The Mikoyan MiG-29K (NATO = "Fulcrum-D") is a navalized variant of the successful Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum family of fighters. The navalized form was originally developed to a 1980s Soviet Navy carrier-based fighter requirement. While the Soviet Navy eventually settled on the larger Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" series (as the "Su-33"), the MiG-29K design has recently seen growing interest by both the Russian and Indian navies thanks largely to the acquisition by the Indian Navy of the ex-Kiev class Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier (to become the INS Vikramaditya in December of 2012). A dozen MiG-29K aircraft were included as part of the deal due to their more compact size, lower procurement cost and advanced capabilities. In turn, the Russian Navy has decided to replace its aged and exceedingly expensive fleet of Su-33 carrier-based fighters with the newer budget-friendly MiG-29K models by 2015.
Both Sukhoi and Mikoyan, longtime aircraft suppliers to the Soviet/Russian Air Force (and notable rivals to one another), submitted their proposed designs to the Soviet Navy for a standard carrier-based fighter platform. The original land-based Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker was developed to counter the American McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle while the Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrum was developed to counter the American General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon. As such, the Su-27 was a much larger aircraft with broadened inherent capabilities while the MiG-29 was noticeably more compact and cheaper to produce and maintain. Both Soviet-era designs proved successful (and highly capable) and went on to see considerable sales to Soviet-allied states and nations. Within time, the Soviet Navy required a similarly capable carrier-based fighter and the two Soviet concerns took to modifying their land-based designs as the MiG-29M and Su-27K respectively. The Soviet Navy eventually settled on the larger Su-27-based design though no more than 25 of the Su-33 were ever procured for the Soviet Navy's four Kiev-class aircraft carriers.
For the MiG-29 design, a reinforced undercarriage was devised for the rigors of deck operation and folding wings of greater area were introduced for improved storage aboard the space-strapped Soviet carriers. Anti-corrosion coatings were used where possible to help counter the effects of the salty sea. Additionally, recovery was made possible by the installation of an arrestor hook under the tail unit.
At this time in Soviet Naval history, the Kiev-class of aircraft carriers were a mix of "fighting cruiser" and dedicated aircraft carrier. As such, the bow of the Kiev-class family was reserved for offensive armament in the form of cannon, missiles and torpedo launchers to help contend with enemy air, surface and submarine threats while the port side of the design held the angled stern-to-port flight deck. These carriers were principally designed to operate the Yakovlev Yak-38 Forger VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) jump jets and navy helicopters which required little-to-no runway for their take-off and recovery. With the advent of more dedicated navalized aircraft, a ski jump ramp would have to be utilized to facilitate take-off (a feature common to many European aircraft carrier designs). The initial navalized MiG-29 prototype became the "MiG-29KVP" and first flight was recorded on August 21st, 1982.
A more modified form - the "MiG-29M" - soon followed this design and, for the Soviet Navy requirement, the system was redesignated as the MiG-29K ("K" indicating its "ship-based" usage in Russian). The new MiG design incorporated HOTAS (Hands On Throttle and Stick) functionality, an advanced multi-function active homing radar in the nose, revised air intakes, increased wing area and a retained capability to deliver precision-guided air-to-ground weaponry. Three color multi-function displays were utilized in the cockpit for a truly modernized, all-glass approach. The MiG-29K would, therefore, be more than a fleet defense fighter and could undertake ground strike sorties as needed - similar in scope to the American McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. A two-seat derivative was also developed to facilitate training of new MiG-29K pilots. The second cockpit reduced internal fuel volume and thusly limited operational ranges while some of the combat qualities of the MiG-29K design were lessened to a degree.
The modified MiG-29K recorded its first flight on July 23rd, 1988 and completed its first carrier landing in November of the following year along the deck of the Admiral Kuznetsov. More testing followed to work out the expected project kinks and the program received a major setback with the fall of the Soviet Union as a world communist power by 1991. While delayed, the MiG-29K was never abandoned in full and by the time Russian military financing was in check, the MiG-29K would still have a role to play for Mikoyan continued its development as a private venture in the interim years.
The Kiev-class of aircraft carriers in service to the Soviet-now-Russian Navy had lived their usefulness and were becoming exceedingly expensive to operate and maintain. The Russians clearly had no short-term need with these aging systems and the military budget forced their sale. China purchased the Kiev and Minsk while, after a prolonged negotiation period, the Indian government purchased the Admiral Gorshkov to become their INS Vikramaditya. The vessel saw her bow-mounted armament removed and a ski jump ramp installed for the more conventional aircraft carrier role (though not truly a "flat top" design by Western standards). Currently undergoing trials as of this writing (2012), the INS Vikramaditya is set to be handed over to Indian authorities in December of 2012. Along with the purchase of the Admiral Gorshkov, the Indian Navy also elected to purchase an initial dozen MiG-29K carrier-based fighters in a package deal as the larger Sukhoi Su-33 limited how many fighters could be stocked on the Kiev carrier deck. Additionally, several two-seat MiG-29KUB aircraft were also procured for pilot training. In all, the Indian Navy expects to procure some 45 MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB fighters. 15 have already been produced and these include the required engines, fly-by-wire controls and advanced radar sought by the Indian Navy.
Comparatively, the Indian Navy's decision to procure the MiG-29K over the Su-33 in number went on to have an influence on Russian Navy plans in replacing its existing Su-33 fleet with the MiG-29K in turn. As such, the Su-33 fleet will be retired in 2015 pending the arrival of additional MiG-29K fighters. The Russian Navy is intending to procure some 20 MiG-29K fighters as well as 4 MiG-29KUB two-seat fighters. These will primarily stock the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier, flag ship to the Russian Navy. It is noteworthy that the Kuznetsov itself proved so critical during testing and evaluation of the navalized MiG-29 in years prior.
Basic capabilities of the MiG-29K include Mach 2+ speeds at altitude with a ferry range out to 2,200 miles and service ceiling of 57,000 feet. Rate-of-climb is listed at 65,000 feet per minute which is a strong quality of ship-based fighters needed for interception of incoming threats. The aircraft is powered by a pair of Klimov RD-33MK turbofans with afterburning, outputting at 19,800lbs thrust each. Primary armament is a 30mm GSh-30-1 internal cannon while five of the nine possible hardpoints can be outfitted with jettisonable external fuel tanks for extended operational ranges. Beyond that, the MiG-29K will be cleared to fire air-to-air missiles (infrared, semi-active homing and active homing types), air-to-surface missiles, anti-radiation missiles, anti-ship missiles and rocket pods. Additionally, the type will retain the capability to drop conventional bombs as well as laser-guided munitions, further broadening the tactical reach of the machine. All told, the MiG-29K will be able to undertake a variety of missions including fleet defense, interception, reconnaissance, tracking, ground attack and anti-ship sorties. For the Indian Navy, this is a much broader weapons platform than the existing family of aging BAe Sea Harriers.
The avionics suite includes the SPO-15 Beryoza Radar Warning Receiver (RWR) to identify incoming threats to the aircraft. An infrared search-and-track system is standard while the radar housed in the nose cone is the advanced Zhuk-ME series radar system. The pilot will have access to basic countermeasures through the included Electronic Countermeasures (ECM) pod as well as the requisite chaff and flare dispensing units. A laser targeting pod can also be affixed to the design.
Production of MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB fighters and trainers is ongoing as of this writing (2012). Some 15 have been produced to date with manufacture having began in 2005. The Indian Navy received their first MiG-29K mounts in 2009.