The withdrawal from service of 90 MiG-29 (NATO reporting name: Fulcrum) aircraft by the Russian Air Force has given cause for concern the Indian armed forces, although the Indian Air Force (IAF) Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major has assured that the IAF’s fleet of MiG-29s are safe. According to the news agency PTI, the air chief said, “I have read the report. But you must understand that MiG-29s are of various series. I don’t know the details of what series of aircraft the Russians are talking about. We had carried out checks with our aircraft and we have no problem with them.”
But IAF sources indicated that they have many questions for the Russians after the grounding of their aircraft. “We will ask them about it so that if these issues affect us, we will assess what we need to do,” said one IAF officer, adding, “The other concern is also that with Russia now focused on repairing 90 of its MiG-29s, there might be delays in the upgrades of IAF MiG-29s, not to mention issues about the quality of the upgrades.”
The IAF has three squadrons of around 60 MiG-29s which are being upgraded by Russia to extend their life by another 15-20 years, of which, six IAF MiG-29s are already in Russia being upgraded under and over $ 900 million contract. The IAF is already reported to be under strength with just 32 of 39.5 sanctioned squadrons actually operational.
Russian news agency Interfax reported that Russian Air Force to have grounded almost 30 per cent of its around-300 MiG-29 fighter fleet. “About 90 aircraft out of 200 tested after the crash of MiG-29 fighter last December have been grounded,” said Russian Air Force spokesman Col Vladimir Dirk according to Interfax, who added, “More aircraft could be grounded on completion of the aircrash probe which followed two crashes last year.”
But the Indian Navy is also acquiring 16 MiG-29Ks (naval variant) along with the aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov in the $1.5 billion package deal for which Russia is now asking for an additional $ 2 billion. The navy is also now to buy an additional 29 MiG-29Ks, to cater for both INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov) as well as the INS Vikrant.
A source in the Indian Navy told StratPost, “Certainly this concerns us. We will be asking for a full report from the Russians about their investigations. See we haven’t received the aircraft yet, so we’re going to satisfy ourselves about the quality first. We’re also concerned about delays in the delivery schedule, considering the Russians might have their hands full now, with repairing their own aircraft.”
StratPost had confirmed the grounding for checks of Russian Air Force MiG-29s last month after a MIG-29 crashed in December in Eastern Siberia due to disintegration of its fin during a training sortie killing its pilot.
According to Ria Novosti, many of the Russian MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter planes grounded after last December’s crash have shown signs of metal corrosion. Out of some 200 aircraft inspected almost half have been withdrawn from service for repairs. Ria Novosti quoted Lt. Gen. Sergei Bainetov, head of flight security at the Russian Air Force, as saying that even new aircraft which had clocked no more than 150 flight hours showed signs of metal corrosion in their tail sections.
The December crash was the second in East Siberia involving a MiG-29 fighter in less than two months. In mid-October, a MiG-29 crashed 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the Domna airfield in the Chita Region during a training flight. The pilot ejected safely. Last year, two Russian Air Force MiG-29 fighters were involved in a mid-air collision over the Rostov Region. Both pilots ejected safely.
Significantly, Algeria had returned 15 MiG-29s to Russia last year siting quality concerns, a claim Russia had rubbished. Russia has proposed the MiG-35 for the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft order for the IAF.