SPECIAL REPORT: The Story Of India’s MiG-27 Upgrade

An unreliable nav system that pilots refused to rely on. Zero precision attack capability. Very limited night attack capability. Execrable airborne LRU reliability levels. Degradation of auto weapon delivery. That was the Indian Air Force fleet of MiG-27s towards the end of the 1990s — one of the world’s best strike aircraft in the 1970s, but utterly obsolete two decades later. A proposal was put up to organise a comprehensive upgrade of the fleet to transform the aircraft into a potent, accurate, all weather, day or night interdictor. Fortunately, foreseeing the government stalling the proposal, the IAF began discussing the possibility of a fully Indian upgrade programme involving HAL and the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE). As you can imagine, the Russians weren’t pleased, but they’d already given the Indian government reason to keep them out of main part of the programme.

Finally, on 14 March 2002, a momentous tripartite agreement was signed between the Indian Air Force, HAL and DARE. The prime agency for the upgrade was DARE, with HAL as the joint agency. Regional Centres for Military Airworthiness (RCMAs) and CEMILAC were also involved.

The team knew it needed to work fast — this was a litmus test of what a fully Indian upgrade programme could achieve in a short time. For starters, to reduce development time, the team resorted to concurrent engineering and began using proven hardware and software modules common to the Su-30MKI and Jaguar NAVWASS programme. To save flight test and evaluation time, two prototype upgraded aircraft were made, according to a detailed presentation on the upgrade by project director P.M. Soundar Rajan of DARE. The development methodology was rigorous but efficient, with multiple agencies breaking a lot of institutional barriers to work together like they never had before.

The MiG-27 needed plenty of work. Equipment that went into the upgrade included a HUD and a full colour high definition display (HDD). The core of the upgrade involved two new pieces of computer equipment in the Flogger’s nose bay. A new laser ranger replaced the old KLEN system. The main nav sensor, the INGPS along with VOR/ILS were also located in the nose bay. The new electronic warfare suite included a new radar warning receiver, an ELTA podded jammer and counter-measures dispenser system (CMDS). The upgraded aircraft was also made capable of carrying a laser designation pod and a photo recee pod.

Cutting down time taken to plan a mission was a high priority under the upgrade terms. The IAF’s Software Development Institute (SDI) was roped in to develop a brand new mission planning system (MPS), which brought down mission planning time from 2-3 hours to about 30 minutes. A data-transfer unit was also conceived, to transfer RWR pre-flight messages (PFM) and MPS data straight to the aircraft — a common function on modern fighters, but a breath of truly fresh air for the lumbering MiG-27. The system does, however, have a shortcoming – PFMs for the ELTA self-protection jammer and INCOM R/T crystallisation cannot be loaded through the DTU and still have to be fed directly into the aircraft.

The upgraded cockpit was a true legacy leap. Livefist reported earlier on the dramatic comparison of the MiG-27 cockpit, before and after upgrade. The upgraded cockpit is, as DARE puts it, “neater, de-cluttered and much more functionally ergonomic as compared to the non-upgrade cockpit”. No argument with that. The RWR and CMDS were placed in the pilot’s primary field of vision. An indigenous MFD displayed maps, horizontal situation and laser pod video. With time required to feed in date pre-mission reduced by a factor of four, and less time for alignment, the time for launch was brought down dramatically.

What, in effect, the MiG-27 upgrade has made possible is substantially reduced the pilot’s workload. He no longer has to pay as much attention to navigation as he used to, situational awareness is no longer a daunting challenge even while flying at low levels and routine tasks have been shifted off the pilot’s plate, allowing him to focus less on flying and more on tactics and the mission at hand. Target acquisition is also remarkably more efficient and intuitive now. Targets can now be acquired even in the dark night laser designator pod video, and since this involves head-down work, HUD symbology is overlaid over the video. Little things like this have transformed the MiG-27 mission experience. Pilots can now also leave the flying to the auto-pilot, now fully integrated in the auto-nav and auto-attack modes. The centre of the display has been designed to be un-cluttered to allow pilots to easily locate and identify the target. The sensor is slewable too. Overall, a substantially improved nav-attack system. For example, in a CCIP dive, a manoeuver that required every last shred of the pilot’s attention, now has very accurate sights catering for the aircraft’s changing parameters and allowing the pilot to monitor terminal air defence activity, managing the ECM suite and managing overall situational awareness.

The upgrade has given the MiG-27 new modes of attack, including CCRP, CCIP memory and Target of Opportunity — these have given pilots the flexibility to attack planned and unplanned targets with equal efficacy. On the upgraded MiG-27, virtually attack parameters can be adjusted with a flick of a control switch now, and will no longer involve untimely sweats in the cockpit.

Weapon accuracy was a real concern. During upgrade trials, an upgraded MiG-27 conducted an HALR laser-pod assisted drop of a 500-kg dumb bomb from 7.5-km. Its missed distance was 15-metres. This was a dumb bomb, not a PGM.

The MiG-27s electronic warfare suite underwent many substantial changes. For starters, the front antennae of the Tarang 1B radar warning receiver (RWR) were moved from the wing leading edges to the nose, removing the earlier problem of masking which has apparently plagued the Tarang experience in virtually every other aircraft it has been used on. Incidentally, the upgraded MiG-27 is now the only aircraft in the Indian inventory that provides true 360-degrees, mask-free RWR cover. The self-protection jammer and and countermeasures dispensing system (CMDS) can now be autocued by the RWR, and the new integrated display provides, for the first time on the MiG-27, a perfectly clear picture of the electronic orbat around the aircraft.

The MiG-27 continues, however, to be a highly controversial aircraft in Indian service, recently seeing a long spell of grounding. Former IAF flight safety chief Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia has long argued that the MiG-27 engine has fundamental flaws that make it a dangerous machine to fly, and should be phased out forthwith. More on this last bit soon.

23 thoughts on “SPECIAL REPORT: The Story Of India’s MiG-27 Upgrade”

  1. Eagerly Waiting for expert comments. Talking in terms of percentage how much is present beast better than old Mig 27. And
    Shivji kindly enlighten us by what year our military capabilities would be good enough to attack P and without resulting in to much civilian causality.

  2. An efficient and worthwhile effort till the arrival of AMCA, T-50 and FGFA.

    It is great that they could do it by themselves.

  3. Very informative and well written. Kudos to HAL/DARE for managing this project within time-lines.

    One question-Your statement about the Flogger being a potent 70's platform but a defunct 90's platform raises questions in my mind. The F-16 was a potent 70's platform and although not state-of-the-art (Block 60's are) platform anymore, they are still a very effective platform. Ditto for the F-15 (the K version the South Koreans have is comparable to the MKI's) and the F-18 ( although the F-18 debuted in the early 80's).

    Point I am trying to make-Is there a generic problem with Soviet aircraft capabilities vis-a-vis American that make them a excellent contemporary platform but not a one that withstands a generation?

    While this may sound outlandish, i feel this is true. Case in Point-the Mig-29. In the 80's it sent shivers down Western spines. Today, the Mig-29 (albeit Mig-35) is struggling for orders (Algeria returned their aircraft citing Quality issues) outside India & a couple of other countries. 29's have been shot down in combat by F-15's in Irag (I know Pilot skills would be pointed out)The F-18 and its successor Super Hornet are still selling and if media is to be believed, can outclass the Mig-29 today. Not sure if a SH will outclass a Mig-35 (once it is fielded). I would be very eager to see how the upgraded IAF 29's fare with the F-15/F-18 platforms in exercises.

    Worrying thought-what happens if the huge MKI fleet is redundant in say,2025. It will cost > $12 Billion to produce the IAF's 272 MKI's. Would be sad to see it lose to the F-18 SH/Eurofighter 15 years down the line (leave the F-22-the FGFA will counter that).

  4. A good effort from HAL and others. May be HAL has been underrated for its success,. May be now people will stand up and take notice.

    But will any lesson be learnt from the mig27 maintenance issue. all russian fighters are high maintenance and should NOT be bought without the lifetime maintenance package. REad the teetihing issuse with mig-29 s the malaysian airforce is facing. Even then the IN went ahead and bought mig-29 ks. so, in the mmrca decision, this "maintenance' issue weighs in 50% .

  5. Anon @9.09 Russian jet are much better than american in terms of maneuverability and design . Avionics and Radar are no doubt are one of the most important part of fighter but now days it has become all together a different branch. And require billions of dollar which Russian did not have in 80 and 90s. F 16 over the years have many times been upgraded but a serious Mig29 up grade since 83 would would be Mig 35. Without the AESA radar SH should not much problem for Mig 35. Its all about Money and your prioritizes and how high u are on vodka.

  6. Just breed the tejas like rabbits . make it the indian mig – 21 ( in terms of quantity ) .a squardon or two maybe three for every air force base .just mass produce them like tanks !!!!!!!!! waiting to hear expert comments on this mass production theory .

  7. We need to have a very high production rate (40 to 50 Planes/year) facility at hal and produce Tejas in big numbers. And once 5th-gen is ready start "upgrading" Tejases in inventory into UCAVs. But the spoilt-brats and the delhi farm-house wallahs will just not allow any solution other than imports.

  8. Do we have enough pilots to man the number of a/cs that we are going to induct over the next few years? Mass production is a very good idea subjected to able and trustworthy a/c. If Tejas can prove that it can outmanoure Mirage, yes why not. The country like India can easily afford to deploy hundreads of these a/c if our delhi based politicians decide to.

  9. Shiv, Can you at some point in time please compare LCA Tejas abilities with respect to Mig 21/27S. Considering all these deficiences prior to upgrade I believe Tejas should easily take over the role that these aircrafts are expected to do. I guess its prime time for HAL to fire up all cylinders and get Tejas operationally certified by October.

    Even if we can prove that it is a better option compared to Mig 21with some proves, that itself is enough to cause shivers across the boders.

  10. A total of 40 Mig 27's have been upgraded upto 2009; operational in 2 Sqdns (no's 10 and 29).
    Another 60+ Mig 27's are operational in 3.5 Sqdns (18,22, 222 and TACDE) The Mig 27's in TACDE should be replaced by SU30MKI's by early next year.

    There were reports that another 40 Mig 27's were to be Upgraded from 2010 onwards…..but no confirmation.

    Reports on Engine problems still persist.

  11. I think LCA Tejas can easily supplant MiG-27s.

    There is only so much make-up one can apply on an old woman. But she isn't going to look like a teen – maybe only 15 years younger.

    In the same way, the IAF must stop upgrading old and tottering jets with new avionics. They absolutely HAVE to be replaced with modern planes like Tejas and Su-30. Now, more than ever before.

    Its high time these cold war relics like MiG-27 and MiG-21 were retired.

  12. Tejas mk1 if equipped with BWR and/or standoff missile capabilities may be enough to send the chills down the spines of real enemies. It may be noted that Paki forums are facing a silence of death since the acceptance of LCA and Arjun by our forces.

    Being basically somewhat indigenous and cheap, LCA is prone to be built in larger numbers and even today the quantity matters with quality.

    So the quantity aspect shall be accomplished judiciously i.e. Tejas mk2 may be split in to Tejas mk2 and Tejas mk3 in such a manner that immediately after the completion of rapid production of 40 Tejas mk1s, the production of 40 Tejas mk2s can take place.

    The quantity aspect may have its own importance as considering the red dragon china and the two front theory, India should have at least 60 Squadrons.

  13. This stands out as an excellent example of how our desi organizations when working in tandem can achieve great things. One important thing to note here is the IAFs involvement from the very beginning of the program. IAF and IA have a very boorish attitude towards Indian made systems and this has to change. Since the generals and the marshals are incapable of doing this, it comes on the shoulders of Shree Antony to ensure that we support such efforts. There is no substitute for indigenous capabilities.

  14. You said "IAF and IA have a very boorish attitude towards Indian made systems and this has to change".

    It is not the question of attitude. Let that be what it may. The question is output and quality of output. It is the question of what our adversaries have and what DRDO offers to soldiers to fight with?
    Recently there were talks of T-90 Vs Arjun Competition. Can we hold an Al Khalid Vs Arjun competition ? That will be held during a war which is the business of a soldier and not DRDO. Things at stakes are higher than existance of DRDO.

    One must repect the feelings and requirements of the user soldiers and provide them competetive (if not the best in the world) equiment rather burden him with third class gear to die. What ever is offered has a natinal cost both in terms of mnoey spent on DRDO and cost of loosing a war.

    User has the right to ask for what he wants. DRDO has no right to force things on the soldiers in the name of self sufficiency. Self sufficiency in "excellance" is what is being asked for and not self sufficiency in delays, disfunctinal equiment, time lines shifting by decades and risks on national defence.

    I would request these scientist gentemen to understand this. Soldier eagerly look forward to their achievement and success. However, when you are not able to make a Carbine his faith is badly shaken.

    Fault lies with you. Please do not claim monopoloy in supply of defence equipment. That would be wrong way to progress and that is not a "Term of Service" for DRDO.

    All the very best.

  15. @[email protected],
    The neighbour to the north has done everything with the local stuff. Where their products were not exceptional they procured greater numbers to compensate that. Look at their K-8 Karakorum and yet they put up with it before they matured to j-10s and j-11s. But today they stand on their feet. Nobody ever became big with rented guns. It is not about existence of an organization. You are either self-sufficient or a dependent vassal whose sword is sharp or blunt depending on remote control of supplier.

  16. Any number of modern jets will not change our politicians' minds. They dont want to fight with any country that threatens us. Pak has the muslim votebank factor and China is too clever to keep their claws hidden and bluff the Indians. This nation has never been an aggressor and never will be in future. Planes and Tanks are just show pieces !!!

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