New Delhi: With induction of fighter jets under the medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) programme forever receding into the distance even as the latest deadline for submitting the request for proposals (RFP) nears, India on Friday signed a $960 million (Rs3,840 crore) contract with Russia to upgrade five squadrons of MiG-29 fighters inducted in mid-1980s. The move should come as a welcome development for the hard-pressed Indian Air Force (IAF), which has seen the strength of its fighter squadrons shrink with every passing year, thanks to obsolescence and accidents.
The upgrade involves increasing the service life of approximately 69 MiG-29s, from the present 25 years (2,500 flight hours) to 40 years (3,500 hours). The upgrades are also expected to turn these air-superiority fighters into competent all-weather multi-role jets which will now exercise beyond-visual-range capabilities.
According to sources, while the first six MiG-29s will be upgraded in Russia, the rest will be retrofitted at the IAF base repair depot at Nashik. The upgrade programme is expected to be complete in three years. This will include replacing existing 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. Expectedly, the upgrades will include some sub-systems from Israel.
The twin-engined MiG-29s will carry sophisticated air-to-air missiles, high-accuracy air-to-ground missiles and 'smart aerial' bombs.
The Russian RAC MiG company will also plough back 30 per cent of the contract value into India by setting up consignment depots and service centres, along with simulator centres with training aids.
The IAF's squadron strength has now shrunk to 39.5, which is very short of a sanctioned strength of 45 and a required strength of 55 if it is to take on China and Pakistan simultaneously in any war.
Even as Pakistan has begun inducting its new Chinese designed fourth generation JF-17 Thunder fighters, of which it will induct a total of 250, as well as 36 more latest US supplied F-16s, the IAF is trying to match up with upgrades in its existing MiG, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 fleets.