India receives five more MiG-29K/KUBs

Singapore
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India has taken delivery of five RSK MiG-29K/KUB naval fighters, with the nation's second aircraft carrier possibly to enter service in 18 months.

Four of the aircraft are single-seat MiG-29Ks and one a twin-seat MiG-29KUB, the Indian navy said.

This is the third batch of MiG-29s to be delivered under a 2004 deal for 12 MiG-29Ks and four MiG-29KUBs, and brings the number of aircraft received to 11. The first batch, comprising two MiG-29Ks and two MiG-29KUBs, was inducted in 2009, while a second batch of one each was received in late 2010.

The navy also said that its second carrier is scheduled to enter service at the end of 2012. Formerly the Russian Kiev-class carrier Adm Gorshkov, the ship, to be renamed the INS Vikramaditya, is being refitted as a short take-off but arrested recovery carrier in Ukraine. The work will see the weapons and guns removed from the ship's bow and replaced with a ski-ramp to support flight operations.

The Gorshkov deal was signed in 2004, but long-running disputes about costs delayed work on the vessel. Finally, in March 2010, India and Russia agreed on a $2.3 billion price tag for the ship during a visit to India by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The visit also saw India buy an additional 29 MiG-29Ks.

At present India's only operational carrier is the INS Viraat. The navy operates British Aerospace Sea Harrier FRS51 fighters from the ageing ship, which was launched for the UK in 1953. The Viraat underwent a major refit between August 2008 and November 2009, and the navy plans for her to serve until 2020. "Just under 15" Sea Harriers are still operational, the navy said.

The MiG-29 will eventually share the Vikramaditya's deck with the naval variant of the Aeronautical Development Agency's Tejas light combat aircraft. The naval Tejas was rolled out in July 2010, and Indian media reports suggest it could have its first flight during July.

India could also be interested in other naval types. In 2009 it issued a request for information for new naval fighters to operate from the two Vikrant-class indigenous carriers that could enter service at the end of this decade.

Industry sources said Boeing, Dassault and Lockheed Martin received the RFI. The request did not mention the number of aircraft required, but sought to learn about available technologies with the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Rafale and F-35 Lightning II.

Of the three aircraft, the Rafale has been shortlisted with the Eurofighter Typhoon in India's medium multi-role combat aircraft competition, from which the Super Hornet was eliminated. At the Aero India show in Bangalore in February, Eurofighter showed a video of conceptual naval Typhoon.

Saab, whose Gripen NG was also eliminated from the MMRCA competition, is also developing a Sea Gripen concept. The Swedish firm has said that it sees India as a possible future customer for the proposed variant.