The MiG-29, one of Russia’s most exported military jet has been upgraded in India that expands its capabilities from an air superiority fighter to a multi-role aircraft. The Indian Air Force (IAF) revealed the upgrade, called the MiG-29UPG ahead of the Air Force Day celebrations in October 2018.
The upgrade by the IAF, one of the biggest operators of MiG-29 in the world has opened up the possibility of similar technological enhancements and life extension projects for the venerable Russian aircraft which many believe was ahead of its time when it was launched in the 1980s.
The global inventory of MiG-29s is estimated at 750-850 aircraft, all of which are a potential upgrade possibility. The MiG-29UPG upgrade in India is expected to cover some 65 aircraft. Another major MiG-29 upgrade is being done in Ukraine. Ukrainian Lviv Aircraft Repair Plant is upgrading the country’s MIG-29 fighter jets with air-to-ground and surface attack capability making it a multirole fighter aircraft.
Given the distinct ability of fighter aircraft purchases to sap military budgets, many governments are increasingly preferring upgrading legacy aircraft with capable airframes such as the F-16 and the MiG-29 to expand their features and to increase service life by about 50%. The cost of converting the IAF MiG-29 to the MiG-29UPG is said to be US$15 million each, far short of the cost of buying new aircraft which could be upwards of US$50 million for an all-new MiG-35, the Russian successor to the MiG-29.
According to Rodney Lee, Senior Product Manager, Aerospace & Defense Business Unit, IFS Software of Sweden, the “There is an increasing trend in military organizations to extend the lifecycle of aircraft and other equipment.”
While the F-16 has forged ahead with offering a complete upgrade package of the Block 70 format including active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, the MiG-29 is still to offer an AESA radar but is on schedule to have one in 2019-20.
Indian MiG-29UPG Features
The MiG-29UPG aircraft is now capable of mid-air refueling, compatible with the latest missiles in IAF’s inventory and can launch multi-dimensional attacks, Indian media reports quoted Flight Lieutenant Karan Kohli, a MiG-29 pilot at Adampur Air Force Station in Punjab province where the MiG-29 squadron is based.
The improved engines as part of the upgrade enable the MiG-29UPG to take off almost vertically on full power. This fighter jet can be scrambled within five minutes of spotting a hostile aircraft and reach a height from which it can challenge the ‘enemy’ plane. Other features of the upgraded plane are a multi-functional display, air-to-air refueling and ability to launch precision guided munitions.
A significant part of the Indian upgrade is the radar. The aircraft’s outdated N-019 Topaz air-intercept radar, has been replaced with the Zhuk-ME unit with multimode capabilities and mechanically scanned, slotted antenna.
A more potent radar upgrad, the Phazotron-NIIR’s Zhuk-AME – also known as the FGA50 – AESA radar is expected in early 2019. The new radar will be installed into the Russian Aerospace Forces’ new MiG-35 multirole combat aircraft and retrofitted as part of an upgrade programme for the MiG-29. An export version of the Zhuk-AME – known as Zhuk-AME – was unveiled at Airshow China in 2016. The Zhuk-AME can detect aerial targets that are around 160 km away and can simultaneously track up to 30 targets. The Zhuk-AME radar is expected to give the MiG-29 capabilities of a 4.5 generation fighter jet similar to the F-16 Block 70.
Enhanced weapons capability:
The highlights of the MiG-29UPG upgrade are:
- Able to deploy R-77RVV-AE (AA-12 ‘Adder’) air-to-air missile.
- Ability to use the advance subsonic anti-ship missile Kh-35E (AS-20 Kayak).
- Introduced the OLS-UEM IRST sensor with the laser, thermal-imaging and television capabilities
- increased the range by 40% to 2,100 km on internal fuel
- The upgrade improve maintenance which helped reduced maintenance cost by as much as 40%.
- Using the Indian licence manufacture of the new RD-33 series 3 turbofan engines
- Introduction of new weapon control system
- Improved cockpit ergonomics with enhanced HOTAS design, two large and two smaller monochrome LCD
- Introduction of a retractable inflight refuelling probe, similar to Malaysian MIG-29N and Russian MIG-29SMT
- Weapons load was increased to 4,500 kg on six underwing and one ventral hard points similar to the MIG-35
- Secure datalink system
- Life increased to another 15 years of use
- Introduction of a bigger centreline tank from 1500 litres to 1800 litres tank extending range toward 3,000km
Russian upgrade of MiG-29
Ten MiG-29 fighters belonging to the Myanmar air force have been upgraded at RAC MiG facilities near Moscow in March 2017. The upgrade solution for Myanmar is referred to as MiG-29SM (mod). It is believed to be a low-cost version alternative to the more expensive MiG-29UPG upgrade that India has been installing, and which is broadly similar to the Russian air force MiG-29SMT. The MiG-29SM (mod) retains the original N-019E radar with some technology insertions and part replacements.
The Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) possesses 14 MiG-29N and two MiG-29UB-N aircraft. The “N” version is a customized RMAF variant, with mid-air refueling capability and the ability to fire two RVV-AE radar-guided missiles (export version of the Vympel R-77) at two aerial targets simultaneously. Currently 10 MiG-29N are believed to remain operational with No. 17 Squadron at Kuantan AFB.
The avionics system incorporates a night vision goggle-compatible glass cockpit, with two color multifunction displays and hands-o- throttle-and-stick functionality.
Weapons systems and pylons will be upgraded, making the MiG-29NM capable of carrying the full range of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons available to Malaysia’s Su-30s.
The MiG-29BM (possibly Bolyshaya Modernizaciya – large modernization) is an upgrade to the MiG-29 conducted by the ARZ-558 aircraft repair plant in Baranovichi, Belarus.
The MiG-29BM is a strike variant of the MiG-29 pure fighter, the Belarussian counterpart to the Russian MiG-29SMT. This work is being done by the 558th Aviation Repair Plant with participation of Russian Avionics and in interaction with RSK MiG. Details of the upgrade are listed below.
A new navigation system N-911 includes a navigation computer, a receiver of satellite navigation system GLONASS/NAVSTAR, radio technical system of close-range navigation A-323 and navigation and landing system VOR/ILS and DME.
MiG-29BM is complemented with an aerial refueling system. An easily dismantled refueling rod that is not retracted in flight is installed in the nose part of the fuselage on the left side.
Tests of the MiG-29BM (aircraft “9-11”) were successfully completed by July 2003, and plant in Baranovichi began the delivery of the first modernized “MiGs” to the Belarus Air Force. A modernised MiG-29BM was on show at the international aviation and space salon MAKS 2005 in Moscow and evoked much interest of representatives of many countries. By mid-2007 several examples of this aircraft, together with a modernized Su-27UBM, were on duty in the Belarusian air force fleet.
Ukrainian MiG-29MU2 upgrade
The air-to-ground capability will be achieved through the use of TV-guided missile-bomb weapons of the X-29T and KAB-500KR types, a statement released to www.defenseworld.net from the Ukrainian enterprise said.
The MiG-29MU2 upgrade package includes H-019-U2 airborne radar-assisted sighting system to allow long-range detection of air threats, weapon targeting, search and tracking of air and surface targets using the ground-map radar mode, and supporting air-to-ground and surface missions.
The upgrade also includes the installation of VOR/ILS and DME equipment to comply with the requirements for international flights.
Domestically developed GNSS-assisted navigation capability will also be included. GNSS data will be viewed on an 8-inch Cockpit display alongside the map of the terrain being flown over, target data, and weapons parameters.
The MiG-29MU2 fighter will also receive an audio/video recording system for post-mission debriefing and data analysis, along with the potential for documenting the mistakes made by pilots and for training new pilots.
The Ukrainian enterprise claims that in combat efficiency terms, the MiG-29MU2 outperforms the MiG-29 original by a factor of 1.83, owing to about a dozen innovation technology solutions implemented in its design.
The MiG-29MU2A upgrade is being implemented by a team of companies led by LARP, TOV Radionix and KB Luch. Radionix will deliver its airborne self-defense Electronic Counter Measure (ECM) and jamming system; and Omut will provide protection from radar-guided AAM and SAM threats. Pod-mounted and fuselage-buried variants of the Omut system are required to be available for the MiG-29MU2 application.
LARP is due to complete its share of work on the MiG-29MU2 program by 2019 so that the official qualification trials could be commenced the following year and the aircraft enter production by 2020. The Ukrainian MiG-29MU2 is expected to tap the world market for MiG-29 upgrades, posing a challenge to the Russian OEM which will most certainly build on its Indian success to offer upgrades to nations having MiG-29 inventories.