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Why IAF still heavily relies on MiG-29 despite it being an old fighter?

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New Delhi, July 30: Faced with the problem of acute shortage of combat aircraft, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking at many options to tackle this problem. In terms of new planes, first Rafale will be delivered by September this year, and by 2022, all 36 could be delivered. That is approximately two squadrons. But considering the number of fighters that are set to retire by 2025, 36 is a small number.

In the IAF, each fighter squadron is expected to hold 18 fully operational planes plus two trainers. Some of the squadrons - especially those of the older generation MiGs - are operating with much lesser number of aircrafts.

Why IAF still heavily relies on MiG-29 despite it being an old fighter?

Tejas was supposed to have played a key role in IAF's scheme things. It was thought that India's requirement for single engine fighters could be met with LCA Tejas. But due to multiple problems encountered during Tejas's development and HAL's failure to meet the delivery deadlines, IAF was forced to look at other foreign aircrafts.

LCA Tejas: Importance and expectations

Reports say that Tejas Fighter should have replaced Mig-21 fleet by now. Before the induction of the Su-30 MKI aircraft, Mig-21 was the frontline fighter with the Mig-29. At present, the problem is that the production speed of Tejas is just too slow. Given this, India will have to look to buy fighters from foreign manufacturers.

Some 120-odd MiG-21s continue to be in service. These will be retired in phases till 2021-2022. The IAF will phase out nine squadrons of the MiG-21 and 2 MiG-27 over the next 5 years. Two squadrons of Rafale fighters, two of the LCA Tejas and two more Sukhoi-30MKI are to be added by then, making the number of 28 squadrons by 2022, a report published in The Tribune said.

According to the information available in the public domain, the IAF currently has around eleven squadrons of the Su-30MKI, three each of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000, six of the Jaguar and six of the MiG-21. The MiG-27 and the MiG-21 are one of the the oldest in the IAF inventory. The MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons have been in decline and the MiG-23 has been phased out completely. The IAF will phase out nine squadrons of the MiG-21 and 2 MiG-27 over the next 5 years.

MiG-29- A Formidable fighter:

However, another MiG that IAF operates is MiG-29, and that is still considered a formidable fighter. MiG-29 has gained in strength and ferocity after the latest upgrade, giving the Air Force that has been battling a shortage of warplanes a much-needed boost, a PTI report said.

IAF is in advance talks with Russia for an urgent procurement of MiG 29 fighters that can be delivered at a relatively short notice. The plan to acquire 21 additional aircraft to make a new squadron of MiG 29 jets that were first purchased in the 1980s has been discussed in detail last month and is expected to cost the Indian exchequer less than Rs 6,000 crore. The MiG 29s, if procured, will cost significantly lesser than the Rafale fighter jets.

Indian Air Force's MiG-21 woes: What are the possible replacement options?

According to the defence ministry, the upgraded aircraft are now being used for routine operations in frontline squadrons and are equipped with the "state-of-the-art avionics, an array of smart air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons and in-flight refuelling".

IAF will get the MiG-29 fighters upgraded to the latest standards by Russia, and get them at virtually throwaway prices, reportedly Rs 200 crore per piece. They will augment the 62 MiG-29 fighters that are in the IAF's fleet which are also being upgraded to give them an all-weather multi-role capability. In fact, there are reportedly 15 more such aircraft.

The upgrade with new weapons and avionics is aimed at turning the twin-engine MiG-29 from an air defence fighterfighter into a far more lethal all-weather multi-role fighter into a far more lethal all-weather multi-role fighter.

In 2018, the upgraded MiG-29 showcased its combat capabilities at Admapur Air Force Station. The strategically important Adampur Air Force Station, 100 km from Pakistan and 250 km from the border with China, is now home to the upgraded MiG-29s. The Air Force has three squadrons of MiG-29s, two of them at Adampur Air Force Station. One squadron comprises 16-18 aircraft.

The MiG-29's good operational record prompted India to sign a deal with Russia between 2005-2006 to upgrade all 62 jets for over $900 million. The aircraft is effectively 33 years old and still remain an effective weapons platform to this day.

Indian review of the MIG-29 does show that the jet structures is still sound and worthwhile the upgrades it needs to performance for another 10-15 years, said a report published in defenceupdates.in. The fighter aircraft, which played a crucial role in India's victory in the 1999 Kargil war, now is capable of refueling mid-air, lauch multi-dimensional attacks and is now compatible with the latest missile, said Flight Lieutenant Karan Kohli told PTI.

MiG-29 may continue to remain good for another 10-15 years, but the bigger problem at hand for India is depleting squadron strength in the IAF. With barely 32 squadrons of fighter aircraft currently in inventory, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is staring at a massive problem. The IAF should ideally have a strength of 42 combat squadrons to be fully prepared for a two-front war.

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