Russia uses the MAKS Air show at Zhukovsky (near Moscow) to showcase its strides in military and civil aviation. In the recent past the breathtaking super maneuverable Su-27 has consistently stolen the limelight at air shows in Zhukovsky, and even elsewhere in the world. However, this year the multi-role thrust vectoring Su-27SKM will be in for some competition from the similarly vectored thrust super maneuverable MiG-29OVT.
The Russians had tried to fit the MiG-29 with controlled thrust vector engines in 1999 without success. They recently resumed their effort and seem to have met with success. The MiG-29 OVT is currently undergoing flight trials and reportedly showing great promise.
It will be interesting to see what kind of an impression the MiG-29 OVT makes with IAF officials. The MiG-29 is already the most agile fighter that the IAF is looking at in its quest for 126 MRCAs.
The Baaz gets better
Recent improvements in the range, weapon payload and radar capability of the aircraft, combined with the fact that the IAF has been operating this twin engine aircraft for the past two decades, and the Navy has recently ordered the MiG-29K/KUB variants, make the MiG-29 a very strong contender. The addition of super maneuverability may just tilt the balance in favor of the Russians.
The two areas in which MiG-29 had looked less than outstanding during its two decades of operations with the IAF were range / payload combination and electronics.
However, the addition of fuel tanks in the dorsal spine fairing and wing LERXs has increased total fuel capacity of the fighter by 50%. In addition, the aircraft can now carry more fuel in drop tanks and has air-to-air refueling capability, including buddy refueling.
The flight and navigation system of the new MiG-29 variants is built on an open architecture principle around MIL-STD-1553B standard Databus. This allows a client to source avionics for the fighter jet from multiple countries. Take the example of MiG-29K/KUBs being supplied to the Indian Navy. The on-board computer, radar, IRST sensor, laser ranger, passive anti-radar missiles homing system, HUD and 3 (7 on MiG-29KUB) color LCD MFDs are of Russian origin.
France provides the inertial navigation system with Sigma-95 satellite GPS module and Topsight helmet-mounted targeting system.
Indian companies supply some radio communication equipment for MiG-29K.
The Hornet still has the sting
Were the Russians to offer the MiG-29 OVT instead of the MiG-29M/M2 they would surely eliminate the Lockheed F-16 from contention for the MRCA order. However, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet would still remain a strong contender with its stealth, AESA radar and range / weapon load capability.
The one big problem with buying 126 Super Hornets will of course be their cost. At $60 million a piece we are talking an astounding $7.5 billion!
Indeed it might make eminent sense for the IAF to invest in both the aircraft! Doing so will cut down costs, build on existing investments and diversify our sources. It will be one smart way of keeping both the Russians and the Americans on their toes.
Copyright © Vijainder K Thakur. May not be reproduced with explicity written permission.