UPDATED 19 April 2016 | In an interesting turn of events Ukraine has now said it would love to buy the 12 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 Fishbeds back that were recently refurbished and modernized in Odesa, Ukraine.
Update 19 April | Sources in Croatia now claim that several MiG-21s delivered by Ukraine are not the same aircraft Croatia thought it purchased earlier. Identification plates apparently show the aircraft to be five years older than the jets originally offered by Kiev.
The move from Kiev comes after Croatian radio reported an investigation into the finances behind the deal of 14 million euros. Some say fraud and bribing took place, since the Ukrainian offer was 5 million euros cheaper than of the cheapest other bidder.
“We are at war, so it is good to have great aircraft,” an Ukrainian official was quoted referring to the conflict in the east of the country with pro-Russian rebel forces supported by the regular Russian military.
Sending back the MiG-21s seems no option for Croatia however. The dozen Fishbeds flying from Zagreb/Pleso Airbase are the only fast combat asset the Balkan country has and are essential. Not only for the country’s air defence and combat air support to ground forces, but also to fulfill commitments to NATO of which Croatia has been a member since 2009.
On paper the Indian Air Force has roughly 700 fighter and strike jets, but in reality slightly only about half are operational raising concern about how effective the military of the 2nd largest population in the world is being protected.
The average aircraft availability measured over the entire year is about 50 to 55 percent, Defence officials have admitted towards the parliamentary committee on defence matters. About 20 percent of those jets are simply grounded because of the lack of spare parts, but Indian Air Force sources say that concerns mostly the older Soviet-era jets like the approx. 120 MiG-21 Bisons, 80 MiG-27 Bahadurs and 130 to 135 SEPECAT Shamshers (Jaguars).
The government watchdog authority also slashed the reputation of the Air Force’s three Ilyushin/Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft. Lack of trained aircrew, lack of bases to operate from, lack of funds and resources for the aircraft maintenance have seriously hampered the effectiveness of the airborne radar and intelligence gathering platforms.
The Indian Navy MiG-29K shipborne fighter fleet is getting closer to completion. Russian Aircraft Corporation said another four will be delivered before 2016 starts.
On 11 December 2015 two Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29K (NATO-reporting name “Fulcrum”) made their way to the Indian Navy, built by the Russian Aircraft Corporation. The aircraft form the main element of the combat air wing of the Indian Navy aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya and from 2018 also of the new INS Vikrant.
India ordered a total of 45 MiG-29Ks, sixteen in a contract from 2004 followed by a second deal for 29 aircraft in 2010. The Russian Navy operates the type as well.
Indian MiG-29K squadrons
In the end the Indian Navy will form four squadrons with its Fulcrums: the first for the Vikramaditya, the second shore-based in Goa, the third shore-based at Dega (Vizag) and the fourth for the Vikrant. The shore-based units will rotate with the shipborne ones or may even be deployed together at sea.
INS Vikrant Carrier Air Wing
The INS Vikrant is the first aircraft carrier ever built in India. The gas turbine powered vessel is set to be able to operate 20 MiG-29Ks plus 15 indigenous HAL Tejas attack and close air support aircraft. The combat element of the carrier air wing will be supported by a pair of Kamov Ka-31 (“Helix”), two Westland Sea Kings and 2 HAL Dhruv utility helicopters.
Bulgaria finally made a deal with Poland for the maintenance and repair of its Soviet-made Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29s, to keep the air-defence fighter fleet airborne. We reported on the agreement already in February this year.
According to Bulgarian and Polish sources the deal includes a look at the engines. However, fancy upgrades like on the Polish Air Force MiG-29s with a full structural overhaul, a multi-function display, GPS navigation, new radios, a new mission computer and a digital video recorder are not included.
The Belarusian Air Force started to upgrade almost its entire fleet of aircraft. The most ambitious part: to replace the 24 older MiG-29s “Fulcrum” combat jets with state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-30SM “Flanker” aircraft between 2020 and 2030.
During a meeting with journalist from Belarusian state press agency BelTA Major-General Oleg Dvigalev, Chief of Staff of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence, said that his people already test-flew the Su-30SM during the recent MAKS International Airshow in Moscow.
Although the general did not say how many Flankers he would like the buy, we at Airheadsfly.com believe that the 13 MiG-29s upgraded to BM standard in the early 2000s will stay a bit longer, while up to 18 Su-30SMs will be purchased. The number is based on earlier statements by the Belarusian military leadership.
Meanwhile the country’s rotary wing of 20 Mil Mi-35 attack helicopters and 5 Mi-26 heavy-lift choppers is expecting a boost with the arrival of 12 Mi-8MTV-5 choppers, the first six in 2016 and the second batch in 2017. They are an upgraded version of the 18 to 25 Mi-8/Mi-17s the Belarusian Air Force has already on strength and are expected to replace some of them.
Airlift and attack
One of the two Ilyushin IL-76 strategic airlifters is currently being brought back to airworthy status, while the second batch of four Yakovlev Yak-130 light attack and advanced jet trainers has been ordered some time ago. The backbone of the Belarusian Air Force’s ground attack capacity, between 40 and 68 operational Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” jets, will remain in service – as well as two to four Antonov An-26 transport aircraft and a handful of Mil Mi-2 utility helicopters.