How capable is the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K during wartime?
Mig-29K is the frontline Carrier-Based Mutirole Fighter Aircraft designed and deployed pertaining to Indian Navy needs for a Carrier-Borne Multirole Aircraft which can be based upon the lone Aircraft Carrier operated by Navy : INS Vikramaditya. Mig-29K are a step ahead of the earlier variants of Mig-29 and even the Airforce Variant Mig-29UPG featuring improved airframe , weapons load , avionics , low Radar Cross Section , quadruple redundant Fly by Wire Flight Control System and folding wings.
Indian Navy Mig-29K adds a Zhuk-ME Radar as well as a RD-33MK Engine and were inducted first into the INAS 300 “Black Panther” to provide the Navy , an air dominance multi-role fighter with all desirable features of a state-of-art aircraft and avionics. However with time , many journals and media outlets have commented that Indian Navy is rather unhappy with its Mig-29K fleet , primarily due to its low reliability with engines and low availability.
If we dive deep into the capabilities of Mig-29K , then the Fulcrum far outclasses any Naval Fighter Aircraft in its immediate hostile neighborhood. Compared to Chinese J-15 Carrier Borne Naval Fighter Aircraft , Mig-29K is miles ahead off in capabilities. According to the Sina Military Network ( based in Beijing ) , J-15 has a crippling range and is impotent to take off with full combat weapons-load out. Its range with PL-8s and YJ-83K is just 125 kms since it can utilize its just 25% efficiently. Indian Navy Mig-29K on the other hand can easily take off with a full payload of 5.5 tonnes with fuel fuel and is perhaps the only 4+ Generation Fighter to take off a Ski Jump with such combat loads. In the Combat-Configuration , Mig-29K can easily carry any combination of Air-to-Air Missiles , Air-to-Ground Missiles , Anti-Ship Missiles and more.
For Air Dominance Role , Mig-29K can sport R-77 and R-73 Air-to-Air Missiles , which can target hostile targets at well beyond Visual Range and even Within Visual Range. For an active deterrent against Naval Hostiles , Kh-31 and Kh-35 Anti-Ship Missiles while for Suppression of Enemy Air Defense ( SEAD ) Operations , it can be armed with the deadly Kh-31P Anti-Radiation Missile. For Ground Attack roles , it can be armed with B8-M1 20-round 57mm rocket pods , Gravity Bombs like KAB-500KR Electro-Optical T.V-Guided Fire-and-Forget Bombs , Dumb Bombs , KAB-500OD and more.
Mig-29K also features advanced Electronic Warfare Equipment like TARANG Radar Warning Receiver and the powerful Elta ELL-8222 self protection jamming pod ( also installed on Su-30MKI ) which provides increased survivability in Hostile Airspace by jamming enemy assets and spoofing off enemy missiles.
Mig-29K is rather less maneuverable with its maximum G-Limits upto 8G. Less maneuverability has always plagued the Naval Fighters since they are made heavy with strengthened airframe and undercarriage to absorb shock landings on Carriers. This affects the maneuverability of Mig-29K at maximum levels. However with a high Rate of Climb ( 330 m/s ) and comparatively lesser wing loading at 442 kg/m² , Mig-29K is extremely maneuverable for Indian needs as an Air-Dominance Multirole Fighter.
Mig-29K has often been touted to possess poor reliability due to less availability rates. This has been primarily due to the fact that any Carrier has a limit to the amount of spares it carries during peacetime and hence the availability rates of Mig-29K are purposely lower than 50% at any given time which can be increased to maximum levels during threatening times as we saw during Exercise Gagan Shakti where IAF dramatically increased its availability to near perfection.
Mig-29K features a MIL-STD-1553B Open Architecture System which allows for the installment of Indian , French and Russian avionics onboard the aircraft as desirable. It features a Franco-Russian LINS-100RS inertial system for Navigation while the pilot is equipped with a THALES TopSight Helmet Mounted Display System. The Russian Zhuk-ME radar can detect a 5 metre square target upto 120 km while it can track 10 and attack 4 at a time. The OLS-UE Optical Location Station allows for targeting aerial and ground targets based upon their Infra-Red Signature with an all-round coverage. Mig-29K can also carry Electronic Counter Measures pod , to spoof off enemy targets , built into upper surface of main wings.
During a war-time , Mig-29K can be fielded by Indian Navy for Area Denial and Airspace Denial Operations , complemented by Air Force Assets like AWACS and Frontline Fighters. Its combination of Air-to-Air Missiles , Anti-Ship Missiles and Ground Attack Missiles are highly effective in keeping a check on the enemy assets. In hostile airspace , the advanced Electronic Warfare Equipments onboard Mig-29K will play an effective role in maintaining the cover along with the low Radar Cross Section and lesser Infrared Signature. Mig-29K in future will be further complemented by an Omnirole Fighter , since Indian Navy has issued a tender for 57 Carrier-Borne Fighters , though the Mig-legacy with the Navy does not seem to end quite so soon.
Improved airframe boosts of Special Radar absorbent material (RAM) along with enhanced range. Mig-29K comes with additional fuel tanks which have been accommodated in dorsal spine and LERX increasing its fuel-carrying capacity by 50% when compared to older Mig-29A variants which further improves with drop tanks and Air-to-Air refueling capability with added option of center line buddy refueling tank.