India Worried After Russia Grounds MiG-29s

March 20th, 2009  

Topic: India Worried After Russia Grounds MiG-29s

India Worried After Russia Grounds MiG-29s

By vivek raghuvanshi
Published: 18 Mar 18:21 EDT (22:21 GMT)

NEW DELHI - Russia's decision to ground a large portion of its MiG-29 fighters is reverberating in India, where Defence Ministry sources say they are worried about the timely delivery of MiG-29K aircraft on order for the Navy and Air Force.
Sources also say the grounding could hurt the chances for the derivative MiG-35 in India's $10 billion Combat Aircraft order.
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Indian Air Force (IAF) officials say they won't ground their 60 MiG-29s. The force is short of aircraft, fielding just 31 18-plane squadrons instead of the sanctioned 39.5 and desired 45 units.
Russian Air Force officials grounded their 200 MiG-29s after two crashes last year. Many have been returned to flight, but 90 will remain out of action until they can be upgraded.
The crashes may also affect talks, said to be near completion, between India and Russia for the purchase of more MiG-29Ks, ministry sources said. The Indian Navy ordered 16 in 2004 for $640 million.
The MiG-35 is also competing for the IAF's $10 billion order of 126 combat aircraft against the Lockheed Martin F-16, Boeing Hornet, Dassault Rafael, EADS Eurofighter and Saab Gripen.
A senior IAF official said the MiG-35 is structurally identical to the MiG-29 SMT, which includes advanced avionics, radar and enlarged dorsal spine for more fuel. But another IAF official said the MiG-35 is better than its predecessor and comparable to Eurofighter and the F-18.
India was the first, and today remains the largest, foreign operator of the MiG-29. Part of the Russian sales pitch is that it ensures commonality with existing planes.
Indian Defence Ministry sources said the grounding might hurt the MiG-35's chances, depending on what government holds power after India's May 16 general elections.
Sharad Deshpande, a retired Indian Air Force air marshal, said, "The IAF should be in close contact with the Russian design and maintenance experts and would have obtained details of the structural defects/problems experienced by the Russian Air Force. Based on the inputs available, the IAF would have started a thorough inspection of their MiG-29 fleet and taken requisite remedial actions. Under no circumstances would they clear MiG-29 for flying if there is any question mark on its structural integrity and flight safety parameters."
Defense analyst Mahindra Choudhary said the IAF and Navy should not buy the MiG-29 derivative, which may be increasingly hard to maintain.


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