Ahead of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s visit to Moscow, Russia has offered 21 MiG-29s to the Indian Air Force which is in desperate need of fighter planes. The offer has just come and a delegation from Moscow is in town for discussions and the Russians are hoping that the offer can be taken up during the Defence Minister’s visit. At this point, the costs and other parts of the deal, including lifetime maintenance costs are yet to be discussed. The offer merits serious discussion, top government sources said, for three major reasons:
1. The MiG-29 is already in service with the IAF, meaning that pilots are familiar with it. The three squadrons of the fighter will be operational for a decade.
2. The IAF is looking at a serious fighter-crunch in the coming years. The IAF is projecting a demand for around 40 fighter squadrons and currently, unless new planes are bought, the numbers could drop from the current 32 to 29 in 2027 and less in the 2030s. This is despite the 36 Rafale fighters that the Modi government has bought and the 6 squadrons of the indigenous Tejas or Light Combat Aircraft that the IAF will have by 2032.
3. While the MiG-29 was first readied in the 1980s, it is still a fighter worth having. And the purchase costs are not likely to be prohibitive.
During the visit, the overhaul of the MiG-29s with the IAF could come up.
Currently, the IAF’s fighter strength includes 6 squadrons of the Anglo-French Jaguar, three squadrons of the Mig-29, three squadrons of the Mirage-2000, 12 squadrons of the Sukhoi-30MKI, two squadrons of the MiG-27 and 11 squadrons of the various kinds of MiG-21s, including the revamped Bisons. By 2022, however, only one of these MiG-21 squadrons will be left.
Facing India are about 20 squadrons of Pakistani air force fighters and 80+ squadrons of the Chinese fighters, including some top-of-the-line fighters. While the IAF is pitching for 40 plus squadrons, the presence of firepower in the form of Agni, Prithvi and Brahmos missiles and also, airborne warning and control (AWACS) eye-in-the-sky planes, and air to air refueling planes (both are force multipliers), it could manage with fewer, according to experts.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman leaves for Russia on April 2. She will go with a new framework agreement suggested by India that could change ties between the two countries. India has suggested a long term agreement between the two countries. India will give Russia a ten-year contract to make spares, upgrade weapon systems but the catch is that the spares and upgradation work should be made in India, this is what India wants.
This will allow Russia to make all weapon system spares whether it is the Sukhoi fighter, the mi helicopter, the Kamov helicopter, the T-90 tank, artillery, submarine and frigate spares in India. It deal could give Russia about 500-crore rupees in business annually. This issue will be discussed during the defence minister’s visit.
Several defence deals are up for discussions. India has decided to buy 4 frigates for the Navy. The decision for two bought outright has been taken. Financial discussions for the other two be made in India are going on. There will be discussions on increasing the indigenous content in the Kamov helicopters to be made in India. The price negotiations for the S-400 anti aircraft and anti-missile system are currently going on and would reflect in the meetings.