NEW DELHI --- A shocking 50% of the Indian Air Force's (IAF's) Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter fleet is on the ground due to unresolved servicing issues with the aircraft's Russian manufacturers. This has also eroded the combat capability of India's frontline long-range strike aircraft and compromised even that part of the fleet which is capable of being flown.
The IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) have rung the alarm bells about the repeated mid-flight failure of the Su-30 mission computer and the blanking out of all cockpit displays. The Russians have not responded to the repeated SOS' from the Indians for over a year.
These disclosures have been made in leaked communications between HAL and Russian agencies. These are in exclusive possession of The Sunday Guardian.
The managing director of HAL's Nasik complex, which is tasked with assembly and repair of the IAF Sukhois, has, in vain, desperately flagged "multiple cases of repeated failure of Mission Computer-1 and blanking out of Head Up Displays (HUD) and all Multi-Function Displays (MFD) in flight" with earmarked representatives of both Rosboronexport — the Russian government's arms export agency — and Irkut, the original manufacturer of the Sukhoi-30.
"As the displays blanking off is a serious and critical issue affecting the exploitation of aircraft (it) needs corrective action/remedial measures on priority," he pleads in a letter dated 28 February this year, reminding the Russians that he's been raising the issue since 7 March 2013 but to no avail.
Failures of the mission computer and cockpit displays are critical. The entire sortie is programmed on the mission computer, which is vital for managing requirements of aerial combat. The "blanking off" of cockpit displays distracts pilots and diverts attention away from the mission. The IAF is worried at the spearhead of its fighter fleet being hit by these nagging snags. The IAF has planned a Sukhoi-30 fleet of 272 aircraft, of which an estimated 200 have been delivered.
Air Marshal Denzil Keelor, one of IAF's most decorated fighter pilots, is dismayed. "In-flight failures such as the ones being reported render a fighter aircraft vulnerable. When a fighter is being flown below optimum capability, it becomes more vulnerable to an adversary. No aircraft should be flown unless it performing to 100% capability," he warns.
What seems even more worrying is the Russian go-slow, which has severely hit the maintenance and availability of the fleet. Even five years after the signing of contract for the setting up of Su-30 repair and overhaul facilities in India at HAL, there's no progress despite "agreements" and assurances even at the level of the Defence Ministers of the two countries.
"Due to non-availability of facilities for overhaul of aggregates (aircraft parts), the serviceability (availability for flying) of Su-30MKI is slowly decreasing and demand for Aircraft on Ground (AOG) items on the rise," HAL's Nasik division again pleads with Russia's Rosboronexport in a telling letter dated 24 December 2013. Even the revised deadlines committed the Russians to set up the repair-overhaul facility at HAL by December 2013, and overhaul the first aircraft by June 2014. This seems nowhere on the horizon. (excerpt)
Click here for the full story, on the Sunday Guardian website.