Indian Navy MiG-29K makes maiden night landing on INS Vikrant

According to a report by Rahul Singh in the Hindustan Times on May 26, an important milestone was achieved as an Indian Navy MiG-29K fighter jet successfully made its maiden night landing on the indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Navy officials stated that this achievement marks a significant step towards the full operationalization of the warship, along with its air wing, by the end of the year.

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Indian Navy MiG 29K makes maiden night landing on INS Vikrant An Indian Navy MiG-29K lands on indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant for the first time, on Wednesday 24 May night (Picture source: PTI)

INS Vikrant, commissioned into the navy last September, is currently sailing in the Arabian Sea. Its deployment symbolizes a crucial moment in India's pursuit of self-reliance in the defense manufacturing sector. Navy spokesperson Commander Vivek Madhwal praised the crew and naval pilots, highlighting their resolve, skill, and professionalism in accomplishing the challenging night landing trial.

This accomplishment follows the earlier achievement of a MiG-29K and a prototype of the naval version of the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) successfully landing and taking off from the aircraft carrier for the first time during daylight in February. Currently, INS Vikrant is undergoing air certification and flight integration trials with both rotary-wing and fixed-wing aircraft to achieve a combat-ready state at the earliest.

The ongoing flight trials involve the utilization of Russian-origin MiG-29K fighter jets, which employ ski-jump take-offs and are recovered by arrestor wires, also known as STOBAR (short take-off but arrested recovery) in naval terminology. It is anticipated that twelve MiG-29Ks will be deployed on Vikrant, while the navy seeks to procure a new deck-based fighter as an interim solution until the indigenous twin-engine deck-based fighter (TEDBF) is ready in the coming years. The officials estimate that the first TEDBF prototype could undertake its maiden flight by 2026 and enter production by 2031.

Indian Navy MiG 29K makes maiden night landing on INS Vikrant 2 An Indian Navy MiG-29K lands on indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant for the first time, on Wednesday 24 May night (Picture source: Indian Navy)

In terms of the deck-based fighter competition, the French Rafale M fighter was selected over the American F/A-18 Super Hornet to equip the navy with 26 new aircraft for INS Vikrant, as previously reported. Vikrant, boasting 76% indigenous content, will operate an air wing consisting of 30 aircraft, including the new fighters, MiG-29Ks, Kamov-31 choppers, MH-60R multi-role helicopters, and advanced light helicopters.

The 45,000-tonne INS Vikrant was constructed at Cochin Shipyard at a cost of ₹20,000 crore. Only the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, France, and China possess the capability to build aircraft carriers of this magnitude. It has been named after the earlier aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was in service with the navy from 1961 to 1997.

Officials have indicated that the navy is also considering the construction of a second indigenous aircraft carrier to enhance India's maritime power in distant seas. INS Vikramaditya, purchased second-hand from Russia for $2.33 billion, has prompted the navy to argue for the necessity of three such floating airfields given its extensive area of interest.

Vikrant is the fourth aircraft carrier operated by the Indian Navy, following the first Vikrant (of British origin) from 1961 to 1997, INS Viraat (of British origin) from 1987 to 2016, and INS Vikramaditya since 2013.

With dimensions of 262 meters in length, a height of 61 meters from keel to mast, and a flight deck measuring 12,500 square meters (equivalent to 10 Olympic-size swimming pools), Vikrant possesses an endurance of 7,500 nautical miles, a maximum speed of 28 knots, 2,300 compartments, and the capacity to carry a crew of 1,600.