India

MIG-29K’S DEFICIENCIES – A DEPRESSING FACT FOR THE INDIAN NAVY

The MiG-29K was chosen by the Indian Navy for aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya (formerly the Admiral Gorshkov, which was acquired from Russia) and the indigenous aircraft carrier currently being built, the INS Vikrant. The multi-role, new generation MiG-29K has a newly designed, resilient airframe (with around 15% composite materials) said to be stronger than that of its predecessors. With fly-by-wire technology and RD-33 MK engines, the MiG-29K is a technological improvement of the MiG-29.

In January 2004, a contract was signed between the Indian Ministry of Defence and the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (RAC) for the acquisition of 16 MiG 29K/KUB (KUB is the dual-seat variant) and equipment at a cost of $740.35 million, including 13 aircraft for the INS Vikramaditya. In March 2010, an Option Clause contract was signed for the acquisition of 29 MiG 29K/KUB aircraft (which included 12 MiG-29K and one MiG-29KUB) for the INS Vikrant at a cost of $1466.44 million. The deliveries of the Mig-29K under the Option Clause scheduled between 2012 and 2016 are ahead of the commissioning schedule of the INS Vikrant set for 2023. By September 2014, the Indian Navy received 21 aircraft.

The MiG-29K has not been without problems. Deck landings on the INS Vikramaditya are affecting the MiG-29K’s structure with regular maintenance and re-setting of systems needed. In February 2017, a MiG-29K made an emergency landing at Mangaluru International Airport in Mangalore, India due to a technical failure. According to former airport director, J.T. Radhakrishna, the aircraft developed a technical problem and asked for permission to land. On landing, the rear tyres of the aircraft burst stranding the Mig-29K on the runway.

The RD-33 MK engines have experienced several issues with India looking to build a maintenance repair and overhaul facility at INS Hansa to maintain the MiG-29K. According to the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for the year March 2015 (Report No.17 of 2016), the MiG-29K continues to face operational limitations due to defects in engines, airframe, and the fly-by-wire system.

According to the report, serviceability of the MiG-29K was low ranging from 15.93 per cent (2011-2012) to 37.63 per cent (2014-2015). The MiG-29K’s service life is 6000 hours or 25 years, however issues with the aircraft drastically reduce this range. Serviceability means that the Mig-29K is technically available and not undergoing scheduled repair or overhaul. The service life of the RD-33 MK engine is 4000 hours or ten years with an overhaul life of 1000 hours. The Indian Navy ordered 113 engines together with the 45 aircraft (90 installed on aircraft and 23 spare engines).

As of September 2014, the Indian Navy had accepted a total of 65 engines (42 with the 21 aircraft delivered and 23 spare). However, since induction in February 2010 40 engines (representing 62 per cent of 65 engines) had been withdrawn from service or rejected due to design-related defects or deficiencies. According to the Audit report, the defects had serious safety implications with in-flight engine defects leading to ten cases of single engine landings. Up to August 2015, 46 engines were withdrawn from service, placing the reliability of the RD-33 MK into question, since it is an improvement of the RD-33.

Airframe defects reared their head during the first deck trials on the INS Vikramaditya in July 2012 as reported by Headquarters Western Naval Command, Mumbai to the Directorate of Naval Air Staff. In May 2014, the RAC stated that aircraft performance under test conditions on the INS Vikramaditya conformed to specifications, however added that weaknesses were revealed during flight tests, which would be eliminated. In June 2014, the Directorate of Air Support Equipment informed the RAC that several defects occurred during deck operations due to failure of airframe parts despite design improvements and modifications. The Indian Navy is monitoring the defects and informing RAC for remedial measures. These defects have a serious impact on pilots training and capability for extended deployments. Regarding the fly-by-wire system, RAC assures that the system has quadruple redundancy however reliability has been very poor ranging from 3.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent between July 2012 and June 2014. The RAC is looking to improve the reliability of the system.

Despite the deficiencies, the Russians are disputing public claims of issues relating to the Mig-29K. Earlier this month, the RAC sent a statement to Jane’s Information Group following an American article on maintenance issues stating: “We would like to flatly refute all negative allegations in the article concerning the MiG-29K aircraft, which are the sole fighters on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. Neither we, nor our partners have received any official claims about operational problems with the Russian MiG aircraft.” The RAC added that the INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant aircraft carriers are designed to carry Russian aircraft including the MiG-29K/KUB.

It’s not hard to see that carrier compatibility of the Mig-29K during deck operations is yet to be fully proved and despite modifications, the Mig-29K continues to face operational deficiencies. To add fuel to the flames, the delayed commissioning of the INS Vikrant set for 2023 would reduce the service life of the aircraft, affecting the operational life of the aircraft already delivered. Even though the INS Vikramaditya is in service, the continuous shifting of delivery timelines of the INS Vikrant will without a doubt impact India’s naval capabilities.

Current RFI :

India issued a Request For Information (RFI) in January 2017 for 57 Multi-Role Carrier Borne Fighters (MRCBF) for Indian Navy aircraft carriers. Manufacturers have to undertake offset contracts amounting to 30% of the value of their commercial proposals.

Contenders are Boeing (F-18 Super Hornet), Dassault Aviation (Rafale M), Saab (Sea Gripen/Gripen M) and RAC (Mig-29 K).

 

Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA

INDIA ISSUES RFI FOR HEAVYWEIGHT TORPEDOES

The Indian Navy (IN) has sent a request for information (RfI) to selected overseas manufacturers asking for details about 150 heavyweight torpedoes at a cost of $300 million. According to the Financial Express, the RfI has been sent to French company Naval Group (formerly known as DCNS), German ThyssenKrupp (which owns Atlas Elektronik), Swedish SAAB, Rosoboronexport (Russia) and a Japanese company which is actually Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Curiously, this request for information (RfI) follows a very recent RfI about locally building six diesel-electric submarines under Project 75 India (P-75I) programme. It remains unclear if India has definitely put an end to the acquisition of Black Shark heavyweight torpedoes from Leonardo (former WASS) that should have equipped the six Scorpene class submarines being built at Mazagon Docks Ltd.

INS Kalvari, the first Scorpene class stealth submarine built under Project 75 carries on extensive sea trials and will use refurbished SUT heavyweight torpedoes (from Atlas Elektronik) until further decision is taken concerning the first batch of 98 torpedoes (20 torpedoes to be made by the manufacturer and 78 by Bharat Dynamics in Hyderabad). The same torpedo should have also equipped for a second batch of 49 HWT the last 3 nuclear submarines SSBN Arihant being built at Larsen and Toubro (L&T).

Even though, the last RfI refers to 150 heavyweight torpedoes (similar to the 98+49), OIDA Strategic Intelligence understands it solely concerns Project 75 India (P-75I) for submarines with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems and anti-surface, anti-submarine and land-attack capabilities. We should remind that according the Indian press, the mid-July RfI related to the long-delayed Project 75 India (P-75I) programme was despatched to :

  • Naval Group (France), manufacturer of the F21 heavyweight torpedo;
  • ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (Germany), new full owner of Atlas Elektronik, manufacturer of the SeaHake Mod 4 heavyweight torpedo (export version of the DM2A4);
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (Japan), the last being the manufacturer of the Type-89 (G-RX2) and G-RX6 heavyweight torpedoes;
  • Saab (Sweden), manufacturer of the Tp-62 heavyweight torpedo;
  • Rosoboronexport (Russia) which sells the TEST-71ME-NK heavyweight torpedo from JSC CSUW Gidropribor;
  • Navantia (Spain).

It is highly impropable that the Indian Navy will get torpedoes either from Saab or from the Russian or the Japanese for its six Scorpene class submarines (Project 75). Firstly, because the Indian Navy has an urgent operational necessity due to the future commissioning of the INS Kalvari and the INS Khanderi (the first two submarines). And then because it will cost several millions of dollars to modify the submarines to fire these torpedoes.

All is possible for Italian torpedo maker Leonardo. Because the MoD believes Leonardo Helicopters (at the time Finmeccanica subsidiary AgustaWestland) paid bribes for the 2010 purchase of 12 VVIP helicopters all projects related to the Italian company have been cancelled or put on hold. However, as published DefenseNews in late June “the attorney general has advised the MoD that the contract with WASS should not be cancelled” and since 2016 the Indian government returned to following a nuanced approach towards subsidiaries of tainted firms (with a ban of 5 years instead of 10 years). Finally, Leonardo still faces intense competition for that contract from Atlas Elektronik and Naval Group.

INDIA’S TRANSFORMATION INTO A TRUE BLUE-WATER NAVY

India’s aspiration of a modernised blue-water navy is coming to fruition. Under Project 75, six Scorpene class submarines are under construction at the East Yard of Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Limited (MDL) in collaboration with and transfer of the latest naval technology from French company DCNS (the contract of which is estimated at $3.5 billion). Technologies include the SUBTICS integrated combat system, a computerized central management system managing the submarine’s sensors and weapons. The Scorpene class of submarines are designed to be stealthily silent under water.

Scorpene Class Submarine Launches

In April 2015, the Kalvari (the first of the Indian Navy’s Scorpene class submarines), undocked at Mazagon Dock. In March 2017, the Kalvari successfully test-fired an Exocet SM 39 anti-ship missile and in May 2017, a torpedo.

In January 2017, the INS Khanderi was the second of the Scopene class submarines to launch. In June 2017, the submarine sailed from Mazagon Dock to begin its sea trials.

MDL has been the yard of choice for the Indian Navy with facilities in Mumbai and Nhava. Main activities involve the construction of state-of-the-art warships and submarines as well as a series of Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Indian Coast Guard. The Leander class frigate, INS Nilgiri, was the first modern warship to be built by MDL followed by the Godavari class (the first ship was commissioned in December 1983). The destroyer class Project-15, the last of which was commissioned in 2001, was the largest to be built in that part of the world. MDL has also constructed two corvettes for the Navy, missile boats, a cadet training ship, three new generation stealth warships under Project-17 frigates, three ships (follow-on to the Delhi class of destroyers), and a series of Border Out Posts (floating police stations).

India is continuing its submarine programme with Project 75I with five shipyards currently being considered: Hindustan Shipyard, Mazagon Dock, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Larsen & Toubro, and Reliance Defense (previously Pipavav Shipyard). The foreign companies competing for the transfer of technology include DCNS of France, SAAB of Sweden, Rosoboronexport State Corporation of Russia, and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems of Germany. All six submarines will be built in India just like Project 75. The six submarines under Project 75I will include certain parameters for weight and design, with a larger weight than the Scorpene class of submarines.

With a coastline of 7,000 km and over 1,200 islands to protect, an increased presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean, and a need for an edge over Pakistan, maritime dominance has become a priority for India. The 12 submarines under the two projects will propel India into becoming a fierce contender in the Indian Ocean and a true blue-water navy.

 

Written by Sylvia Caravotas (Satovarac Consulting) for OIDA

 

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