MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation’s main product, its pride, remains the MiG-29 light frontline fighter, which may pilots and specialists regard as the best aircraft in its class. The MiG-29 preformed its maiden flight 25 years ago, and it has since become the backbone of the Air Forces of Russia and an additional 30 foreign countries.
One of the main priority directions for the further development of the MiG-29 family consists is upgrading the aircraft of different versions, which are currently in service with numerous customers worldwide. The upgrading philosophy is mostly focused towards giving the aircraft new combat capabilities, while at the same time enhancing the existing functions and considerably increasing the aircraft’s combat range.
The MiG-29 upgrade project involved two main packages for customers. The first package offers the full upgrade of the aircraft up to the MiG-29SMT level. The second package offered the upgrade of certain aircraft units and aggregates and installation of new completing elements (including those of Western produce) to suit customers' requirements. In the process of upgrade, some share of contract works could be transferred to the aviation plants of the customer's country.
Improvement of aircraft performance included: increase of flight range, improvement of aircraft maneuverability and upgrade of engines. An increase of the flight range up to 3,000 km can be reached by installation of additional 1800 l conformal tanks. Installation of the in-flight refueling system makes it possible to use both Russian and Western tankers. Due to installation of three external fuel tanks and in-flight refueling system, the aircraft flight range can be increased up to 6200 km;
The RD-33 engine upgrade provides for the thrust-vector control and increase of engine thrust and fuel efficiency. The core upgrade of the engine itself is now at the test bench stage and should be completed in the nearest future. The installation of these engines will enhance the aircraft power-to-weight ratio to the level of fifth-generation aircraft. All these characteristics will allow the operator to keep the aircraft air superiority till 2010-2015.
The aircraft was criticized for the low assigned lifetime (2,500 hours only). However, the operation of the aircraft produced in early 1980s have demonstrated that the lifetime could be extended to 4,000 hours in the event they are maintained properly. This allows extension of their lifetime till 2010-2015. The practice of overhauls has also been revised. Transition to on-condition maintenance has been adopted. The calculations have shown that the operating cost of one air vehicle can be reduced by 15-20% if 4000 hour lifetime is assigned and transition to on-condition maintenance is performed. The worked to increase the engine lifetime have been carried out.
At MAKS-2003 airshow MiG Corp. presented, along with the basic version of MiG-29, its newest modifications - MiG-29K, MiG-29M2, MiG-29SMT, MiG-29OVT. MiG-29K/KUB and MiG-29M/M2 belong to a family of multirole single/twin-seater ship and shore-based fighters accordingly. Aircraft designs are unified up to 90%. Such approach gives several advantages. Serial production becomes cheaper thus influences market price of the aircraft. Exploitation, maintenance and logistics support system as well as the system of pilots and ground personnel training become simpler. The fleet of aircraft in the Air Force can become more unified. All this, along with flight-technical and combat characteristics, makes MiG-29 family quite attractive for potential customers.
MiG Corporation has developed a modular approach for the MiG-29 upgrade up to the MiG-29SMT level. This system is flexible, allowing potential clients to choose the set of additional capabilities and features they really need. The system includes three kits or modules.
- The first module involves upgrading the aircraft’s weapons control system, thus transforming the MiG-29 into a multirole fighter. An important advantage of the MiG-29SMT over foreign competitors is the fact that is weapons control system provides effective joint work of the three main sighting devices – the radar, infra-red search and track sensor (IRST) and helmet-mounted sighting system – with the capability of automatically shifting which is the most effective under the current combat situation.
- The second module covers increasing both internal and drop fuel tanks capacity, upgrading the fuel system and installing an in-flight refueling equipment.
- The third module is for upgrading on-board equipment. The cockpit is equipped with modern navigation system and communication equipment including satellite navigation of Russian or foreign origin.
MiG Corporation also developed a new sophisticated concept for training pilots and ground personnel for MiG aircraft of different generations. Interactive computer training systems, modern flight simulators and advanced visualization systems are used for training. Training systems can be delivered together with new or for already delivered aircraft with consideration of each customer’s aircraft specification. They provide unified pilots and ground personnel training with considerably reduced costs and time.
The simulator allows imitating all stages of flight of a fighter aircraft from taking off, executing the flying mission, elements of aerobatics and combat tasks to landing. Visualization technology allows to provide full illusion of submerging into flight. One of the simulator’s main features is real geographical updatable database, made on the basis of satellite photos. So, for the trainee could be created real geographical environment of the region where he is to fly in real life. Simulator can be configured for the aircraft features and demand of each customer.
The first Indian Air Force (IAF) upgraded MiG-29UPG fighter made its maiden flight on 4 February 2011 in Zhukovsky. The upgrade is being handled by the MiG corporation under the contract awarded in March 2008. The contract stipulates integrated upgrade of the whole MiG-29 fleet in service with IAF. Overall, 62 aircraft would be upgraded, including several two-seat combat trainers. They would be given the latest avionics and advanced weapons. In addition, airframe and powerplant improvements would extend their service life considerably, with the planes transitioning to on-condition maintenance.
The IAF MiG-29 upgrade concept complies with the one adopted by the Russian Air Force to its MiG-29SMTs that have been in service since 2009 and well-mastered by Russian military pilots. At the same time, the composition of the avionics and weapon suites of the upgraded IAF MiG-29s would have a high degree of commonality with the carrierborne MiG-29K/KUB fighters that have entered service with Indian Navy on 19 February 2010.
Foreign-made avionics were integrated with the avionics suite of the MiG-29UPG at the customer’s request (the so-called ‘international avionics suite’). The manufacturer has already got such an experience that has proven itself under Russo-Indian contracts for upgrade of the MiG-21UPG Bison fighters as well as development and manufacture of the Su-30MKI and MiG-29K/KUB fighters.
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