How capable is the Indian Navy’s MiG-29K during wartime?
Mig-29K is the frontline Carrier-Based Mutirole Fighter Aircraft designed and deployed pertaining to Indian Navy needs for a Carrier-Borne Multirole Aircraft which can be based upon the lone Aircraft Carrier operated by Navy : INS Vikramaditya. Mig-29K are a step ahead of the earlier variants of Mig-29 and even the Airforce Variant Mig-29UPG featuring improved airframe , weapons load , avionics , low Radar Cross Section , quadruple redundant Fly by Wire Flight Control System and folding wings.
Indian Navy Mig-29K adds a Zhuk-ME Radar as well as a RD-33MK Engine and were inducted first into the INAS 300 “Black Panther” to provide the Navy , an air dominance multi-role fighter with all desirable features of a state-of-art aircraft and avionics. However with time , many journals and media outlets have commented that Indian Navy is rather unhappy with its Mig-29K fleet , primarily due to its low reliability with engines and low availability.
If we dive deep into the capabilities of Mig-29K , then the Fulcrum far outclasses any Naval Fighter Aircraft in its immediate hostile neighborhood. Compared to Chinese J-15 Carrier Borne Naval Fighter Aircraft , Mig-29K is miles ahead off in capabilities. According to the Sina Military Network ( based in Beijing ) , J-15 has a crippling range and is impotent to take off with full combat weapons-load out. Its range with PL-8s and YJ-83K is just 125 kms since it can utilize its just 25% efficiently. Indian Navy Mig-29K on the other hand can easily take off with a full payload of 5.5 tonnes with fuel fuel and is perhaps the only 4+ Generation Fighter to take off a Ski Jump with such combat loads. In the Combat-Configuration , Mig-29K can easily carry any combination of Air-to-Air Missiles , Air-to-Ground Missiles , Anti-Ship Missiles and more.
For Air Dominance Role , Mig-29K can sport R-77 and R-73 Air-to-Air Missiles , which can target hostile targets at well beyond Visual Range and even Within Visual Range. For an active deterrent against Naval Hostiles , Kh-31 and Kh-35 Anti-Ship Missiles while for Suppression of Enemy Air Defense ( SEAD ) Operations , it can be armed with the deadly Kh-31P Anti-Radiation Missile. For Ground Attack roles , it can be armed with B8-M1 20-round 57mm rocket pods , Gravity Bombs like KAB-500KR Electro-Optical T.V-Guided Fire-and-Forget Bombs , Dumb Bombs , KAB-500OD and more.
Mig-29K also features advanced Electronic Warfare Equipment like TARANG Radar Warning Receiver and the powerful Elta ELL-8222 self protection jamming pod ( also installed on Su-30MKI ) which provides increased survivability in Hostile Airspace by jamming enemy assets and spoofing off enemy missiles.
The Mig-29 aircraft features an integrated fire control system comprising the aircraft radar, and Infrared Search and Track (IRST) device, and a helmet-mounted sight. It can accommodate medium range R-27 and short range R-73 air-to-air missiles, bombs, and rockets as well as a built-in 30mm GSh-301 gun. The Mig-29 is able to outperform any existing western aircraft in a short range engagement employing the combination of R-73 missile, helmet-mounted sight and IRST. The Mig-29 Fulcrum avionics are not as sophisticated as its NATO counterparts aircraft such as the Mirage 2000, F-15, F-16, and F/A-18. In the event of an air-to-air engagement at medium range NATO-aircraft shall have advantage over the Soviet Mig-29. However in a dogfight the Mig-29 will outperform NATO-aircraft easily. In the ground strike role the Mig-29 doesn’t match NATO-aircraft capabilities.
The MiG-29K has a combination of low-observable technology, advanced electronic-warfare capabilities, reduced ballistic vulnerability, and standoff weapons to enhance the fighter’s survivability. According to Mikoyan, extensive use of radar-absorbent materials reduce the MiG-29K’s radar signature 4–5 times over the basic MiG-29.The RD-33MK turbofan engine was also engineered to reduce infrared signature and improve aircraft camouflage.
Mig-29K features a MIL-STD-1553B Open Architecture System which allows for the installment of Indian , French and Russian avionics onboard the aircraft as desirable. It features a Franco-Russian LINS-100RS inertial system for Navigation while the pilot is equipped with a THALES TopSight Helmet Mounted Display System. The Russian Zhuk-ME radar can detect a 5 metre square target upto 120 km while it can track 10 and attack 4 at a time. The OLS-UE Optical Location Station allows for targeting aerial and ground targets based upon their Infra-Red Signature with an all-round coverage. Mig-29K can also carry Electronic Counter Measures pod , to spoof off enemy targets , built into upper surface of main wings.
During a war-time , Mig-29K can be fielded by Indian Navy for Area Denial and Airspace Denial Operations , complemented by Air Force Assets like AWACS and Frontline Fighters. Its combination of Air-to-Air Missiles , Anti-Ship Missiles and Ground Attack Missiles are highly effective in keeping a check on the enemy assets. In hostile airspace , the advanced Electronic Warfare Equipments onboard Mig-29K will play an effective role in maintaining the cover along with the low Radar Cross Section and lesser Infrared Signature. Mig-29K in future will be further complemented by an Omnirole Fighter , since Indian Navy has issued a tender for 57 Carrier-Borne Fighters , though the Mig-legacy with the Navy does not seem to end quite so soon.
Improved airframe boosts of Special Radar absorbent material (RAM) along with enhanced range. Mig-29K comes with additional fuel tanks which have been accommodated in dorsal spine and LERX increasing its fuel-carrying capacity by 50% when compared to older Mig-29A variants which further improves with drop tanks and Air-to-Air refueling capability with added option of center line buddy refueling tank.