In order to fill the gap in the force level of the Air Force, Government approved in October 1981 the procurement of MiG-29 aircraft [including trainers] in flyaway condition and with an option for its licence manufacture in India. Payment of Rs 3.92 crores was made to the manufacturers in May 1982 for retention of this option. The contract for procurement of the aircraft was concluded with aircraft manufacturers of a foreign country in October 1982 for Rs 621.75 crores. The contract covered integration and operational clearance of a variety of weapons but not the supply of these weapons.
An Indian evaluation team evaluated the MiG-29 aircraft during November/December 1980 and found it suitable for the intended role. The team, however, stated that the aircraft was still in its infancy and its various systems were under different phases of development and the aircraft as a weapon system would achieve its designed performance when fully developed. The team recommended procurement of improved radar under development subject to its satisfactory performance in air to air and air to ground roles. However, as the improved radar was under development till completion of the negotiations, the existing radar was selected. The team added that the satisfactory performance of the aircraft be determined under tropical conditions in India.
A negotiation committee held discussions with the manufacturers between October 1981 and March 1982. The negotiation committee stated that they did not have any meaningful yardsticks to go by in determining the negotiating position. According to the Ministry, the Air Staff Requirements (ASRs) available for air superiority and ground attack roles were to become the basis for price negotiations with the sellers. The fact, however, is that normally the ASRs are meant for technical evaluations and cannot form the basis of price negotiation.
An agreement was signed in October 1982 with the manufacturers for the supply of aircraft including trainers, and option for licence manufacture in India at a cost of Rs 621.75 crores at 1981 price level plus escalation. The option was surrendered in June 1984 in favour of induction of another advanced technology aircraft. An additional agreement was entered into with the manufacturer in March 1986 for the procurement of aircraft in flyaway condition to be supplied by September 1988 at a cost of Rs 107.74 crores plus escalation for sustaining the unit establishment (UE) till the turn of the century.
All the aircraft contracted in October 1982 and March 1986 were delivered between December 1984 and May 1986 and February and September 1988 respectively as scheduled. However, there was delay in ferrying of 31 per cent aircraft from the Soviet Union and the delay averaged six months per aircraft. Two aircraft delivered by the manufacturers in April and October 1988 were ferried only in October 1990. Ministry stated in December 1994 that the aircraft were ferried in batches to make the ferry cost effective. The Ministry added that after delivery, the two aircraft were loaned to seller for electronic warfare system (EWS) integration.
In November 1984, the flying task was fixed at 15 hours per month per aircraft in respect of the fighter and 20 hours per month per aircraft in respect of the trainer aircraft. There were, however, shortfalls in the flying task. Air HQ stated in March 1994 that flying efforts had to be curtailed due to limited availability of spares and other infrastructure required.
The aircraft were purchased when it was still at the development stage, with the result these had to be updated progressively through a series of modifications including refit. Though the modifications were completed by April 1988, there had been delay of six years in integration of the improved radar and other systems as discussed below.
The manufacturers had guaranteed certain performance parameters under tropical conditions. The tropical trials of the aircraft were conducted in India in July 1986. The system performance of the aircraft at the prescribed temperature, however, could not be evaluated as the maximum temperature during trials was below that value. The attack system of the aircraft also could not be evaluated as weapons were not available for trials by then. Admitting the facts, the Ministry stated in December 1994 that some trials had been carried out in ensuing years when weapons were made available and it met all the designed and operational requirements.
As regards the guaranteed performance of the aircraft systems, the Ministry had intimated in March 1990 that certain deficiencies were noticed during combat flying and the manufacturers had agreed to provide modifications to rectify these deficiencies and the implementation of these modifications was in progress. It was noticed that some of the deficiencies like misting of the canopy still persisted even after nine years of the induction of the aircraft.
Though the aircraft had been inducted into squadron service in June 1985 and its tropical trials conducted in July 1986 had revealed high rate of failure of aircraft radars, the modification was completed only in January 1993. i.e. after six years of the induction of the aircraft and till then the aircraft were without improved version of radars and EWS which affected the operational and training commitments of the Air Force.
While the aircraft was inducted in June 1985, the facilities in India for its repair/OH were completed only by 1996 and till then the repair arisings would continued to be sent to the manufacturers abroad for repair. In the absence of indigenous repair/OH facilities, the Air Force had entered into three different repair contracts for repair of assemblies, sub-assemblies and live repair units for which Rs 67.62 crores had been paid to the manufacturers till December 1993. Further, by the time the repair facilities would be completed, nearly 40 per cent of the total technical life of the aircraft would be over.
A MIG-29 falls due for major overhaul after 11 years or after it had flown 800 hours. The aircraft had been in service since 1986 and by 1997 had bebome due for overhaul. There was no contract with any Russian company or any other foreign agency to overhaul these aircraft. Facilities for overhaul of MIG-29 aircraft had been set up in India.
In October 2007 Air Force Station, Ojhar witnessed the passing-out of the 100th overhauled MiG-29 aircraft in the presence of Air Marshal JS Apte, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Maintenance Command. It was a moment of pride for all the personnel of the department. A major event was organised to mark the occasion. Air Marshal JS Apte, accompanied by Mrs Uma Apte, President AFWWA (Regional), presided over the function and handed over the aircraft to the Commanding Officer of the No. 28 Squadron. Air Cmde Ashok Singhal, Air Officer Commanding, Air Force Station, Ojhar handed over mementoes on the occasion to AOC-in-C, HQ Maintenance Command and other dignitaries.
In early 2008 IAF entered into an agreement with Russia's MIG-RAC for upgradation of 63 MIG-29 air superiority fighters in a deal worth 964 million dollars. By 2019 the upgraded aircraft were allotted to a frontline Squadron, and are being used for operations. The upgraded aircraft are equipped with state of the art avionics, an array of smart air to air and air to ground weapons and are capable of in-flight refuelling which significantly increases its combat potential.
By mid-2020 the Indian Air Force (IAF) was seeking to procure 21 additional MiG-29s from Russia to add to its three squadrons of the type already in service. The IAF is going ahead with plans to order the additional fighter jets from Russia, with the proposal expected to be taken up for clearances by the Indian Ministry of Defence shortly. These fighters, which include two trainers, are expected to be procured as they have already been partially manufactured in Russia for a previous order that got cancelled. The government-to-government procurement has been in the works for more than a year and would add to the force’s depleting squadron strength. MiG-29s are flown by the IAF and the pilots are familiar with it but the ones offered by the Russians are different from the ones in the Indian inventory. The IAF had three squadrons of the MiG-29s which had been undergoing upgrades for extended life and are considered reliable in the air defence roles.
The Indian Defence Ministry on 02 July 2020 approved a proposal to acquire 21 MiG-29s along with upgradation of 59 MiG-29s at a cost of Rs 18,148 crore, making it the first deal for these jets in over three decades. The decision comes in the wake of high tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh where Indian and Chinese troops have been in a standoff position for several weeks now. While the MiG 29 procurement and upgradation from Russia is estimated to cost Rs 7418 cr, the Su-30 MKI will be procured from HAL at an estimated cost of Rs 10,730 cr.
The upgrades to Indian MiG-29s will be to the MiG-29UPG standard. The Indian Air Force’s existing 69 MiG-29s are currently undergoing a $900-million mid-life upgrade to the MiG-29UPG standard. This version is similar to the SMT variant but differs by having a foreign-made avionics suite. The upgrade to latest MiG-29UPG standard is in process, which will include latest avionics, Zhuk-ME Radar, engine, weapon control systems, enhancing multirole capabilities by many-fold. As of 2012, Indian UPG version is the most advanced MiG-29 variant.