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Indian Navy Inducts Mig-29K Carrier Squadron

May 13, 2013

Indian Mig-29K

The beaches of Goa are the stuff of post cards.

India’s most picturesque coastal state is also a hub for the world’s busiest maritime highway. This explains the substantial naval presence there.

On a sweltering ceremony this Saturday, April 11, held at INS Hansa naval base outside Dabolim, Goa’s capital, a panel of officers and dignitaries, including Admiral DK Joshi, Mikoyan-Gurevich executive Sergei Korotkov, and defense minister AK Antony, gathered for a historic first.

The occasion was the induction ceremony for a brand-new 16-plane Mig-29K squadron. The INAS 303 Black Panthers are India’s first and newest naval squadron to fly Mig-29K’s. This particular variant of the Mig-29, which has long been India’s air-superiority fighter, was originally Russia’s ‘navalised’ answer to the F/A-18 Hornet; a sleek war plane dedicated to its carrier-based role. Developed in the Cold War’s twilight years, the Mig-29K possesses a suite of features distinct from its peers.

Other than its obvious folding wings, the Mig-29K cockpit is equipped with an impressive avionic array. Aside from LCD displays and a helmet-mounted targeting system, the Mig-29K comes with a version of the Zhuk radar system. Its substantial arsenal includes a 30mm cannon plus weapons bays for carrying air-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, and guided bombs. Another notable improvement of the Mig-29K is an aerial refueling capability.

After the ceremony on Saturday, AK Antony later presided over  a less publicized induction for the MiG-29K simulators at the same naval base.

The Black Panthers are part of the fighter complement for INS Vikramaditya, India’s latest aircraft carrier expected to enter service by year’s end.

The INS Vikramaditya, being an upgraded Soviet-era hulk previously named the Admiral Gorshkov, was supposed to have been deployed by the Indian Navy last year but repeated problems delayed its arrival. Tests  carried out in 2012 by the Russian shipyard refurbishing it exposed a flawed propulsion system. The resulting spat between Russia and its longtime customer led to a re-negotiated contract worth $2.3 billion.

Indian military aviation, whose naval arm celebrates its golden jubilee this year, is undergoing a massive overhaul the scale and expense of which is beyond what most countries can afford. In the previous decade up to 400 aircraft, mostly Mig-21’s and Mig-23’s, were decommissioned to make way for 4th generation replacements on par with China’s own growing fleet of sleek new multi-role aircraft, like the J-10 and J-11.

Besides strengthening naval aviation, India’s planners are also keen on 126 advanced Rafale fighters from France—the winner of last year’s contested MMRCA competition—and maintaining a large fleet of Su-27 variants.

There is also a greater focus on a local aviation industry. Yet efforts by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to develop a multi-role fighter are taking too long.

Support aircraft for India’s substantial ground forces are another major priority. To date, ongoing controversies over light helicopters and heavy lift transports are snarling up the acquisition process.