India will need to explore fresh options, including direct purchase, to shore up its air transport fleet as the Ukraine conflict has stymied the upgrade of its AN-32 aircraft, an Indian Air Force official said.
The last five of 40 AN-32 aircraft being upgraded in Ukraine have become “untraceable,” the official said, and the local upgrade of the remaining 64 AN-32s has halted as Ukraine engineers departed and supplies of spares stopped.
“As AN-32 formed the bulk of the medium-lift segment of the transport fleet, urgent replacement of the Avro fleet, finalization of the joint development of medium transport aircraft and possible fresh purchases are some of the options which IAF will need to work on an urgent basis,” retired Air Force wing commander Bhim Singh said.
In addition to the AN-32, the Air Force uses the Russian-made IL-76, British-made Avro, which is license-produced by Hindustan Aeronautics, and the US-made C-17 and C-130J Super Hercules.
In 2009, India contracted with Ukraine’s state-owned arms trading agency, Ukrspetsexport Corp., to upgrade its 104 AN-32 transport aircraft at a cost of US $400 million as the fleet had reached its life expectancy. The program, which was to run through 2017, involved the upgrade of 40 aircraft in Ukraine and 64 under technology transfer from Ukraine at the Air Force’s Kanpur-based base repair depot.
However, only 35 aircraft, upgraded at Kiev-based Antonov State Co. facilities in Ukraine, have returned, while the last five remain stranded due to the conflict.
“These five aircraft are almost lost as it is difficult to trace them and diplomatic efforts to find their whereabouts have failed,” the Air Force official said.
A diplomat from the Ukraine Embassy said Antonov must resolve this issue with the Indian Air Force, and that the government cannot help. Antonov officials were unavailable for comment.
Read More:Ukraine Conflict Stalls Indian AF Upgrades.