How good is the decision of the Indian government to buy 21 MiG-29s in 2020 from Russia?
India recently signed a contract with Russia to buy 21 Mig-29 fighter jets after the deadly border conflict with China. Many experts questioned the need for acquiring ‘outdated’ Russian Mig-29s instead of potent Rafales jets.
We need to understand why the decision was taken. IAF is running out of combat squadrons very rapidly. Against a sanctioned strength of 42 combat squadrons, we are down to 30-odd combat squadrons. And this number is going to fall even south in coming years when the falcon slayer, the MiG-21 Bison will be retired.
At this moment to quickly give a little boost to the strength of combat squadrons, IAF had to make rational decision regarding buying a fighter jet based on two factors:
- Induct a plane in which pilots do not need any further training. Existing pilots can fly the aircraft.
- The induction should be as quick as possible. We don’t have time to undergo tendering process.
Considering these two factors the option left with IAF were very little. It could not depend on MRFA (aka MMRCA 2.0) as it’ll take time for the fighters to come. On the other hand, it’ll take IAF about 2 years to fully operationalise all 36 Rafale aircraft.
- These aircraft are already built in the 1980s & are stored in Russian inventory, totally unused with almost zero flight hours on them. They can be delivered in a tremendously short period of time.
- IAF already operated 69 MiG-29UPG. The pilots are already trained & have pretty solid experience in flying the aircraft. They wouldn’t need any further training & the squadrons of the new MiGs can be made operational as soon as they are purchased.
- The ground crew & BRD (base repair depot) is fully trained & experienced in handling the MiG-29. This, again required almost no efforts training of servicing & maintenance of the MiG-29.
- The MiG-29 is a pretty cost effective fighter to buy & operate.
- One issue is the aircraft offered is the baseline MiG-29A. These are one of the initial versions of the aircraft and are pretty outdated by modern standards (MiG-29UPG). All 21 of these will be upgraded to UPG standards by Russia & then delivered to India by 2021. All 69 + 21 = 90 MiG-29 would be of the same UPG standard by then.
- At the end we all have to agree that the MiG-29UPG is a terrific fighter even today. Purchasing it is not a shocker because of the following reasons:
- The upgrade gave it new radar which have a detection range of 120 km against a 5 meter square.
- It has a forward looking infrared system (IRST) in its OLS which is capable of detecting a fighter at 55 km range.
- Additional fuel tanks are added in the spine behind the cockpit which gives the aircraft a range of more than 2000 km. This was a shortfall of the original MiG-29 which was a short ranged fighter.
- Also, now it has a retractable in-flight refuelling probe to further increase the range & endurance
- The cockpit is equipped with two multi-functional displays (MFDs). The Head up display (HUD) is modern & the controls are HOTAS capable.
- The electronic warfare suite in the MiG-29UPG is the most capable electronic warfare suite in all Indian aircraft barring Rafale.
- The engines are new which have much better maintainability & engine life.
If you combine all the above mentioned six reasons you would also come to the conclusion that buying those unused MiG-29s from Russia at a throwaway price & upgrading them to boost the combat squadron is a very sensible decision.
Also not only this, the strength is also augmented by purchasing the 12 Su-30MKI to fill in for the losses due to crashes, 36 Rafale aircraft by 2022 (& possibility of 36 more) & 48 Tejas Mk1 aircraft by 2023.
If you add up these numbers they not only pretty much make up the squadron strength but they do so with new & capable fighters.
Keeping in mind the ongoing scuffle with China, We will get MiG-29s in the shortest timeframe possible. The arrival and the up-gradation of the existing MiG-29s will be a major boost to the morale of the IAF and its display in Libya will certainly raise some eyebrows in neighbouring Pakistan.
Source:- Subhadeep Paul Quora