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Sea birds

MiG-29K joins the Indian Navy

The supersonic MiG-29K joined the Indian Navy on the day when the Indian Naval Aviation  was celebrating the diamond jubilee of its establishment on   11th May, 1953.  Six decades later, the Indian Navy has emerged as a dominant force in the Indian Ocean and with the joining of the Mig-29K as the front line maritime fighter, the Indian Navy will command greater respect from the rival navies in the maritime area.

The Indian Navy has thus become the proud owner of the most potent maritime fighter aircraft in the Indian Ocean, which has the capabilities to deter the rival maritime forces from indulging in muscle flexing.

Though the Mig-29K has arrived at the INS Hansa at Goa,  much before its floating airbase, the INS Vikramaditya , the maritime fighter  will be able to embark on its mother ship (the refurbished Admiral Gorshkov)  as soon as it arrives from Russia by the end of December, this year.

Frontline fighter

As the air superiority fighter, The MiG-29K has the full range of weapons and sensors as main capabilities to dominate the sky over the Indian Ocean. With China showing interest in marking its presence in the Indian Ocean, it was high time that the Indian Navy was provided with this category of frontline fighter. The MIG-29K as a Carrier borne fighter, when integrated with INS Vikramaditya, will bolster the Navy’s punch with its multi-role capability.

After handing over the aircraft to the Navy the Indian defence minister A K Antony commented, “India has to maintain an edge over its adversaries in defence preparedness through the acquisition of new technology and better training of the personnel, given the fact that the security scenario in the region is changing at a rapid pace.”

It may be a coincidence , but indicative of emerging maritime rivalry in the Oceans that the day India celebrated the arrival of the frontline fighter in its fleet China announced the formation of a first carrier borne aviation force, which will consist of Carrier-borne fighter jets, jet trainers  and ship-borne helicopters that operate anti-submarine, rescue and vigilance tasks. China’s first Carrier task force Liaoning can hold 30 fixed wing aircraft, likely to be the J-15s.

Commenting on the arrival of the Mig-29K, the Vice Admiral Shekhar Sinha, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Western Naval Command, said “The MiG-29 K will be a game changer in Indian Ocean region. It will allow us to fly longer distances and maintain a better vigil. The arc of the influence of the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean region now stands increased and strengthened. It is a long voyage that our Navy has undertaken from the day our first aircraft, an amphibian Sealand, touched down at Cochin backwaters in 1953. In the 60 years since, Indian Naval Aviation has transformed from such humble beginnings to a force capable of baring its fangs in full-fledged maritime conflict far from our shores”

The contract for supplying the MiG-29K was signed after India decided to acquire the Admiral Gorshkov in 2004. Though the Admiral Gorshkov was gifted to India it was mired in controversy because of its escalating refurbishment cost. The MiG-29K was a bonus order for the Russian Mikoyan company, which is looking for a long time relationship with India.  

With the induction of MiG-29K the Indian naval aviation has become the centre piece of Indian Navy’s combat power. An aircraft carrier capable navy has grown from strength to strength with its aviation arm proving its prowess over the last sixty years.

The naval air arm has grown exponentially over the last sixty years to operate over 200 aircraft including fighters, long range maritime reconnaissance aircraft, helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles.

Advanced features

The MiG-29K will form the 303 Blank Panthers squadron. Armed with R-73 and RVV-AE guided air to air missiles, Kh-35E anti-ship missiles, KAB 500 KROD TV guided bombs and S-8KOM rockets, the MiG-29Ks are capable of STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) operations and can operate within a range of 1300kms with a service ceiling of 58,000 feet.

According to defence officials India would be acquiring a total of 45 such maritime fighters worth US$ 2.4 billion and 29 more are likely to be ordered, in view of the upcoming indigenous aircraft carrier called the IAC nicknamed Vikrant.  Till the INS Vikramaditya arrives in India the MiG-29K will carry out training exercises.

The MiG-29K are the modified version of the MiG-29 flown by the IAF since late eighties with much better over the nose vision which  enables the aircraft to land with much ease on a Carrier.

The improved modifications also feature ZHUK-ME radar with a combat payload of 5500 kgs. It can also carry additional fuel tanks for a longer operation, which increases fuel capacity by half and also the mid air refueling capability.

Before the arrival of MiG-29K the Sea Harriers were the only fighter of the Indian Navy flying onboard the British acquired INS Viraat (Hermes) in the late eighties  The MiG-2K  can operate with four times longer range and capability than the Sea Harrier.

The Virat which is under maintenance these days will continue in service for few more years, till the indigenous Aircraft Carrier joins the Indian Navy. The Sea Harriers will continue to be in service till the Virat is operational. The Sea Harriers have now outlived its utility as they are more than 25 years old. The MiG-29K has joined the Indian Navy at a very opportune moment.