The latest space snapshots acquired by the commercial satellite firm DigitalGlobe show eleven of the carrier-based aircraft parked on the south apron of the airbase at Vizag. It appears the aircraft arrived since previous imagery was taken in March. Two Hawk Mk 132 trainer and a new aircraft hangar (under construction) were also visible on imagery at the time of capture.
For the past few years India has been talking about putting a MIG-29K squadron at Vizag’s naval air station, INS Dega. Vizag is home to India’s Eastern Naval Command and its strategically important nuclear submarines.
The Navy has said it will establish up to three squadrons flying the Russian-built platform, one for each of its flanks and another for training. Its first squadron, INAS 303, aka the “Black Panthers”, was already stood-up at Goa-based INS Hansa in May 2013 — three years after India began taking delivery of the aircraft. The squadron, comprised of 12 fighters, is led by veteran Sea Harrier pilot Captain A.D. Theophilus.
Deploying the MIG-29K at INS Dega suggests that India is preparing to announce the formation of its second squadron of the multi-role fighters. It also underscores the further importance of the airbase which already supports maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. Now India appears to be taking the next step in plans to support aircraft aboard a future carrier, its first subordinate to its Eastern Naval Command.
However, it should be noted that those plans are still over three years away. INS Vikrant, India’s second carrier to sport the MIG-29K, won’t be ready for operation until December 2018 — if then. In late May, the 40,000-ton carrier missed it’s undocking date due to “unfavorable conditions” — a development not surprising given India’s shipbuilding record. In fact, the boat is already four years behind schedule.
In the meantime, India expects delivery of 12 more MIG-29K from Russia during the 2015-2016 period. According to SIPRI’s arms trade database, India’s total MIG-29K numbers should reach 45 aircraft after final delivery. Future numbers should be interesting to watch given India and the US announced the development of an aircraft carrier working group. If the US and India agree on some type of technology sharing for India’s second homegrown carrier, it’s likely the South Asian country will move closer to the US and by extension acquire US-built fighters.
Beyond the Indian Navy’s newer MIG-29Ks, the Indian Air Force also flies 66 older MIG-29s. Those aircraft are being upgraded to MIG-29UPG (MIG-29SMT) variant by Russia.