India buys cutting-edge Russian warplanes

On January 22, Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov arrived in Bangalore on his seventh visit to India.

That same day, high-level managers from the MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation demonstrated the multi-purpose Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29KUB Fulcrum carrier-based fighter to Indian military experts at the Gromov Flight Research Institute in the town of Zhukovsky, outside Moscow.

This warplane, now undergoing flight tests, was developed especially for the Indian navy’s aircraft carrier “Vikramaditya,” formerly called the “Admiral Gorshkov,” which was sold to India several years ago and is currently being upgraded at the Sevmash machine-building plant in Severodvinsk.

In all, the Indian navy is to receive 16 carrier-based fighters, including 12 single-seat MiG-29K warplanes and four two-seat MiG-29KUB fighter-trainers. Moreover, Russia would produce another 30 MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB aircraft if New Delhi confirms this order.

MiG is now completing two MiG-29Ks for subsequent certification tests and has launched production of 16 other similar warplanes at its plant in Lukhovitsy. This co-production arrangement involves several companies in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Ryazan, as well as a number of French, Indian and Israeli firms.

The MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB stole the show in Zhukovsky and thrilled members of India’s military establishment, TV crews and journalists.

The Indian side is quite happy about the Russian warplanes its air force and navy are receiving under bilateral contracts.

“We have known about the top-class MiG warplanes for a long time, but the MiG-29KUB that was developed by Russia and India is even better,” said Cdr. Jasvinder Chauhan, India’s Air Force attache in Moscow.

This is no exaggeration because Indian experts helped develop this fighter along with MiG engineers and designers, listing all the required specifications. MiG held up its part of the bargain, coming up with an advanced aircraft whose specifications are probably better than those of any similar warplane.

Indian experts helped integrate foreign computers into the MiG-29KUB’s avionics, took part in developing aircraft simulators and also chose its weaponry. Nikolai Buntin, who supervised the MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB project, said Russia’s air force and navy still lack any similar aircraft.

This is an important feature of Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation. Moscow supplies only the most sophisticated military equipment to New Delhi and actively involves Indian experts in research and production projects. It also sells production licenses enabling India to assemble T-90S main battle tanks, Sukhoi Su-30MKI multi-role fighters and other weapons at its own companies.

BrahMos, a well-known Russian-Indian joint venture, turns out its eponymous supersonic anti-ship missiles for the Indian navy, air force and coastal-defense units.

Moscow and New Delhi have signed defense contracts worth $9 billion to date. Last year, Russian arms sales to India accounted for about 40% of its total arms exports of $5.2 billion.

Nevertheless, Sergei Ivanov has brought new proposals for the joint production of military equipment. For instance, Moscow has suggested making RD-33MK power plants for MiG-29K/MiG-29KUB warplanes at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. companies under a Russian license.

The Russian side would first like to supply the first 20 ready-made power plants. India, due to receive RD-33MK kits, will subsequently mass-produce their main units and components. In all, over 80 power plants worth $300 million will be assembled.

This is a very attractive offer because New Delhi plans to upgrade its operational MiG-29 fighters with RD-29 power plants, i.e. the initial RD-33MK version.

The RD-33MK has already been overhauled three times, and its rated power has increased twofold as a result. This more fuel-efficient power plant has cut hourly operational costs by 2.5 times. Moreover, its service life has been doubled. The Indian air force can therefore use the inexpensive and cost-effective RD-33MK to upgrade previously supplied planes.

The Russian and American press has repeatedly reported that India’s old MiG-21 Fishbed fighters-interceptors, now featuring Russian-made Kopye (Spear) radars, defeated the more advanced and powerful U.S. Air Force F-16 warplanes in a mock dogfight.

The Indian air force has about 100 MiG-29 fighters, as well as 135 MiG-27 Flogger aircraft that can also be fitted with RD-33MK power plants.

On January 18, the Indian government approved the RD-33MK production contract, which can be signed by Sergei Ivanov or Russian President Vladimir Putin, due to arrive in New Delhi later this week.

However, this contract has another important aspect. The MiG-35 Fulcrum new-generation multi-purpose fighter, now taking part in the Indian air force’s tender for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft program, will have the same RD-33MK power plant.

The MiG-35 is vying against the SAAB JAS-39 Gripen fighter and France’s Mirage-2000 warplane. The Indian air force, which plans to acquire 126 multi-role fighters, will save money if it opts for the MiG-35, because production of RD-33MK power plants will be located in India. This option would be cheaper than purchasing Boeing or Lockheed-Martin aircraft.

The Indian government’s commission on tenders will make the final decision. However, Indian experts and top military leaders will be able to see two fighters with RD-33MK power plants – the MiG-29MOVT with a vectored-thrust engine and the MiG-35 – at the Air India-2007 show, due to open in Bangalore in early February.

Russia’s best aircraft are now flying to India.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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