India could place a follow-up order for more RSK MiG-29K naval fighters after inducting its first four examples in India later this year.
New Delhi took delivery of four aircraft - two MiG-29Ks and two MiG-29KUBs - in February and these were used to train Indian pilots in Russia. The first aircraft is likely to be delivered to the naval base in Goa in November, say industry sources.
These are part of a 2004 order for 12 MiG-29Ks and four MiG-29KUB fighters that was incorporated into a deal for the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov.
The defence ministry is in talks with Russia for the purchase of an additional 29 MiG-29Ks, and this is being considered by an Indian cabinet-level committee, say industry sources.
© Vladimir Karnozov
The order is likely to be worth around $1.1 billion and fits in with the navy's plan to have a combination of high and medium fighters for its air combat capabilities.
"The navy and defence ministry wanted to wait until the final carrier deck tests had been conducted on the initial aircraft. Officials had been in Russia assessing the MiG-29's performance and they are satisfied that it meets India's requirements," says an industry source.
The MiG-29s will operate in tandem with the naval variant of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, which is still under development.
The naval Tejas received a boost in September after the Indian navy agreed to order six aircraft to kick-start its development.
The fighters will operate off an indigenous aircraft carrier that is being developed. It is expected that the first naval LCA will enter service in 2014, when the aircraft carrier is also projected to be ready.
A major hurdle will be the selection of an engine. The Aeronautical Development Agency, which is developing the fighter, is evaluating the General Electric F414 and Eurojet EJ200 engines for the air force Tejas aircraft, but the new powerplants are not likely to be available until 2013 at the earliest. That leaves a very short time frame for them to be evaluated for a naval variant, given that the priority is for the air force aircraft, say the sources.
The ADA is also in the process of selecting a Western partner to help with the development of a naval LCA. EADS was picked earlier to help with the certification and flight tests of the air force variants.