Having suffered a huge cost escalation of $2.4 billion (Rs 155,794,800,000) in the price of the ‘free of cost’ aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov from Russia six years back, India will decide on a proposal to buy MiG-29 combat aircraft from Russia at a very cheap price after deeply studying the availability of spares and the other costs involved in the programme.
Recently, the Russian government submitted a proposal to sell 21 used MiG-29 combat planes which will cost India between $ 25-30 million (Rs 170 crore-Rs 200 crore) per aircraft which is almost 30 per cent cost of any new aircraft in the class of the MiG-29 planes.
“The government will go through each and every aspect of the proposal to ensure that there are no hidden costs that we may have to pay for the planes after acquiring them from the Russians. The experience gained during the Admiral Gorshkov deal would be avoided,” government sources told Mail Today.
During the Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier deal, the warship was offered for free to India where India had to pay $950 million (Rs 61,668,775,000) for the refurbishment and make it worthy for being used as an aircraft carrier. However, as the Russians started working on the warship, there were frequent price hikes which increased the cost by almost $1.3 billion (Rs 8,400 crore)), making it highly expensive. The warship was also delivered to the Indian side almost five years after the scheduled delivery date. Sources also drew parallels of the aircraft offer with the costing of printers and cartridges as cost of a printer is very less but the cartridges are relatively very costly and make it expensive to maintain in the long run.
MiG-29s are flown by the Air Force and the pilots are familiar with it but the ones offered by the Russians are different from the ones in the Indian inventory. “We will have to be cautious to ensure that the planes don’t become a maintenance nightmare for us in the future as they are different in many ways,” the sources said.
The Indian Navy also operates the MiG-29 ‘K’ and is the only operator of this version of the plane and is having a rough experience with the planes which are difficult to maintain and their settings change immediately after they land on the aircraft carrier.
The Air Force has three squadrons of the MiG-29s which have been undergoing upgrades for an extended life and are considered to be very good planes in the air defence roles.
However, ministry sources said the planes can also help in arresting the fall of number of squadrons in the Air Force which has been demanding new aircraft for meeting its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons.
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 six squadrons of the indigenous Tejas or Light Combat Aircraft that the IAF will have by 2032.
Currently, the IAF’s fighter strength includes six squadrons of the deep penetration strike Jaguars, 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.
The Air Force has recently rejected a Russian offer for co-developing a fifth generation fighter aircraft with Russia owing to the high costs involved in the project. The force also believed that the technology of the plane was not worth the money involved in it and it would have been much inferior to the American F-22 Raptor and the F-35 fifth generation planes.