In a quantum leap for its combat capabilities in the air, the India Navy on Friday inducted its first batch of four Russian-built MiG-29K fighters that will be deployed on the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov, renamed INS Vikramaditya, when it joins the fleet in 2012.
"The induction of the MiG-29 fighters into the naval inventory fulfills its long-standing requirement. I am sure that it will prove to be a milestone in building the navy's capabilities," Defence Minister A.K. Antony said at the induction ceremony of the fourth generation jets that will soon be joined by another 12.
"Despite delays, I must compliment (manufacturer) RAC MiG for completing the project. The navy will commence flying operations with these machines to their prescribed limits, train the crew, establish doctrines and be fully ready for operations as soon as she (Vikramaditya) is commissioned," he added.
Indian Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma said the MiG-29s would augment the force's combat capability.
"We are reshaping our procedures at sea and expanding the role of naval forces," he added.
Captain Surendra Ahuja, the commanding officer of the shore-based INS Hansa from where the MiG-29s would initially operate, said the jets would enable a quantum leap in the navy's aerial combat capabilities.
"Our air fighting capabilities will be increased by 60-70 per cent," he told IANS.
Till now, the navy had been flying the Sea Harrier jet from its lone aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Purchased in 1980s, only 11 jets are in service: eight for operational purposes and three for training.
While the navy's has contracted for 16 Mig-29s from Russia, Defence
Minister AK Antony announced on Friday that another 29 would also be purchased.
The jets were purchased by the Indian Navy as part of a $1.5 billion deal signed with Russia in January 2004 for the aircraft carrier. Of this, $740 million was meant for the jets and the balance for refitting the carrier. The Russians have now upped the price to between $2.2 billion and $2.9 billion and negotiations are currently under way on this.
Of the 16 jets, 12 will be single-seaters and four will be twin-seater trainers.
The navy has named its MiG-29K squadron the "Black Panthers".
The contract for the jets also provides for hardware for pilot training and aircraft maintenance, including flight simulators and interactive ground and sea-based training systems, as also a full mission simulator.
Some 16 Indian Navy pilots were sent to the US for deck-landing training, while qualified flying instructors (QFIs) were sent to Russia for conversion flying. The pilots will undergo conversion flying in Goa under the supervision of the QFIs.
The MiG-29s feature a fully digitised glass cockpit, improved engine protection against ingestion of foreign particles like birds, a multi-mode radar and increased range.
The MiG-29s 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 all weather conditions.
The combat jets will also be capable of operating as midair refuellers.