Tribune News Service
New Delhi, July 20
Repeated engine failures and the newly introduced precautionary measures have affected the availability of planes for various operations. The IAF has a fleet of 200 Sukhois.
After a failure, the engine is replaced after testing before allowing the plane to fly again. The process of removing and replacing an engine usually takes four-five days, but can be extended depending upon the damage.
As a stopgap arrangement, the Russian side had suggested some measures.
The IAF has so far not arrived at a conclusion of its findings, but as a precautionary step, it has started servicing the engine after 700 hours instead of the mandated 1,000 hours of flying, adding to the non-availability of the aircraft.
Sources said the matter was taken up at the India-Russia meeting in June this year and also in February when a Russian delegation visited the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited's (HAL's) Sukhoi-30MKI plant at Nashik.
The IAF had told Russians after studying each failure in detail that Sukhoi's engines - AL-31FP produced by NPO Saturn of Russia - had been functioning inconsistently for the past two years (2012 and 2013).The number of single-engine landings by planes in two years is high and not healthy. It lowers the operational ability of the fleet, besides raising questions about war readiness, said sources.
A single-engine landing is necessitated after one of the power plants fails mid-air. The Sukhoi-30MKI is a twin-engine plane and a mid-air failure of one of its engines means the second engine allows it to land. Such a situation would be unacceptable during a conflict when the pilot would need an optimum speed to attack or to withdraw after an attack. The power of both engines is required to lift eight tonne of payload - missiles and rockets.
The exact number of such engine burnouts and percentage of fleet that is not available for flying at any point of time are being held back from publication in the newspaper as it would adversely impact national security. Had the Sukhoi-30MKI been a single-engine plane, like the MiG 21, all engine burnouts would have led to crashes, in some case death of pilots and the resultant furore.
The IAF and the Ministry and Defence have always considered the Sukhoi as a "safe and reliable" warplane. So far, only four have crashed since phased- induction in 1997. A pilot had died in the first crash in 2009 and at least one of the crashes is attributed to engine trouble.
Sukhoi enjoys air superiority because of its powerful engine. In horizontal flight, it can fly 2,400 km/hr or achieve a rate of climb of 230 m/s. The engines, specialised with thrust vectoring control, improves the aircraft manoeuvrability.
In northern and western India, the Sukhoi-30MKI is based at Bathinda, Halwara near Ludhiana, Sirsa, Bareilly, Jodhpur and Bhuj.
Single-engine landings high