The Indian Air Force's plans to induct upgraded MiG-29 by March next year has been hit due to delay at the Russian end with the first lot of six aircraft likely to come in only by early 2011.
"Originally, the upgraded MiG-29s were to join the IAF squadrons at Adampur airbase in Punjab by March 2010. But now, there will be a delay of another eight to 10 months and hence, we expect it only in early 2011," a senior IAF officer said on Sunday. Under the US $ 950-million contract signed in March 2008 for upgrading 60-odd MiG-29s operated by IAF's three squadrons, the IAF planned to fit Series-3 version of RD-33 engine to increase its thrust from 8.3 ton to over 9 ton, apart from improved avionics, modern weapon systems and Beyond Visual Range missiles.
"The idea is to upgrade the MiG-29 from an aerial interceptor, air superiority aircraft to a multi-role fighter-bomber aircraft capable of striking mobile and stationary targets on the ground and at sea with high-precision weapons in all-weather conditions beyond visual range," the officer said. While the first six aircraft would be upgraded by the original equipment manufacturer, the remaining aircraft would be attended to at the IAF's Nashik-based 11 Base Repair Depot with kits supplied by RAC-MIG. The upgrading is happening on the basis of the new requirements for the MiG-29s that IAF had indicated to the
OEM, based on an assessment it had made for the future role of the fighter aircraft.
"The upgrade will increase the service life of MiG-29 from the existing 25 years to 40 years. The upgrade of all the aircraft was originally envisaged within three years. But now, it could take another year or more to complete," he added. This will include replacing existing on-board radars with the advanced multi-functional Zhuk-ME radar and a new weapon control system. The package is also expected to include state-of-the-art avionics and cockpit ergonomics, along with an increase in fuel capacity.
The twin-engine MiG-29s will carry sophisticated air-to-air and high-accuracy air-to-ground missiles such as R-27, R-60Mk and R-73, and 'smart aerial' bombs. The upgrade programme ran into rough weather after a Russian Air Force MiG-29 crashed in December last forcing the IAF to ground all its aircraft to carry out extensive checks.
With Russia identifying structural faults in the aircraft's tail fins, the IAF went about checking the tail fins of the MiG-29s in its squadrons."Half-a-dozen of the MiG-29s in our fleet were found with faults in the tail fin and these had to be replaced. On
the MiG-29s from the same batch of aircraft as the Russians, we did further checks to rectify structural faults completely," an IAF engineer said.