Sunday, September 28, 2014

Army's New Division ?

Found this hitherto unknown (to me) formation sign on a convoy of army trucks in Assam.

It's on black, so it's an inf/mtn div, likely the newly minted 71st Mountain Div. (it's the 56th Mtn Div : credits : Sparsh in comments)
Any inputs would be appreciated.

Disclaimer : The sign is created from memory & inaccuracies are possible. Apologies for the shoddy PS-job.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Unified Forces Commands v0.1

This is an entirely speculative post using my personal ideas about how an unified command would look like in the Indian context.
Might add more details in the future.

Indian Unified Commands

Existing Geographical Commands

CENTRAL        : Uttar Pradesh Uttarakhand Madhya Pradesh Chhattisgarh Bihar Jharkhand Odisha


WAC    =  Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, New Delhi, some parts of Uttar Pradesh.
CAC    =
EAC    = WB and east
SWAC    = Raj, Guj, Mah
SAC    =


Combined Forces Commands                AoR                                                  Composition

1. CC North           : J&K, HP, Punj, Har, NCT, UK                            IA NC(+ UK) + IA WC + WAC

2. CC West            : Raj, Guj, Mah, Goa + Arabian Sea                        IA SWC(+Guj) + SWAC + WNC

3. CC East             : WB and all NE states                                                  IA EC + EAC

4. CC South          : All southern states + BoB                            IA SC(-Guj+Odisha) + SAC + ENC

5. CC Central         : UP, MP, CHT, Bihar, Jharkhand                            IA CC (-UK) + CAC

6. CC A&N            : A&N islands and all deployments
                                 east of A&N.               

7. CC Indian Ocean    : Indian Ocean and all deployments outside       IA Expeditionary Command
                                      India west of A&N including peace-keeping    (controls all peacekeeping forces)
                                      and anti-piracy.                                                            IN Indian Ocean Command
                                                                                                                             IAF Expeditionary Command

Each such Combined Forces Command to be commanded by a 'Force Commander' who controls all military assets commanded by his sub-ordinate tri-service commands. CC A&N & CC Indian Ocean to concentrate exclusively on overseas deployment and operations, leaving other commands to concentrate on India and its immediate neighbourhood. Assets to be allocated to the expeditionary commands as and when required.

Disclaimer : Not being a professional soldier, my knowledge about command structures of Indian military is obviously limited. Any suggestion, correction or clarification is most welcome.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

India's Missile Defence System : For and Against

Rebuttal to Manoj Joshi's hatchet job on India's BMD in India Today.

Original article.

Rebuttal : (I had a small part to play in it ! )

'The Indian missile shield: nothing to be baffled about'

 by Mihir Shah

Friday, March 9, 2012

An Ode to the Wall

A bit of cricket for a change.
I wrote this for my Facebook page, cross posting here for preservation,
- Rahul.

RD hitting the winning runs in the Adelaide test of 2004. With some modifications done by yours truly.

Just Another Brick in the Wall

For 16 years Indian cricket has been used to a familiar sight. It is that of a batsman coming in to bat at No 3, with a near perfect stance, concentration etched on his face, head steady, elbow pointing towards the bowler, assured footwork, bat coming down straight to meet the ball at perfect angles and the disappointed grimace of the bowler walking back to his mark.
The description alone is enough to paint the picture of Rahul Sharad Dravid in the heart of most cricket lovers. It is a sight that has signified dependence, solidity and most importantly fighting spirit for a generation of cricket watchers. That era has now ended.

Rahul Dravid announced his retirement from all forms of cricket today. For one of India's greatest ever cricketers, a low-key retirement at the end of a disaster tour down under is much, much less than what he deserves.
His fans hoped that he would bow out on a high note but in some small way it is symbolic of Dravid's career as a cricketer. For years Dravid had an uncanny knack of bringing out his best performance in the same match where a teammate put in an even better one.
Consider :
* 145 V SL in a World Cup match
* 153 V NZ Hyd
* 180 V Aus in what is probably the greatest test match in history.
* 95 V Eng on debut in seaming conditions
and many more.
What do all these have in common ? There was always a Ganguly or a Tendulkar or a Laxman at the other end who ended up getting all the limelight.

Forget the fact that he got his top scores on a more consistent basis, usually in more trying situations; the recognition usually went to his more glamorous teammates. Not that he was one to complain, ever the team-man, he was happy as long as India was winning.

RD belongs to what history would remember as one of India's finest generation of cricketers, in the 5 pandavas -- Tendulkar, Kumble, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid, India finally found a nucleus for a team that could win battles on foreign soil. Dravid's slow burning brilliance and steady determination complemented his more adventurous teammates each of whom brought their own unique flavour to the team.

While Dravid's cricket playing days might be over, I for one believe he can contribute much more outside the cricket field as well. I had touched upon his impressive command on the happenings in the world in an earlier post on the Bradman Oration. To someone as capable even outside cricket, retirement from cricket is just another stepping stone in the wall's story, destined to ever greater heights.

10-15 years from now we would look back to today and quote Pink Floyd,
"All in all it was just another brick in the wall".

Here's to 'The Wall' !
On a more personal note, with RD hanging up his shoes today all the cricketing heroes I had growing up are riding on into the sunset. The feeling is indescribable.

Siddharth Vaidyanathan's article when Ganguly retired certainly strikes a chord somewhere. 
Read on :

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The MRCA Story And What It Means For India

Rahul M

February 7, 2012 Common Era
Magh 24, 2068 Vikram Samvat

Now that the dust has started settling on the decision of the MMRCA competition (which went in favour of the Dassault Rafale, in case you had taken temporary sannyas for the last week) it is as good a time as any to take stock of the whole saga and what it means for India and IAF.

Let it me first say that I think the MRCA program in its current form is ill thought out and possibly a waste of money. We should have opted out of the planned acquisition when the Mirage-2000-5 was withdrawn and invested in speeding up the LCA, MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 upgrades and gathering any available Mirage-2000 from the international market.
However, since that is not going to be, we might as well bear it and evaluate whether India's choice, the Rafale is a worthy winner of the MRCA race.

So It Begins...
The Six MRCA Contenders. From Left to Right : Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Fighting Falcon, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, JAS 39 Gripen and Mikoyan MiG-35.

To recap, the MRCA saga began as an urgent request from IAF to MOD for 126 Mirage-2000's, way back in 2001, in order to keep up falling squadron numbers. A number of MiG-21 variants and the MiG-23 were due to be retired and needed replacement. GOI, in all its wisdom, possibly to forestall any corruption allegation, opened up the requirement to a multi-vendor competition, adding MiG-29 and Saab Gripen to the Mirage-2000. Later the Americans offered the F-16 to the mix as well.

For the next few years, GOI and MOD dragged feet in the highest traditions of GOI and MOD, forcing Dassault, the French company which makes the Mirage-2000, to close down its Mirage manufacturing line and offer the Rafale in stead.

Mirage-2000-5 : Tired of Waiting.   Shown here in Qatari Air Force Colours.
 The situation having changed drastically GOI issued a fresh RFP for a renewed MRCA program with relaxed conditions, which allowed heavier fighters to take part as well.  Six fighters responded, the Russian MiG-35 -- a highly modified MiG-29, Gripen IN -- based on the Gripen NG from the Swedish Saab stable, Eurofighter from the 4 nation consortium comprising of UK, Germany, Spain and Italy, the Rafale from France's Dassault and the American duo, F-16 IN from Lockheed Martin and F/A-18 Super Hornet from Boeing.

That was in 2007. In the intervening 5 years IAF has conducted an exhausting evaluation of the competing fighters including field trials at places ranging from the sweltering deserts of Rajasthan to the rarefied climes of Leh. In late April 2011, at the end of the technical evaluation, which involved as many as 643 individual parameters, only 2 of the 6 made the final cut. Dassault and Eurofighter Consortium were notified that their proteges had made it to the final round, the other 4 had effectively failed to clear minimum technical requirements set by the Air Headquarters.
The next stage involved a comparison of the bids taking into account purchase cost, life-cycle cost and adherence to TOT and offset requirements. Last week, on the last day of January Dassault Rafale was declared as L1, or the lowest bid of the two remaining contenders. Negotiations are expected to begin in earnest (which in GOI speak means sometime in the next few months) in order to finalise the nitty-gritties of a contract between GOI and Dassault Aviation.

Still, it's not over till the fat lady sings and the other contenders will think they are in with a chance until GOI representatives sign on the proverbial dotted line.

Why Rafale

Rafale Emitting flares.

Before we embark on a detailed technological bells and whistles comparison of the contenders, it would help if we first tried to guesstimate IAF's requirements from the MRCA program.

IAF's Requirements

A Plethora of Threats : From Top to Bottom Su30-MKK, JF-17, F-16, J-10, J-20.

Given increasing levels of military co-operation between China and Pakistan, IAF is planning for an eventuality when it is called to fight both adversaries on two fronts. Pitted against IAF's 700 odd fighters would be a 1000 strong fighter fleet of PLAAF and PAF combined, to say nothing of the potent SAM cover on the Chinese side.
What this means is that IAF would most likely be too stretched numerically to be able to afford specialized strike aircraft protected by dedicated air superiority fighters. Ideally, a formation of a single type should be able to do both with equal ease, thus performing as a self contained unit that can hold its own for limited periods of time without needing reinforcements.

Clearly, this calls for true swing-role or multi-role fighters, that can switch mission types without hassles.All the six contenders did fulfill this basic criterion, upto some level at least, although some were better suited than others.

If we again look at the combined ORBAT of PLAAF-PAF and compare with the IAF's, we find that the Su-30MKI is perhaps unmatched in air superiority, owing to its highly capable radar and avionics. It is certainly the case against PAF and even against the PLAAF's Su-30MKK's, the advantage is lesser but still substantial. When the FGFA enters service by the end of the decade, this advantage would become substantial, even taking the Chengdu J-20 into account.

The one disadvantage of the Su-30MKI, namely its large RCS is somewhat softened by the Rafale, which can use its relatively low RCS and ability to fire very long range air-to-air missiles like the MBDA meteor. With fleet wide datalinks expected to be available by the time of induction, radar inputs can come from AEW&C aircraft or even Su-30MKI's flying as mini-AEW aircraft.

HQ-9 Missile Launchers in PLA's National Day Parade. The missile system incorporates substantial amount of technology from the S-300 SAM.

Where the IAF finds itself a little thin is the area of long range strike under high SAM threat conditions and China's air-defence network based on S-300 knock-offs surely counts as one. Against that threat, Rafale arguably gives India the best chances of hitting China's SAM and C3I nodes in case of a conflict. While the F/A-18 superhornet was also considered highly capable in strike role, it is not stealth optimised, the airframe design gave subpar performance in A2A and availability of the truly capable version from USA was always doubtful.

The Rafale is after all the only MRCA contender designed from ground-up with RCS reduction in mind, always an advantage when operating against a high threat air defence network. It also has significant load carrying capacity in multiple hardpoints and a highly capable EW system in the SPECTRA. Add the fact that it is cleared for a number of modern stealthy A2G munitions, viz. Storm Shadow/SCALP EG, AASM etc and it clearly becomes the ideal platform to complement the Su-30MKI as the cutting edge of IAF.

Technology Boost  While the Indian military industrial complex has been taking rapid strides in recent years, it still lags the advanced ones by 15-20 years on average. The MRCA program is one of the best opportunities for the Indian military-industrial complex to get a much needed infusion of cutting-edge technology so it can try and close the gap with the more advanced MIC's. The know-how available from TOT due to MRCA program should find its way into future Indian programs like the AMCA and upgrade programs.

Aiming For the Future.

Ideally, the future military projects would either see India going it alone or as equal partners in JV's with international partners, in stead of the 'buyer of technology' model of acquisition we have now. Leveraging and further developing the technology available from MRCA would allow Indian MIC to bargain from a position of strength while deciding workshares not to mention the expected domino effect in India's own projects.

The Political Factor

Dr Manmohan Singh with French President Sarkozy
Dubbed the 'arms deal of the century' and according to some media outlets 'the costliest arms purchase in the history of mankind' (however unlikely that may be), the MRCA acquisition certainly went far beyond the merely military or technological in terms of significance. Consider, the US ambassador to India resigned on the US contenders being kicked out of the competition, defence ministers and heads of state of all parties concerned made a beeline for New Delhi and after the final decisions were made known, it has become a significant political issue in UK and to a lesser extent, France.

That is however only the external ramifications. From India's perspective the deal offered both opportunity and risks. Firstly, it was a chance to break out of the overt dependence on Russian origin weapons, to diversify sources so that no one country held overwhelming leverage over India. A contract this large would also potentially buy political support in international fora, support for UNSC candidacy for instance.

While choosing an American aircraft offered possible strategic gains, by refusing American contenders one risked irking the sole superpower. American foreign policy being volatile at best and hypocritical and self-serving at worst, an American fighter for MRCA came with the attendant risk of crippling sanctions. Especially so given US propensity to offer up India as a sop to Pakistan in order to buy a little breathing space in Afghanistan.

The Swedish option, while neither offering much in terms of strategic opportunities nor risking much in terms of upsetting a major power should the decision go against them, was nevertheless hampered by the perception that US could and would hold back US origin items. In any case, there was not much to be gained by opting for the Swedish option.

That left the four nation Eurofighter and the French Rafale. While UK, Germany, Italy and Spain constitute the partner nations of Eurofighter, it is the first two that carry the most influence both in and out of the project. Unfortunately the economic crisis in these countries put into doubts their commitment to the program. Moreover, it was also questionable whether the gains from the sale to India split four ways would be enough to justify increased political mileage for India from any of the countries individually.  The reputation of UK as the loyal sidekick to US meant strong skepticism among Indian decision makers that UK could follow a foreign policy independent of the US.

France on the other hand has a rather sterling reputation in comparison, its prompt support during the 1999 Kargil War still well remembered in New Delhi. From having taken a leading role in offering nuclear power know-how to publicly supporting India's bid for a permanent seat in UNSC, France has smartly played the 'strategic co-operation' card at every opportunity. Its reputation as the western European country with the most independent foreign policy (read not directed from US) hasn't hurt its chances either.
The outlook is certainly promising and hopefully the outcome would be as well.

Secondary Factors

Some features of Rafale dovetail nicely into advantages for India, although not substantial enough to have decided the fate of the acquisition, they certainly sweeten the deal in favour of the French fighter.

Fleet Synergy

Advert by Dassault highlighting its long history with India.
IAF has recently signed up for a package of MICA air-to-air missiles as part of its upgrade program for the Mirage-2000's. Apparently the Rafale and Mirage-2000 share some other items and munitions as well, according to Air Cmde Parvez Khokar (Retd). IAF is also intimately familiar with French maintenance practices, having operated a long and successful line of French origin fighters. Everything considered, it is reasonable to assume that IAF's experience with the Rafale would be much more smoother than it would have been for any other aircraft, with the possible exception of the MiG-35.

Naval Version
Rafale M landing on an aircraft carrier.

The chances for Indian Navy opting for a naval version of the MRCA are rather remote. With 45 MiG-29K on order and 40 odd NLCA Mk2 expected to join the Naval Air Arm, Navy wouldn't need any more carrier based fighters until the third aircraft carrier joins the force; which shouldn't be before 2025. For that timeframe it is highly likely that IN would want a fifth generation fighter rather than a 4+ generation one. Even so, the option of a capable aircraft that is readily available and is essentially same as a version operated by the air force offers an attractive safety cushion should something go wrong with the other procurements.

Dark Side of the Rafale

Like everything else in life, Rafale comes with its share of weaknesses. For one, it has a very small sized nose that severely limits the radar aperture, giving lower performance than a corresponding larger sized radar. The aerodynamic profile of the airframe means that there is no way of fitting a larger nose and hence a larger radar. The only way to get improved radar performance is by a qualitative upgrade that involves more sensitive TRMs.
As of now the Rafale is also limited to the comparatively short-ranged MICA as its BVR missile. However this should be solved when it is cleared for the Meteor.
If the Mirage-2000 upgrade is any indication, it is a given that the cost of French weapons, spares and future upgrade programs are going to be exorbitant. This is a potentially contentious issue which can create bad blood between India and Dassault. Hopefully the initial agreement would be comprehensive enough to prevent such an eventuality.

A Note of Caution

One little noticed news snippet on the day of the announcement stated that the shares of Dassault Aviation rose more than 18% to a 22 year high on news of the Rafale being chosen. Bereft of the fluff, what this indicates is that huge amounts of Indian public money is being used to bankroll weapons developers from abroad. This is a trend we see across the board in all three forces. Arguably, we may not have many other options at this point of time, but this model of arms procurement is not sustainable in the long run. With skyrocketing price tags on weapons and increasing expense on manpower, the military may soon find itself devoid of money to upgrade or buy new weapon systems from abroad.
The better alternative is to develop and support domestic R&D to a level where it can compete with the best in the world. Not only are Indian developed and manufactured weapons degrees of magnitude cheaper than foreign equivalents, they are also tailor made to suit use by India. Investment in domestic industry in turn improves the economy, generates employment and is a potential earner of foreign exchange. Not to mention it is a better option in terms of information security as well.

Let us hope the decision makers keep in mind the larger picture as well.

Abbreviations Used
MMRCA - Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft
IAF - Indian Air Force
GOI - Government of India
MOD - Ministry of Defence
RFP - Request For Proposals
TOT - Transfer Of Technology
PLAAF - People's Liberation Army Air Force (of People's Republic of China)
PAF - Pakistan Air Force
SAM - Surface to Air Missile
ORBAT - ORder of BATtle
RCS - RADAR Cross Section
FGFA - Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft
AEW&C - Airborne Early Warning and Control
EW - Electronic Warfare
A2A - Air to Air
A2G - Air to Ground
MIC - Military Industrial Complex
UNSC - United Nations Security Council
NLCA - Naval Light Combat Aicraft
IN - Indian Navy
BVR - Beyond Visual Range

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Fulcrum Upgrade

Note : This was originally meant for publication in an online media website. However, due to events beyond my control that is unlikely to happen. That being the case, what better use for it but to resurrect my somnambulant blog ? If you feel, like I do, that the article is not comprehensive enough, please keep in mind that there was a word limit and that it was meant for lay readers (I surely failed on that count !).
- Rahul.

From the seas to the mountains, more than two decades of service. Photo Credit :
The Fulcrum Upgrade

August 23, 2011 Common Era
Bhadra 9, 2068 Vikram Samvat

While the Mirage-2000 upgrade deal has recently grabbed the headlines for its exorbitant cost, earlier this year, Russia has started flight testing upgraded MiG-29's of the Indian Air Force. In a contract worth Rs 3840 crores, RSK-MiG was to initiate a deep upgrade of IAF's MiG-29 fleet. The value of the deal has been questioned by some, wondering if spending almost a billion dollars was worth finding out if the old dog could learn new tricks.
We would come to that question soon enough but first, some history. It is worth having a look at the world as it existed in the mid 80's, when India's original acquisition of the fulcrum happened. The Soviets were in Afghanistan, America was Pakistan's greatest friend (and arms supplier), the memory of Soviet supplied MiG-21's going one up on American F-104 starfighters in Pakistani hands in '65 and '71 was still fresh and we had recently signed a strategic pact with the Soviet Union.
In the IAF itself, barring some Jaguars and some soon to be retired Hunters and Ajeets, the fleet was all MiG. Naturally, when the threat of the F-16 appeared over the sub-continent in the 80's, IAF was willing to put its trust in the MiG-29, the latest offering from MiG design bureau.

MiG-29 Origins
Artist's Impression of the Mig-29 during design stage.  Photo Credit : RSK-MiG / Yefim Gordon

The MiG-29 was designed as an out and out air superiority fighter to take on the best fighters NATO could throw at it and yet be rugged enough to operate from underprepared and damaged airfields at far flung corners of the Soviet Union.
After it was publicly unveiled in 1986 at a display in Finland, the MiG-29 was quick to capture the hearts of aviation enthusiasts all over the world with its seemingly physics defying aerial stunts performed at airshows like Farnborough and Le Bourget. Widely known by the NATO reporting name 'Fulcrum', the MiG-29 became synonymous with aesthetics in aircraft design and incredible aerial maneuvering, a veritable sports car of the skies.
Long before all this however, Indian experts had already checked out the MiG-29 and given the go-ahead for its induction into the IAF.

In Tri-Colour
Flying Over Punjab sporting IAF roundels. Photo Credit :
 India ordered the Fulcrum-A version without ground attack ability and three squadrons, No28 'First Supersonics', No47 'Black Archers'  and later No223 'Tridents' were equipped with the MiG-29. The squadrons were at various times entrusted with guarding the skies over Mumbai, Jamnagar, Ladakh and north Punjab. In the hands of supremely capable pilots like Wing Commander Harish Masand (later Air Vice Marshal), the then CO of the No28 squadron, the fulcrum was soon enthralling spectators all over India.

The MiG-29 brought some capabilities to the IAF that were both unique and gamechanging in the context of the sub-continent.

• The fulcrum featured a highly advanced lifting body airframe coupled with a pair of high thrust engines. Together these gave it the legendary maneuverability it was famed for.
• It could fire the beyond visual range (BVR) air-to-air missile R-27, a first for IAF, a capability not to be matched by PAF until the post 9/11 largesse from US. During kargil war, a MiG-29 was providing cover to IAF jets attacking enemy positions when a pair of PAF F-16's attempted to intercept them. The MiG pilot got a radar lock on them and was ready to fire his R-27 missiles. Clearly outmatched, the F-16 pilots withdrew.
• A passive IR sensor 'ball' gave it a silent hunter capability without needing to turn-on its radar.
• The fulcrum pioneered dogfight missiles cued by helmet mounted sights which allowed pilots to aim their missiles by just swivelling their head. The Shchlel-3UM helmet mounted sights, along with the MiG-29's proverbial agility made it an unmatched opponent in close range aerial combat.

And yet, the fulcrum had its share of shortcomings as well. For one, it was a very short ranged bird, had no ground attack capability to speak of and its avionics, while rugged, was a generation behind corresponding western designs and required high levels of maintenance.
The same was true of the Klimov RD-33 engines which had a very low MTBF (mean time between failures) value. These also had a tendency to visibly smoke at certain altitudes and weather conditions which made it easy for opponent pilots to visually detect it from afar. The cockpit's all analogue instruments panel had a cluttered feel which was not designed with ergonomics in mind, making man machine interface more laboured than in corresponding western aircraft.

The biggest problem however, was MiG corporations ineptness in supplying much needed spares post the break up of the Soviet Union. Starved of essential spares needed to keep the fleet flying, IAF fulcrums spent much of the early 90's confined to their hangars. This was a major blow to IAF's operational preparedness and shook IAF's faith in MiG corporations ability to support their aircraft.

By year 2000, age was slowly starting to catch up with the MiG-29, its R-27 BVR missile employed semi active radar homing, a technology which was a generation behind the active radar homing AMRAAMs (soon to be with PAF) or even IAF's own R-77, which could be fired from both the Su-30MKI as well as the upgraded MiG-21 Bison. It's avionics needed urgent replacement for the aircraft to remain relevant vis-a-vis the adversary up north, fighters of PLAAF. With a large part of IAF's fleet soon to reach retirement, Air HQ was frantic to search for ways to keep up the minimum requisite numbers. While new acquisitions like MRCA made up one end of this effort, at the other end in-service aircraft were sought to be upgraded in order to extend their service life.

IAF MiG-29's were considered ideal for the upgrade; since it was discovered their airframe life could be extended to 3500 flying hours from the original estimate of 2500 flying hours. To this end, India signed an agreement with Russia in 2006 for the upgradation of IAF's 69 MiG-29s. The negotiations took a long time and were finally concluded in 2008. According to the  contract worth $ 964 million, the first 6 would be upgraded in Russia and the rest would be done by HAL in India. The whole fleet would be upgraded by 2014. On completion, it would allow the fulcrum to continue in Indian service beyond 2025. As part of the 30% offset clause RSK-MiG would set up simulators and maintenance centres for MiG-29 aircraft in India .

MiG-29 UPG flies during testing with an external fuel tank mounted on the centreline station. It is unknown whether the Fulcrum still has G-limitations while carrying the centreline fuel tank. Photo Credit : Lysenko Sergey /
 Air HQ opted for the Russian MiG-29SMT upgrade package, with significant India specific modifications. The final version would be known as MiG-29UPG.

The major changes include :-
• Airframe : Spine of the airframe enlarged to hold additional fuel tanks, increasing the fulcrum's total internal fuel capacity by 950 litres. IFR or inflight refueling probe is added which allows the MiG-29UPG to tank up in the air, these two factors seek to address the original version's range shortcoming.

• Stealth Features : Although this has not been acknowledged officially, there is reason to believe that the MiG-29UPG, like most aircraft of IAF these days have received some level of RAM (radar absorbent material) treatment in order to reduce their radar signature.

• Powerplant : The original RD-33 engines would be replaced by RD-33 series 3 engines, which would be produced by HAL under license. These engines no longer smoke, require lesser maintenance, come with a FADEC (a computerized system for controlling the engine) and offer slightly better fuel economy.

NOTE : Thanks to Austin for pointing out that the RD-33 series 3 comes under a separate deal valued at $ 250 million. The impact on the platform remains same however.

• RADAR : The N019 radar is replaced by Phazotron Zhuk-ME radar which, unlike its predecessor has surface mapping and terrain following modes in addition to usual air-to-air modes. This allows the MiG-29UPG to operate in ground attack roles. The detection range has increased by more than 50% and it can scan larger areas of the sky while offering better situational awareness to the pilot.

• IRST : The old KOLS IRST(infra-red search and track) passive sensor is relpaced by OLS-UEM providing much better sensitivity and range.

• Cockpit Display : The cockpit display has been completely overhauled with analogue dials replaced by modern glass cockpit with colour multi-function LCD displays offering a significantly improved ergonomic environment. Addition of a HOTAS further adds to the ease of flying for the pilot.

• Electronic Warfare : Integrated EW suite from BEL which was developed by DARE-DRDO for the LCA program would find its way into the UPG. Combining a host of functions like radar warning receiver (RWR), AESA based self-protection jammer (SPJ), HADF etc this is a very capable EW suite that would give the upgraded fulcrum a decisive edge in this extremely critical area. There is also provision for external ECM pods.

• HMDS : It is likely that the older Schlel-3UM helmet mounted sight is being replaced by Thales Topsight-E helmet mounted display system (HMDS), the same system used in the Indian navy's MiG-29K. The author has been unable to confirm this.

• Foreign Systems : Other non-Russian or Indian avionics include a French Sagem Sigma-95 Inertial Navigational System (INS) and a Thales IFF system.

• Weapons : This is one area where the basic MiG-29 has been completely revolutionised. The MiG-29UPG is now a multi-role aircraft fully capable of carrying out strike missions. Its ground attack munition options include precision guided munitions like Kh-29T TV guided missiles, Kh-31A anti-ship missiles, Kh-31P anti-radar missiles, KAB-500 TV guided bombs etc, making it a potent strike platform.

 In addition, the new MiG is compatible with the long range R-77 air-to-air missile allowing it to engage enemy aircraft at beyond visual ranges with the latest in IAF's missile arsenal.

Quite clearly, this upgrade program breathes new life into one of IAF's most glamorous fighters and makes it a potent machine that would stay relevant for another decade and more. At the cost at which it comes, this is one of IAF's most cost effective upgrade programs to date. The beautiful silhouette of the fulcrum performing aerial ballet would continue to mesmerise Indians for some years to come. For an old MiG-29 fan like the author, that can only be good news !