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Indian Air Force approaches Russia to examine the feasibility of life extension for Ilyushin IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft

Source : Tribune News Service

Indian Air Force approaches Russia to examine the feasibility of life extension for Ilyushin IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft
Image Credit : Alex Filippopoulos

Chandigarh: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has approached Russia to examine the feasibility of extending the technical life of its ageing fleet of IL-76 strategic heavy-lift aircraft that have been in service for almost 40 years.

In a request for proposal (RFP) issued to National Aviation Service Company in Moscow this month, the IAF has sought a review of the ‘time between overhaul’ and ‘total technical life’ of 11 IL-76MD aircraft.

The exercise is to be carried out at Chandigarh, where the IL-76 fleet is primarily based with No. 44 Squadron. This is unlike as in the past, when the IL-76 used to be sent to Russia for major overhaul and inspections.

According to the RFP, the Russian firm will be required to depute a team of technical specialists to India for undertaking detailed in-depth inspection of the aircraft towards assessment of their technical condition and prepare a detailed inspection report for each aircraft.

IAF sources said that the proposed upgrading programme would enable the fleet to continue up to the year 2050 from the current stipulated time frame of 2035, besides the possibility of replacing the existing D-30KP engines with the more efficient PS-90a engines and incorporating contemporary avionics suites and control systems.

The fleet has already undergone limited upgrade with the addition of modern electronics and navigational aids and some structural modifications like removal of the rear turret and tail-mounted self-defence cannons.

The IL-76 fleet was procured by the IAF from 1985 to 1989 at a cost of Rs 46 crore per aircraft. These were first inducted with No. 44 Squadron, initially raised at Chandigarh in 1961 and then moved to Agra and Nagpur. One flight of No. 25 Squadron, based at Chandigarh was also equipped with these aircraft.

A total of 17 IL-76s had been procured, but after the collapse of the Soviet Union, serviceability and availability of spares became an issue. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General, while stating that the IAF now has 14 IL-76 aircraft, revealed that availability of the fleet during the last decade had touched a low of 32.16 per cent.

With its fleet strength declining due to decommissioning a few airframes and cannibalisation of spares, a few years ago, the IAF decided to merge the remaining aircraft into a single squadron. Consequently, the IL-76s from No. 25 Squadron, which relocated with its flight of AN-32s to Baroda from Chandigarh, were reassigned to No. 44 Squadron, which then moved from Nagpur to Chandigarh.

Till the US-made Boeing C-17 Globemaster was inducted into the IAF in 2013, the IL-76 was the mainstay of the IAF’s heavy-lift capability. These aircraft have rendered yeoman’s service, both in peace and war-like situations as well as in disaster management operations.

These aircraft have been instrumental in airlifting heavy equipment, including tanks and artillery guns to the northern frontier and played a key role during Operation Pawan in Sri Lanka, Operation Cactus in Maldives and Operation Vijay in Kargil. They have also been extensively used in evacuation of Indians from crisis hit areas overseas, joint military exercise with foreign nations and ferrying critical medical supplies during the Covid.

In addition to the IL-76, the IAF also operates six IL-78 aerial refuelling aircraft, which can double up as a cargo aircraft with its fuselage tanks removed, and the A-50 AWACS. Both these aircraft are based on the IL-76 airframe.

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