Moscow: The Indian Air Force (IAF) may at last see the modernization plans of its long serving fleet of MiG-29 air superiority fighters get underway, if reports emerging in the Russian media are anything to go by. According to an Interfax News Agency report, which quotes unnamed defence industry sources, a multi-million dollar Indo-Russian deal for the modernisation of IAF's fleet of MiG-29 fighters may well be signed next month.
According to the Interfax report, "The contract stipulates the modernisation of 64 MiG-29 fighters, including eight fighter-trainers."
"Due to change of leadership at the Indian defence ministry the deal could not be signed earlier, but now it would be signed by the end of next month," the report said.
As part of the modernization plan, the MiG-29 fighters would be equipped with new Phazotron "Zhuk-ME" radars, which are capable of engaging multiple targets simultaneously.
The report also says that the modernisation contract would run into "several hundred million dollars" and the lifecycle of the upgraded MiG-29 fighters would be extended from current 25 to 40 years, as a result of this modernization.
The report also says that the up-gradation of first two MiG-29 fighters would be carried out in Russia, while the rest would be up-graded at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) facilities at Ojhar near Nasik by 2010.
Earlier reports, around March this year, had said that India and Russia had signed a US$800 million deal with a consortium of Russia's state-owned Rosboronexport and United Aircraft Corporation, to improve the air-combat capability of its MiG-29s.
According to these reports, the MiG-29 aircraft, currently deployed with the IAF, would not only receive new phased array radar and long-range (beyond visual range) missiles, but would also be equipped with Klimov RD-33 engines, with digital fuel injection, an aerial refueling capability, and also a modern 'glass cockpit'.
These reports had also stated that under a parallel plan, the IAF was in the final stages of negotiating a 1.5 billion euro deal with Thales and Dassault to upgrade its 52 French made Dassault Mirage 2000H fighters. The reports had suggested that if the deal fructified, then the upgrades would likely begin by June this year.
Early on this month, IAF chief, ACM FH Major, had said that the IAF had begun started upgrading its combat aircraft fleet over the last few years in order to enhance its operational capability. "While the MiG-21, MiG-27 and Jaguar aircraft have already been upgraded, the upgrade of Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 is being planned."
He further said, "The upgrade is essentially on the radar, avionics and weapon systems."
The Phazotron Zhuk-ME radar
An 2002 article by Anatoly Kanashchenkov, director general and general designer and Yuri Guskov, deputy director general and first deputy general designer of the Phazotron-NIIR Corporation, about the Zhuk family of radars reveals the following details about the Zhuk-ME radar.
According to the authors, armed with the ZHUK-ME radar and BVR missiles, the upgraded MiG-29 fighter transits into the fourth generation plus category, fully matching the capabilities of American and European fighters in the same class.
By way of a summary, the authors say that the new radars feature improved technical and performance characteristics, which are, in many ways, trendsetters in the international market. The state-of- the-art radars are built to a modular design; use a 'family' approach to building radars with unified sets of units; use basic configurations, designs and technologies; open-end architecture; functional and hardware integration; inter and intra-type unification; standardized interfaces; cost-to-performance balancing; high system reliability; low maintenance cost; and will have minimal weight, size and power consumption characteristics.
This multifunctional, multi-mode coherent X-band radar has an antenna only 624 mm in diameter. Antennas of other diameters are also possible, which will allow matching changes in the maximum operating range. Depending on user requirements, Zhuk-ME radar can be supplied with a slotted or phased array antenna; the slotted array antenna is capable of tracking up to 4 targets, while the phased array antenna can pick up to 8 targets.
Both types of antennas provide for simultaneous use of several missiles on the fire-and-forget principle.
The target acquisition range for fighter-type targets (d = 5 m2) is as follows:
- Head-on targets: 150 km (for the 980-mm antenna the range increases by 50 percent, as against the 624-mm antenna);
- Targets in pursuit: 60 - 65 km.
The radar's tracking range is 0.83 to 0.85 of target acquisition range, while the target acquisition range in close-in combat is 15 to 18 km.
The Zhuk-ME radar offers the following modes of operation against aerial targets:
- Target acquisition and ranging;
- Single target tracking for missiles requiring continuous illumination;
- Simultaneous tracking of several targets; attack against several (4 to 8) targets using fire-and-forget principle, even while air surveillance is maintained;
- Operation in heavy ECM environments (ensured by the use of high-performance antennas augmented by mono-pulse range-finding, high performance and unique algorithms of the signal processor - data processor);
- Search for, and automatic acquisition of, aerial targets in close-in combat with re-targeting upon the pilot's wish;
- Determination of the number of targets in a group;
- Target class and type identification;
- Use of the R-27, R-27E, R-73, RVVAE air-to-air missiles, as well as foreign-made missiles.
In the air-to-surface mode of operation, the Zhuk-ME radar ensures:
- Ground mapping, using either real or Doppler narrowed beams or synthesized aperture (with 5 by 5 metre resolution);
- Moving surface target detection and tracking;
- A higher accuracy of attack against surface targets.
In the air-to-sea operation mode, Zhuk-ME detects moving and stationary targets and ensures an attack through H31A air-to-sea missiles, as well as simultaneous attack on two sea targets, by two missiles.
The Zhuk-ME radar's design provides for installation in the MiG-29 and Su-27 aircraft and also guarantees:
- Easy operation and maintenance;
- Easy future upgrades;
- High reliability, failure-free operation for at least 150 to 200 hours, which helps reduce considerably the radars' maintenance costs, making them more affordable.