India Upgrading Fighters for Strike Capabilities

MIG27 (Photo

Jauary 15, 2009 -- India is upgrading its MiG-27 fighters to sharpen their strike capabilities, officials said on Wednesday, even as experts say the recent Mumbai attacks have exposed the country's need to modernise its defence forces.

Although the upgrade was planned well ahead of the attacks, officials said the defence ministry wants to speed up modernisation of its forces to tackle any future security threat.

The upgrading comes at a time when tension runs high with Pakistan over Mumbai and India is saying it has all options open to deal with 'terror outfits' in Pakistan.

India is spending $92m to develop the fighters with precise navigational equipment, better weapons aiming and accurate ranging sensors for hitting ground targets.

"The hardware and avionics bit has already been fitted into 40 fighters, and the software is being loaded now," Suranjan Pal, a senior Defence Research and Development Organisation official, told Reuters.

With the upgrading, the MiG fighters would last for another ten years and have autopilot and auto weapon delivery facilities, a senior Indian Air Force official said.

India is looking to spend $30bn on imports over the next five years to modernise its largely Soviet-era arms and is also trying to strengthen its navy by introducing new weapons systems.

The MiG-27 aircraft was originally built in the former Soviet Union in the mid-1970s before it was licenced to be produced in India.

India, fast becoming one of the world's biggest arms importers, wants to modernise its air force, the fourth largest in the world, to cope with possible security threats in the region, security experts said.

"This is something more than meets the eye, India is now very keen to signal to all the people that are monitoring the country that it is modernising its defence units," C. Uday Bhaskar, a strategic affairs expert told Reuters. "It seems we are now putting all the pieces together."

India is also considering upgrading of its other fighter fleet, including Mirage 2000s, Jaguars and MiG 29s, ahead of procuring the new generation Sukhoi-30MKIs, officials said.

It has also invited bids for a contract to supply 126 multi-role fighter jets, potentially worth more than $10bn. (By Bappa Majumdar, Reuters.

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