India and China are both beefing up their aircraft carrier forces through the induction of new carrier-operated aircraft.
On Saturday India’s Defense Minister AK Antony commissioned the country’s first squadron of Russia-built MiG-29K at the INS Hansa Naval near Goa near the Southern tip of India. The squadron, which will be named INAS 303 Black Panthers, consists of 16 MiG-29K fighters some of which were inducted into the India military three years ago allowing Indian pilots to become comfortable flying the aircraft.
India’s Economic Times reported that, “The MiG-29Ks, with a range of 1,300km and a service ceiling of 58,000-feet, are capable of STOBAR (short takeoff but arrested recovery) operations. They are armed with R-73 and RVV-AE guided air-to-air missiles, Kh-35E anti-ship missiles, KAB 500KR/OD TV guided bombs and S-8KOM rockets.”
The 303 Blank Panthers squadron fighters are the first of what will be a total of 45 fighters India has agreed to purchase from Russia for over US$2 billion, including 29 more MiG-29Ks.
The newly commissioned fighters will continue carrying out training exercises until November or December when the Russian built INS Vikramaditya (formerly Gorshkov) aircraft carrier that is currently being refitted is scheduled to be inducted by India’s Navy. Delhi’s other aircraft carrier, the INS Viraat, is currently undergoing maintenance but will continue operating for at least the next few years and possible through 2018.
India also currently has plans to build two indigenous aircraft carriers (IACs). The first is a 40,000 ton vessel currently being constructed at Cochin Shipyard and is scheduled to be inducted into India’s Navy in the next four or five years. It will be placed in the water on August 12 of this year and will undergo its first sea trials 24 months after that, according to Antony.
While commissioning the new maritime aviation squadron on Saturday, Antony also marked the 60th anniversary of India’s naval aviation.
The day before the ceremony that Antony attended, on Friday, China announced it had formed its first carrier-borne aviation force. Citing PLA sources, China’s state media reported that the forming of the force— which will consist of “carrier-borne fighter jets, jet trainers and ship-borne helicopters that operate anti-submarine, rescue and vigilance tasks”— demonstrates that “the development of China's aircraft carriers has entered a new phase.”
The reports also said that Admiral Wu Shengli, a Princeling member of the Central Military Commission—China’s highest military decision-making body— and the commander of the PLA Navy, attended the ceremony.
The media stories also focused heavily on the quality of the pilots that were included in the group. One report stated:
“The personnel of the force are more elite than the aviation forces within the PLA. To be able to fly fighter jets, the pilots should have flown at least five types of aircraft and their flight time must exceed 1,000 hours.
Rich experience in joint drills and major drills is also a prerequisite. The pilots also received training in courses like warship theory, nautical basics, and maritime meteorology.”
It also revealed that the Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, is capable of holding around 30 fixed-wing aircraft, expected to initially be the J-15s.
China has plans to build a second, larger aircraft carrier that is capable of carrying more fighters. In its annual report on China’s military modernization last week, the Pentagon suggested that it believed China would complete this indigenous aircraft carrier within a decade.