NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy's primary fighter operating from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya faces operational deficiencies due to defects in engines, airframes and fly-by-wire systems, according to a report by India's autonomous auditor, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG). However, Indian Navy officials say the Russian-made MiG-29K remains the best choice available.
The report said the "aircraft MiG-29K is being technically accepted despite having discrepancies and anomalies."
India ordered 45 MiG-29K aircraft and equipment worth $2.2 billion in two separate orders — in 2004 and 2010 — from Russia. It is the primary combat platform on Vikramaditya, which was acquired from Russia when it was known as the Admiral Gorshkov.
The MiG-29K aircraft are also expected to serve on the homemade aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which is still under construction.
Arun Prakash, who served as chief of the Indian Naval Staff, evaluated the aircraft in 1999 before the purchase from Russia. The retired admiral said: "There are the only two fighters — MiG-29K and Sukhoi-33 — in the world capable of operations from a Short Take-Off But Arrested Recovery, a system used for the launch and recovery of aircraft from the deck of an aircraft carrier like INS Vikramaditya. There is no better fighter available to replace the MiG-29K."
However, Prakash is highly critical of what he called the "lethargy" by the Russians in the manufacturing and maintenance of the aircraft.
On problems with the engine, the CAG report said: "Since induction in February 2010, 40 engines (62 percent) of twin-engined MiG-29K have been withdrawn from service/rejected due to design-related defects."
Additionally, the serviceability of the warplanes was low, ranging from 21.30 percent to 47.14 percent, according to the report.
"The roots of these problems (serviceability and defects) lie in the extremely poor quality control in the Russian military-industrial complex and dismal product support being rendered by the Russian industry to the Indian Navy for the past 25 years," Prakash said. "This is in spite of the fact that the development of the MiG-29K has been totally funded by the Indian Navy."
On how the aircraft could affect combat worthiness of the Navy, the CAG report said: "The service life of MiG -29K is 6,000 hours or 25 years (whichever is earlier) but the deficiencies and snags in the aircraft is likely to reduce the operational life of the aircraft, thereby affecting combat worthiness of [the Indian] Navy."
Detailing the defects of the engine on MiG-29K, the report noted that "even as the RD-33 MK engine (mounted on MiG-29K) was considered an advancement over the engine of the MiG-29K, its reliability remains questionable."
"The engine-design defects should be rectified with the utmost urgency at the Russians' cost," Prakash said. "Any respectable company, conscious of its reputation, would attend to this. But the oligarchs who control the Russian military-industrial complex are too brazen, for two reasons: (a) they know that India has not choice and (b) they are confident that Indian politicians will never turn the screw on them."
However, retired Indian Navy commodore and independent defense analyst, Sujeet Samaddar, gave no credence to the CAG report.
"I firmly believe auditors have no experience or professional ability to comment on technical matters of a modern state — just putting numbers and percentages."
A Ministry of Defence official would not comment in detail on the CAG report, but said: "MiG-29K will remain the primary combat fighter for the Indian Navy."