted for 16 MiG-29K combat jets which will be deployed on-board Gorshkov, to be commissioned in the Indian Navy as INS Vikramaditya. The first four of the 16 aircraft have been delivered to India and will be formally inducted on Feb 19 in Goa.
The jets were purchased by the Indian Navy as part of a $1.5 billion deal signed with Russia in January 2004 for Admiral Gorshkov. Of this, $740 million was meant for the aircraft and the balance for refitting the carrier.
The Russians have now upped the price for Gorshkov to between $2.2 billion and $2.9 billion and negotiations on the price are currently underway.
The navy will eventually be getting 12 MiG-29K single-seater aircraft and four MiG-29KUB twin-seat trainer aircraft, some in flyaway condition. The trainer version is similar to the single-seater but with a slightly reduced operational range.
The navy has named its MiG-29K squadron the "Black Panthers".
The navy's MiG-29Ks have arrester gear and stronger landing gear for carrier landings, folding wings and rust-proofing to prevent corrosion from salt water, its manufacturer says on its website.
The aircraft features a fully digitised glass cockpit, improved engine protection against ingestion of foreign particles like birds, a multi-mode radar and increased range. The contract ensures that the navy gets the entire spectrum of services, including a full mission simulator.
The MiG-29K will provide aerial cover to the carrier's battle group, acquire air superiority and destroy sea-borne and ground-based targets with guided high-precision weapons during the day and at night and in any weather condition, an official of the Indian Navy said.
The aircraft, the first bought by the navy after the Sea Harriers, will also be capable of playing the role of midair refueller.