The Indian navy is accepting the delivery of five new MIG-29K (NATO designation Fulcrum D) from Russia’s MIG Aircraft Corporation. The new aircraft will join the newly formed “Black Panthers” Squadron already equipped with 4 previously delivered MIG-29K. The squadron is set to operate in the Indian’s navy latest aircraft carrier also acquired from Russia in a 2004 deal. The delivery by Russia of the Kiev-class Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier rechristened INS Vikramaditya with the Indian navy, would allow the new carrier still currently undergoing refurbishing and modification work scheduled until 2012 to handle 12 single seat MIG-29K and 4 two-seat MIG-29UBK aircraft. India along with Russia would at this point be the only two operators of the MIG-29 naval variant.
The MIG-29K provides undercarriage structural reinforcements to the basic MIG-29 airframe satisfying the rigorous demands of carrier and sea-based operation. This includes stronger landing gear units, arrestor hook, corrosion prevention/protection, reinforced wings leading edge root extensions now also carrying additional fuel along with the folding wings necessary to squeeze more planes on deck. The aircraft which already benefits from outstanding aerodynamic features has also received a larger and stronger wing also contributing to the increase in fuel and payload capacity. The overall structural reinforcements account for most of the airframe now claiming a 6,000 hours flying life operating thoughout a 30-40 years period.
The MIG-29K and its two-seat MIG-29UBK have retained the high agility and extreme maneuverability signature of the basic MIG-29, thanks in part to the wings leading edge root extensions/blended wing body design. Pilots can now exploit the new 4-channel digital fly by wire system as well as the much improved Klimov RD33MK engines, each providing thrust in the 19,900 lbs (9,000 kg) class improving by 700 lbs the thrust performance of the RD-33 series 3 found on the MIG-29SMT. Russian weapon export agency Rosoboronexport claims the new engines are now equipped with improved combustion chamber that eliminates the emission of the smoke trail that previously gave away the aircraft position from afar. The aircraft now weighs in at a maximum take off weight of 54,000 lbs (24,500 kg) offering 30% additional payload to 14,350 lbs (6,500 kg) and can operate out to a range of 3,700 miles (6,000 km) with 3 external fuel tanks and in-flight refueling typically from Il-78 Midas Tanker or with another MIG-29 equipped with the UPAZ hose-drogue ‘buddy’ kit.
The Zhuk-ME Scanned Array multifunction look up/down radar provides algorithm processing and identification of target detected at ranges of up to 74 miles (120km) and 31 miles (50km) respectively in the frontal and rear hemispherical regions of the aircraft in air-to-air mode. The radar is designed to simultaneously track up to 10 threats and engage 4 targets. In air-to-ground role a tank can be detected at 15 miles (25km) while a destroyer can be detected at up to 186 miles (300km) thanks to a ground mapping resolution of 10ftx10ft.
Weapons are now attached to 8 external stations instead of 7 and include a variety of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons for day/night and all weather delivery. The Indian navy would extract high value in air-to-air combat capabilities from the Zhuk-ME radar guiding the R-73E and RW-AE missiles. The air-to-surface precision mission capabilities revolve around the KAB-500Kr guided bomb as well as the Kh-35E and Kh-31A anti-ship missiles along with the Kh-31P anti-radiation missile. The GSh301 gun remains to provide universal tactical flexibility.
Pilots can benefit from Hands On Throttle And Sticks (HOTAS) control operation. The aircraft open architecture avionics can be integrated to using the MIL-STD-1553B databus which allows India to operate western built avionics subsystems such as the french Sagem Sigma95N GPS/Glonass triple gyro INS navigation suite found on Rafale and Samtel Thales Avionics built Topsight E Helmet Mounted Display HMD found on Mirage 2000 (also one of India proven aircraft for all weather precision strike and air superiority). The Helmet Mounted Display are known to offer high off-boresight-angle Infra Red missile targeting capability in concert with the aircraft Infra Red Search and Track (IRST) sensor during dog fights. The avionics and mission system integration is presented to the pilot via three Liquid Crystal Multi Function Displays plus another two in the back seat on the MIG29-SUB two-seat version.
In March 2010, Russia and India signed another $1.5 billion contract for the purchase of 29 additional MiG-29K Fulcrum-D carrier-based fighter jets.