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SOURCE: THE PRINT

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to place an order with Russia for 21 twin-engine MiG-29 jets by December, ThePrint has learnt. Of the 1980s vintage, the jets are no longer in production but 21 airframes built then remain in Russia. Top sources in the security and defence establishment said the jets purchased by India will be upgraded to the latest version before they arrive here. 

The purchase comes as the IAF faces a depleting force strength due to its fleet of legacy aircraft and budgetary constraints.

The IAF, the sources said, will first place orders for the MiG-29, and then go in for another 12 Su-30 MKI, which are being manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under licence from Russia.

The IAF is also expected to soon place a long-pending order for the indigenous 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mark 1A.

“We have completed the discussions with Russia. We are getting the MiG-29s at a very good price. We will soon finalise it. The order for the 12 additional Su-30 MKI will be placed with HAL after this,” a source said, refusing to get into the pricing details.

India and Russia have been in talks for the purchase of more MiG-29 jets since last year.

The Mig-29 airframes have been lying with Moscow since the late 1980s but have never been flown. The sources said a study conducted on the airframes had found them in good condition.

“The airframes are in good quality. They will now fit all the equipment and other systems as part of the deal,” the source quoted above said.

Dwindling numbers
The decision to purchase the aircraft comes amid a dwindling fighter aircraft strength in the IAF and budgetary constraints that make it difficult for the force to get new aircraft in the numbers it wants.

While the sanctioned strength of the IAF is 42 squadrons of fighters, the current strength is 30.

At his annual press conference Monday, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria said even if all acquisition plans are put in motion with strict timelines, he would be happy if the strength reaches 36-37 squadrons in the next decade.

He was also very candid about the challenge of budgetary constraints, saying their effect may not be felt immediately but will be in the future.

“Budgetary constraints will be there. It is not affecting us today. It will have an effect in due course if we don’t put the contracts in place,” he had said.

India currently has three squadrons of the MiG-29 — a twin-engine single-seat air superiority fighter aircraft. One squadron comprises 18 aircraft and all of them are currently being upgraded in-house by the IAF.

The aircraft is undergoing structural as well as avionics upgrade, besides being equipped with a new weapons package.

With the new air-to-air refuelling feature, an upgraded MiG-29 can cover larger distances compared to the previous aircraft, something the IAF is keen on, keeping in mind the possibility of a two-front war scenario.

The upgraded MiG-29s have all the latest features, including a glass cockpit with digital screens.

The upgraded aircraft can also do air-to-ground, air-to-air and even anti-shipping operations.