The late legendary US fighter ace, Brigadier General Robin Olds, once famously said, “A fighter without a gun...is like an airplane without a wing.”
His words seem to be ringing true for the Indian Navy.
It will induct the first four of the 16 MiG-29Ks being acquired from Russia on Friday, but there is no aircraft carrier to operate these fighter planes from. The fighters will be operated from ashore as the Russians will take three more years to deliver the INS Vikramaditya (formerly Gorshkov), which was supposed to be inducted by 2008-end.
Captain Surendra Ahuja, Commanding Officer, INS Hansa, where the MiG-29K ‘Black Panthers’ squadron is being based, said, “We would have been glad if Vikramaditya was around. But there’s still plenty we can do from the ground.”
India had contracted to buy the Gorshkov for $1.5 billion (Rs 6,750 cr) in January 2004. The price tag covered the refit of the 45,000 tonne carrier, 16 MiG-29K fighters, 6 Kamov helicopters, cost of training pilots, simulators and spare parts.
The Navy is not waiting for the Vikramaditya to make the most of the maritime fighters. It is simulating an aircraft carrier setting on the ground to operate these fighter planes, which use the ski jump to take off and are recovered by arrestor wires on a carrier. The technique’s called STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) in Navy parlance.
It is setting up a shore-based test facility (SBTF) here for training MiG-29K pilots till Vikramaditya arrives.
Ahuja, who carried out the flight evaluation of the MiG-29K in 2002, said, “We are replicating the operational features of a carrier on the ground.”
But there’s plenty of unfinished business. The arrestor engines that will power the ground cables to decelerate the aircraft have still not come from Russia. The ski-jump mock-up too isn’t operational.
Ten pilots have been trained on MiG-29Ks in Russia. But they are yet to experience the rigours of landing and taking off from a carrier. They’ve been given theoretical lessons, simulator training and 40 hours of flying each on the martime fighter.