Indian Air Force, which is facing an acute shortage of combat aircraft, 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, government sources said.
This would come to Rs 285 crore per jet that would include weapon systems, training and other supporting equipment required for a new squadron. The negotiations are being carried out under the government-to-government pact with Russia.
The MiG 29s, if procured, will cost significantly lesser than the Rafale fighter jets that have been contracted at over Rs 1,611 crore per jet. However, the fighters are of an older generation and will not be produced afresh.
Sources said the fighters have been lying mothballed and the plan is to have them upgraded to the latest standard that would include air-to-ground capabilities, extended range and a new avionics and weapons package. “A very reasonable price has been shared and we are considering and evaluating the offer. A bilateral meeting was held last month,” sources told ET.
The talks have gained strength as the Air Force faces a depleting fighter squadron strength that has now dwindled to just 31 against the sanctioned strength of 42. Even with the 36 Rafale jets on order, the strength is expected to nosedive over the next three years as several legacy MiG 21 and 27 squadrons go offline.
The Air Force currently operates three squadrons of the Russian fighter jets that are being upgraded in-house at its Base Repair Depot. While the multi-role jets have been operating since the 1980s, the air force had signed a Rs 3,850 crore deal in 2008 to upgrade the entire fleet and give it a life extension.
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”.
The Indian Navy too operates the naval version of the MiG 29, with the jets being the primary weapon of the INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier. The navy has a total of 45 of the MiG 29K/KUB fighters in service, the last of which were ordered in 2010.