A MiG-29SMT (Image © Russian Aircraft Corporation)

Indian Air Force MiG-29s best on the block

The Indian Air Force is well underway of getting the best MiG-29s – NATO-name Fulcrum – one can find. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), together with the Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC), are turning aging MiG-29Bs into modern multi-role fighters similar to the MiG-29SMTs the Russian Air Force boasts about.

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Three of six MiG-29s that were sent to Russia are back in India for some time now, featuring all the upgrades of the program. They have become MiG-29UPGs, sporting the new Zhuk-M2E radar made by Phazotron-NIIR, the OLS-UEM infrared search-and-track system (IRST) similar to the Indian Navy MiG-29Ks, thermal / TV / laser imaging made by Moscow-based NPK SPP, multi-functional full-colour LCDs in the cockpit, increased fuel capacity and an in-flight refuelling system. Moreover the aircraft feature the more powerful RD-33 series 3 turbo-jet engines.

New role
The new radar will increase the MiG-pilot’s radar view up till 200 nautical miles, giving him – the Indian Air Force doesn’t have female fighter pilots – the ability to track 60 targets simultaneously and adds terrain-following mode and ground-target acquisition. In other words: the MiG-jock turns from a sole fighter pilot to an asset that can be used for close air support and ground attack, meaning the Fulcrum crews need additional training for their new role.

Different from the Russian Air Force MiG-29SMTs the Indian most-modern Fulcrums are set to have non-Russian equipment, like a sat-nav system from French Sagem, a helmet-mounted targeting system from French Thales, an Indian indigenous electronic warfare suite and Israeli-made electronic counter measures. Added Indian systems come from HAL and Bharat Dynamics.

After the upgrades the Indian Air Force's MiG-29UPGs will have features somewhat similar to this Indian Navy MiG-29K (Image © Indian Navy)
After the upgrades the Indian Air Force’s MiG-29UPGs will have features somewhat similar to this Indian Navy MiG-29K (Image © Indian Navy)

Despite severe delays in the program Indian specialists present at the Sokol plant in Nizhny Novgorod in Russia continue to learn from the Russian counterparts. The new Indian multi-role fighter was nicely captured on camera by Sergey Lysenko. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is in full-throttle to do the majority of the Fulcrum-upgrades. HAL will bring no less than 63 of the Air Force jets up to MiG-29UPG standard and produce 120 RD-33 series 3 engines under license of the RAC.

The front-line MiG-29 fighter units will share a total of 54 MiG-29UPG amongst them, plus eight MiG-29UUPG two-seaters. The Fulcrums serve on four locations: with 8 Wing (47 and 223 Squadrons) at Adampur in the Punjab region facing Pakistan and China-controlled Tibet, with 33 Wing’s 28 Squadron at Jamnagar towards the Pakistani Karachi area and the Indian Ocean, and with 28 Squadron’s detachment at Leh in the Himalayas/Kashmir region in the far north. The seven remaining MiG-29UPGs will be held as attrition replacement or when the other aircraft will go in maintenance.

The more advanced Sukhoi Su-30MKI of the Indian Air Force (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Besides the MiG-29s, the Indian Air Force has the more advanced Sukhoi Su-30MKI (Image © Elmer van Hest)

MiG-29s fly in Indian Air Force service ever since 1987, when the first of 70 MiG-29B single-seaters and 10 MiG-29UB two-seaters arrived. Russia delivered the last of the B’s in 1994. Since then at least a dozen of the Fulcrums were lost in crashes and other accidents. After the upgrades the new MiG-29UPGs are planned to fly until at least after the year 2030.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger with source information provided by the Russian Aircraft Corporation/Mikoyan-Gurevich, HAL and the Indian Air Force

FORCE REPORT: the Air Forces of India

The new Indian MiG-29UPG is similar to this Russian MiG-29SMT (Image © Russian Aircraft Corporation)
The new Indian MiG-29UPG is similar to this Russian MiG-29SMT (Image © Russian Aircraft Corporation)