India has received its first four Russian MiG-29K fighters, modified to operate from aircraft carriers. Another eight will arrive by the end of the year. The MiG-29K made its first flight last year, about fifteen years later than originally planned. India plans to buy 30-40 of these, for use on two or more aircraft carriers.
It was in the early 1990s that work began on creating a variant of the MiG-29 for carrier use. These were to be used on the Kuznetsov class carriers. These were conceived of as 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their goals, and ended up with the 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design.
The thousand foot long carrier ended up carryings a dozen navalized Su-27s (called Su-33s), 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters and two search and rescue helicopters. The ship was designed to carry up to 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters.
The Su-33 is larger than the MiG-29K, and both types of aircraft were to operate from the three 65,000 ton Kuznetsovs. But when the Cold War ended, only the Kuznetsov was near completion. The second ship in the class, the half built Varyag, was sold to China. The smaller Gorshkov is being rebuilt and sold to India (who believed the smaller MiG-29K was more suitable for this carrier.).
The 21 ton MiG-29K modifications included arrestor gear and stronger landing gear for carrier landings, folding wings, and rust proofing to reduce corrosion from all that salt water. Anti-radar paint is also used, to reduce the radar signature. Fuel capacity was increased 50 percent and more modern electronics installed. A more powerful engine is used, which enabled the aircraft to carry over five tons of weapons (air-to-air and anti-ship missiles, smart bombs). The Indians will operate twelve MiG-29Ks on their refurbished Russian carrier, supported by a pair of two seater MiG-29Ks for training.
Meanwhile, the MiG company is having financial problems because of losing so much business to their competitor Sukhoi, and the Su-27/30 (etc). The MiG-29 has had quality control issues, and currently all the Russian Air Force MiG-29s have been grounded for two months while an investigation tries to determine of the aircraft have any common flaws that make them unsafe to fly.