NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy has retired the Sea Harrier fleet that operated from its aircraft carrier INS Viraat, and plans to replace them with MiG- 29Ks that India has bought from Russia.

The Indian Navy bought 30 British-made Sea Harriers in 1983 but only 11 now remain. The Navy once considered upgrading  the Sea Harriers but abandoned the plan.

The Sea Harrier pilots are now being trained to fly the Russian MiG 29K fighter aircraft. India had planned to replace the Sea Harriers with the homemade Light Combat Aircraft (Naval) version but the program is more than 15 years behind schedule, said an Indian Navy official.

State-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. conducted a limited upgrade to the Sea Harriers in 2009 but acquisition of spares has become a problem because BAE Systems has stopped manufacturing the aircraft. The limited upgrade included mounting of Israeli Elta-made multimode fire control radars and Derby beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles.

In 2006, the Navy planned to purchase retired Sea Harriers from the Royal British Navy but the Ministry of Defence later abandoned the program.

The retired Sea Harriers have now been mothballed at the Indian Navy's Air Station in Goa before being distributed as museum pieces, the Indian Navy official said.

Even the Viraat, which housed the Sea Harriers, is proposed to be retired by year end. The carrier, which was originally the Royal Navy's HMS Hermes, was bought from the Royal Navy in 1986. Since then a number of refits have been carried out on the vessel.

Email: vraghuvanshi@defensenews.com

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