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Russia to upgrade Indian MiG-29 jets

The programme includes fitting MiG-29s with upgraded weapons and a new avionics suite. The multi-role fighters will remain in service for 10-15 years.

india Updated: Feb 07, 2006 13:46 IST

India's fleet of 67 MiG-29 multi-role fighters are all set to be refurbished for $888 million by Russian company RSK-MiG.

"The programme is part of the Indian Air Force's long-term plan to modernise its fighter fleet with the aim of expanding its strategic reach, firepower and area of responsibility over the next decade as India's burgeoning economy and regional importance proliferate," a senior IAF officer said.

The upgradation was granted financial clearance by the Defence Ministry in fiscal 2005-06.

The MiG-29 upgrade project has already been delayed by over two years. It is now likely to commence only in fiscal 2006-07 and be completed around four years later, officials said.

The upgraded MiG-29s will remain in service for 10-15 years.

The programme includes fitting the MiG-29s with upgraded weapons and a new avionics suite, with the old N-019 radar being replaced by the Phazatron Zhuk-M radar.

The MiG-29s will also be upgraded for mid-air refuelling to increase their endurance.

The IAF is currently refurbishing 125 MiG-21 Bis and 40 MiG-27ML fighters. These two jets are being equipped with advanced avionics, improved electronic warfare systems and precision weaponry to boost the IAF's ageing combat fleet that also faces a sharp reduction in numbers over the next decade.

According to officials, RSK-MiG, the original manufacturer of the MiG-29s, will be the sole vendor to upgrade the IAF's fleet of MiG-29B/S fighters and MiG-29UB dual-seat trainers.

RSK-MiG will independently source the equipment that the IAF will select for fitting on the jets. In addition, it will carry out life-extension checks on the upgraded multi-role fighters that were first inducted into the IAF in 1986.

"The avionics architecture that the IAF is firming up will be a mix-and-match of Russian, local and imported systems that are likely to be sourced from France, Israel and possibly even the US," the official added.

Various options being debated by the IAF include dispatching a limited number of MiG-29 fighters to RSK-MiG in Russia for being upgraded.

This would be similar to the procedure adopted for two MiG-21 jets that were retrofitted in Russia in the late 1990s.

Following this, the programme was completed at the IAF's base repair depot at Nasik in western India.

Meanwhile, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)Managing Director KP Puri recently said that 94 of 125 MiG-21s had been upgraded to the MiG 21 'Bison' standard at the HAL complex at Nasik.

The remaining 29 jets would be upgraded by the end of the year. At least three MiG-21 Bisons, however, have crashed since 2004.

HAL is the prime contractor for the $626 million MiG-21 upgrade programme that, besides the Russian, includes French and Israeli avionics and weapons manufacturers and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Cleared in 1996, the project was to have been completed by 2001. But officials admitted that it had been delayed by nearly five years because of technical, financial and bureaucratic 'glitches' involving the IAF, the defence ministry, HAL and MiG.

Prototypes of the MiG-27 jets refurbished by HAL at Nasik under the supervision of the Defence Avionics and Research Establishment at Bangalore have already been certified.

The first 12 upgraded ground attack fighters will be handed over to the IAF later this year.

The remaining 28 MiG-27s, HAL officials said, would be upgraded at the rate of one a month under the $133 million service life-extension programme signed in mid-2001. Over a year behind schedule, this project is due for completion by end-2008.

The MiG-27s, which are undergoing an extensive avionics retrofitting, will remain in service till 2020 and even beyond.

First Published: Feb 07, 2006 09:33 IST