By Rohit Srivastava
Why not go for MiG-35?
By Rohit Srivastava
Off late, Indian media has been reporting stories on the delays in completion of Indian Air Force’s (IAF) fighter upgrade and procurement programme. According to reports, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar upgrade are years behind their schedule. And so is the case with Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) procurement. On the other hand, Jaguar re-engining is under deliberation for over a decade but is still at the cost negotiation stage.
Reportedly, in the next couple of years, the combat squadron strength of IAF is expected to fall to 26 from currently active 30 squadrons. The sanctioned fighter strength of IAF is 42 squadrons. India, in the coming years, is expected to receive two squadrons of Rafale fighters from France and six squadrons of homegrown LCA fighters.
The whole capability building calculation of IAF is based on the induction of 114 medium fighter procurement programme. But, the programme is in limbo since last year when the Request For Information was sent out to global manufacturers which saw responses from all of the previous contenders of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft(MMRCA). As the procurement has been marked for execution under the Strategic Partnership Model, no work on the down selection of the Indian partner has begun. Therefore, one can say that the procurement process (in real terms) has not even started. And if one goes by the history of defence procurement, under no circumstances, one can expect the signing of the contract within five years.
With brewing Rafale controversy and an impending election, one can only hope things do not get derailed further. But, things are bound to get delayed. This will delay the whole procurement even further, putting IAF in a tight spot.
More often than not, Government to Government (G to G) agreements has bailed India out of such tight positions. As we have seen in the past, for big-ticket strategic deals, India has preferred G to G deals over the commercial competition. Why not use it again?
But G to G deals are criticised as they do not provide bargaining chip to the government. But this argument is valid only when the government does not have time in its hand. Since India is in need of aircraft and does not have much time in hand, it must plan the procurement in such a way that it IAF gets a good aircraft without spending a lot of money. India should not pay a huge amount of money for some extra capability while compromising in the number of aircraft. Every air force wants best but budgetary limitations have to be respected. India cannot afford another Rafale deal.
India needs numbers.
While selecting, India also needs to look at the commonality with existing fighters, so that the less investment is required for training, inventory and maintenance infrastructure. These are recurring expenditure and therefore these should be kept to as low as possible.
If one includes LCA and Rafale, IAF will have eight different kinds of fighter aircraft in its inventory, namely, Mirage 2000, Su-30, SPEECAT Jaguar, MiG-21, MiG-29, MiG-27. The design philosophy behind multi-role fighters is that same aircraft can do multiple jobs and therefore air forces can let go of role-specific aircraft like bombers, air superiority aircraft etc. But over the years, all thanks to emergency purchases, the number of aircraft in IAF has gone up and is expected to go further.
The idea should be to not add another new aircraft to the inventory.
If one goes by the above logic then the Russian MiG-35, upgraded version of MiG-29, suits the IAF bill perfectly. India has been successfully operating three squadrons of MiG-29 for last three decades. After upgradation of MiG-29 to MiG-29 UPG, they are being deployed in the active duty.
Along with the three IAF squadrons, Indian Navy also operates 45 MiG-29 K (carrier-borne fighters). The existence of large numbers of aircraft in Indian inventory will not put an extra burden of creating training infrastructure, inventory management and other associated infrastructure.
Now coming to the cost, if one takes a cue from Rafale controversy, beyond certain point money paid for extra capability becomes a handicap. One has to look at whether the extra amount being paid for extra capability is worth it? Why not buy more aircraft for the same amount?
In the air war, a small number of superior aircraft can achieve air supremacy against less capable adversary aircraft but to maintain air superiority large numbers of aircraft are required. With cost hovering around Rs 300 (MiG-35 is around one and a half times less expensive than the latest Sukhois) allows India to buy them in large number without putting much pressure on exchequers. With local production, the exact money flowing out of the country will reduce further.
The MiG-35 can be considered as one generation ahead of MiG-29 which had some limitations like lesser payload, the radius of operation, less capable radars and electronic warfare capabilities. The aircraft designers have overcome these limitations and have come up with MiG-35, a top-of-the-line fourth-generation fighter. (for details see below)
The Russian MiG-35 plant has an annual capacity of 35 aircraft per year, India can assume the full delivery of 100 aircraft in around five to six years.
This is an easy way out of a difficult situation. India can save a lot of money and effort and which can be invested in developing the next generation aircraft.
Capability (Source- manufacturer)
The MiG-35/MiG-35D fighters structure is based upon the following achievements obtained on the MiG-29K/KUB, MiG-29M/M2 aircraft:
– increased weapons load stored at nine external stations;
– increased fuel capacity, in-flight refueling and possibility of using as a tanker;
– airframe & main systems anti-corrosion protection technology which meets the standards developed for carrier-based aircraft thus simplifying fighters operation in tropical weather conditions;
– significantly reduced radar signature;
– three channel fly-by-wire control system with quadruple redundancy.
In the course of the MiG-35 aircraft development the most attention was paid to operational characteristics improvement:
– reliability of aircraft, engines and avionics is significantly increased;
– lifetime and service life are extended;
– mean time between overhauls (MTBO) of engines is increased;
– the MiG-35 aircraft flight hour cost is almost 2.5 times lower than those of the MiG-29 fighter;
– the MiG-35 aircraft is intended for the on-condition maintenance.
The complex of technical and technological solutions has been developed for the MiG-35/MiG-35D aircraft which provides for independent operation, like airborne oxygen generation plant.
The power plant includes two engines RD-33MK with increased thrust power, equipped with smokeless combustion chamber and new electronic control system (of FADEC type). Engines are of the module structure and have increased reliability and service life.
Upon customer request the fighters can be equipped with "all aspect" thrust vectored RD-33MK engines ensuring the aircraft superiority in the maneuvering dogfight. The power plant of two thrust vectored engines was tested on the super-maneuverable prototype-aircraft MiG-29M OVT.
The airborne avionics of the MiG-35/MiG-35D aircraft is developed on the basis of the new generation technologies.
The multi-role radar with active phased array provides for advantage over the competitors due to the following factors:
– extended range of operating frequencies;
– increased quantity of detected, tracked and attacked targets;
– possibility of simultaneous attack of air and ground targets;
– extended detection range;
– enhanced resolution in the surface mapping mode;
– high jamming protection and survivability.
The IRST system with infra-red, TV and laser sighting equipment has been developed using the space technologies which were not applied previously in aviation. The system distinctive features are the increased range, detection, tracking, identification and lock-on of air, ground/surface targets in the forward and rear hemispheres, at day and night measuring the distance with laser range-finder as well as the formation of target designation and laser illumination of ground targets. The IRST system and new helmet-mounted target designation system are integrated into the armament control system. In addition to the built-in IRST system the MiG-35 aircraft is equipped with a podded one.
– radio electronic reconnaissance and electronic counter measures;
– optronic systems for detection of attacking missiles and laser emission;
– decoy dispensers to counteract the enemy in the radar and infrared ranges.
In addition to the "A-A" and "A-S" class weapons applied on the MiG-29K/KUB and MiG-29M/M2 aircraft the advanced aircraft armament, which have not been offered earlier for export, is being included into the MiG-35/MiG-35D aircraft weapons. The long range weapons capable to attack targets without approaching the air defence zone are among them.