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‘Nicks’ ground Sukhoi squad
- Order affects 18 frontline fighters

New Delhi, Sept. 5: The Indian Air Force has effectively grounded a frontline squadron of Sukhoi multi-role fighters. Orders were issued last week.

The squadron’s operational flying was severely restricted after “nicks” were detected in the blades of the aircraft engine fans. There are 18 Su-30K aircraft in the No. 24 Hunting Hawks squadron based in Lohegaon, Pune.

The aircraft in the squadron have flown an average 600-650 hours. The aircraft would have been normally due for major overhaul after 1,000 flying hours.

On a request from the air force when asked for the official version, The Telegraph sent its queries in writing. The IAF spokesperson said an official response would be given later.

Sources in the air headquarters said: “There is a staggered flying down of the Su-30K squadron based in Lohegaon, Pune. We would be sending them for routine checks. The airframe has a flying life of 1,000 hours. On average, the aircraft have done about 700 hours.”

The “nicks” in the blades of engine fans were detected during a check with stroboscopes, equipment that enable engineers to inspect the innards of engines. The stroboscope check was carried out in accordance with instructions in a technical manual received by IAF engineers recently.

The air headquarters sources said: “Nicks found in engine blades are routinely treated. In fact, a certain amount of nicks are tolerable. Beyond that the blades are changed.”

The Su-30K multi-role combat aircraft are fourth generation fighters. The MiG-21 is of second generation vintage. The two-seater highly manoeuvrable Su-30Ks, said to be capable of dodging missiles, have been developed by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau and manufactured by Irkutsk Aviation. They are effective in air-to-air as well as in ground-attack roles. The aircraft have a range of 3,000 km extendable up to 5,200 km with in-flight refuelling.

The air force inducted a first batch of eight Su-30Ks in June 1998 after contracting them in December 1997. These were bought in flyaway condition.

Subsequently, in December 1998, India also ordered 10 more Su-30Ks that were at first contracted by Indonesia and then cancelled. These were inducted into the IAF by October 1999. The estimated cost of each of the aircraft in flyaway condition was $20 million.

What does this mean for the country when the air force has just earned itself the Centre’s approval this week for a Rs 8,000-crore deal with British Aerospace Systems to buy the advanced jet trainers'

Simply, that the IAF's warfighting machinery is under pressure not only because of its ageing MiG-21 fleet but also because deals executed in the past for its more modern fighters are far from flawless.

The experience underlines that there is nothing like over-cautiousness in deals for military equipment that must be struck at such huge cost to the national exchequer. When the agreement for the Su-30Ks was initialled in November 1996, the package was estimated at $1.8 billion.

The IAF has an agreement with Irkutsk to take delivery of Su-30MKi — a later version of the Su-30K customised for India — that it is using to put pressure on the manufacturer and upgrade the Su-30Ks. Delivery of the upgraded and customised Sukhois for the IAF — the Su 30MKi — has also been delayed.

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