IAF’s frontline fighter jet Sukhoi-30MKI will be modified under new specifications laid down by its Russian manufacturers to fix mid-air engine trouble in its fleet.
The move comes after the IAF faced an unusually high number of mid-air engine failures over the past two years (January 2102 onwards) and asked the Russians to rectify the problem in the fighter jet. The Tribune had highlighted this in its July 21 report. The IAF has a fleet of 200 Sukhoi aircraft and another 72 are on their way from Moscow.
The modification will primarily be carried out at HAL’s Sukhoi engine plant in Orissa. The HAL is a public sector undertaking owned by the Defence Ministry.
The modified engines will first be tested on the aircraft, before being fitted to the entire fleet. The refit will be carried out in batches over the next 18-24 months.
The Russians have assured India that the modifications will eliminate the problem of mid-air engine failure, say sources.
The Russian proposal has been accepted by the top brass of the IAF.
Some of the engines — the AL-31FP — produced by NPO Saturn of Russia have been behaving inconsistently over the past two years. Since the engines powering the jet are still being produced, there is a scope for modification.
The IAF had flagged the Russians after studying each failure in detail between 2012 and 2013. The matter was taken up at a meeting between the two nations in February and later in June.
The instances of single-engine Su-30MKI landings were very high during the period. This was lowering the operational ability of the fleet, besides raising questions about war readiness.
The Su-30MKI is a twin-engine aircraft and can land even if one of its engines fails mid-air. But this limits pilot’s ability to attack or withdraw during conflict.
Only four Su-30MKIs have so far crashed since their phased induction in 1997. A pilot had died in the first crash in 2009. At least one of the crashes is attributed to “engine trouble”.
Su-30MKI enjoys air superiority because of its engines. In horizontal flight, it can fly at 2,400 kmph or achieve a rate of climb of 230 metres per second. The ‘thrust vectoring control’ in the engine improves aircraft’s manoeuvrability.
The aircraft is now being tweaked to fire the BrahMos super-sonic cruise missile.
While the aircraft is based at Bathinda, Halwara, Sirsa, Bareilly, Jodhpur and Bhuj in the North and West, its two squadrons are based at Tezpur and Chabua in the East.
Another squadron is based in South to augment the Indian Navy’s fleet of MiG29-K and Sea Harriers aboard aircraft carriers INS Vikramaditya and INS Viraat, respectively. (The Tribune)