India orders more MiG-29s as Tejas naval fighter slips further

Singapore
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India has purchased more RSK MiG-29s for deployment on aircraft carriers, as questions arise over the development of the Aeronautical Development Agency's Tejas naval fighter.

The Indian navy has ordered 29 MiG-29Ks to be operated from an aircraft carrier that New Delhi is in process of acquiring from Russia, the service says. The deal, which was signed during Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin's visit to India earlier this month, is in addition to the 16 MiG-29K/KUBs ordered in 2004.

First deliveries from the new order will be "in another couple of years", the navy says, adding that India is still receiving aircraft from its previous contract.

India and Russia also appear to have resolved a long-running dispute over the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov. The parties settled on a $2.33 billion price tag for the vessel during Putin's visit, and it should be delivered to India in 2012.

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Last year, India issued a request for information to Boeing, Dassault and Lockheed Martin for naval fighters, signalling India's desire to operate a third type in addition to the MiG-29 and Tejas.

Hindustan Aeronautics is developing a naval variant of Tejas, but Indian defence minister A K Antony told parliament that the programme - which should have achieved first flight last year - is lagging behind schedule. "Deficiencies have been detected in the airframe and another associated equipment of the aircraft," he says.

India's Defence Research and Development Organisation is dealing with various parties to rectify the deficiencies by making suitable modifications to the fighter's engine and, he adds.

The Tejas light combat aircraft should be inducted into Indian air force service in March 2011, following what Antony describes as "technical complexities and the denial of critical technologies".