"With the scheduled decommissioning of INS Viraat and great difficulty in the maintenance of the ageing Sea Harrier fighters, they are scheduled to be de-inducted on May 11. The squadron will be operating the advanced MiG-29K fighters," the Indian Navy said in a statement.
The Sea Harriers were being operated by the White Tigers squadron, which is being trained to operate its first supersonic fighters in 30 MiG-29Ks — out of the 45 contracted from Russia for the INS Vikramaditya and the under-construction indigenous carrier INS Vikrant. The MiG-29K is expected to give the Indian Navy a four-fold capability jump over Sea Harriers.
The Sea Harriers had an operational speed of 640 knots or 1,186 kmph, with a range of around 800 nautical miles, but, they fell short of exceeding the speed of sound at Mach 1 or 1,235 kmph. The state run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited conducted a limited upgrade a few years ago which included fitting on Israeli Elta EL/M-2032 multi-mode fire control radars and 'Derby' beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, but due to the unavailability of spare parts, further upgrades had become impossible.
India had planned to replace the Sea Harriers with the homemade Light Combat Aircraft (Naval) version but the program is more than 15 years behind schedule.
The Indian Navy bought 30 British-made Sea Harriers in 1983 but only 11 now remain. The retired aircraft will be stationed at different museums across the country as show pieces.