Naval Air: December 10, 2003

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Indias apparent selection of the MiG-29K on the converted Gorshkov is not very surprising. One big reason is that while India could have saved a lot of money by simply using its force of Sea Harriers, they just arent as capable as the MiG-29Ks that will likely be purchased.

It would have been a somewhat ironic transition, since the Gorshkov was originally designed to operate the V/STOL fighter used by the Soviet Union (now Russia), the Yak-38 Forger. The Forger was better than the original Harrier, but not as capable as the AV-8B. It lacked an internal cannon (compared to two 30 millimeter in the Sea Harriers of India and the UK or a 25 millimeter Gatling gun in the AV-8B series) and had a lower payload (3,500 kilograms against 6,000 on the AV-8B series). To make matters worse for the Forger, it also had less range (200 360 kilometers on a typical hi-lo-hi ground-attack mission as opposed to 1,100 kilometers on an AV-8B series). The Yak-141 Freestyle died with the end of the Cold War, and while it was faster than the AV-8B series, it was clearly not a match for the AV-8B Harrier. Indias Harriers are the Sea Harrier Mk.51, which is based on the original Sea Harrier, and therefore has less payload and range than the AV-8B series.

So, rather than be saddled with older planes that are not as capable as land-based fighters likely to be used by potential allies (Pakistan being the most likely), India is spending more money to convert the Gorshkov to carry the MiG-29K Fulcrum. The MiG-29K is a naval version of the MiG-29M/MiG-33, which has a decent range (1,250 kilometer radius in air-to-air combat). The MiG-29 gives up some payload to the Harrier (4.500 tons on the Fulcrum), but the Indian Navy always has the option of adding a few Sea Harriers to the air group for attack missions.

At the same time, the Royal Navy is sticking with the Harrier carriers concept in the design of it's new conventional carriers. The new carriers will be in the 50,000 ton range, about the size of the old Midway-class carriers, operating vertical take off aircraft (the F-35B). This is in response to the success of the Harrier in three wars (the Falklands, Desert Storm, and the Afghan and Iraqi campaigns of the war on terrorism).

Later V/STOL aircraft (the Sea Harrier FA.2 and the AV-8B+) feature radars capable of guiding the AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), which has a range of 45 miles (70 kilometers). However, despite advantages in flexibility (they dont need a runway and can operate in more places than a conventional aircraft), V/STOL aircraft pay a performance penalty that has yet to be dealt with, although the F-35C may change that. As a result of that performance gap with conventional fighters, current V/STOL aircraft will probably be replaced on carriers with the higher performance F-35C. Harold C. Hutchison

 


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