Airpower From Russia: An Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30 flies past during a demonstration at Aero India 2009 in Bangalore. India signed a contract with Russia to acquire 272 of the fighter jets, with 140 being produced domestically by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (Agence France-Presse)
NEW DELHI — Avionics failures have led to the grounding of more than 20 of India’s Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets, with Indian and Russian officials each suggesting the problem subsystems could have been supplied by the other side.
The avionics faults have included the head-up display and the mission computer, an Indian Air Force source said.
India has contracted to acquire 272 Russian-designed Su-30 aircraft, with 140 being license-produced by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).
The remainder is being provided by Russia in three phases; the first began in 1996. The grounded twin-engine planes were built in India.
No HAL official would publicly comment on the faulty avionics systems.
But a source in HAL said the firm has sent letters to Russian arms exporter Rosoboronexport complaining about faulty subsystems supplied by Irkut, the original equipment manufacturer.
A Russian diplomat here said it is not clear whether the problems have been caused by subsystems supplied by Irkut or subsystems procured from Indian vendors by HAL. Aircraft built in India use subsystems from both countries.
Five HAL divisions are involved in license-production of the Su-30 at its Nasik-based facility in the central state of Maharashtra. Thousands of aircraft components are outsourced from domestic vendors in addition to the components and subsystems procured from Irkut.
Most of the high-tech systems, including avionics, are procured from Irkut, the official said.
The Russians supply a majority of the casing and forgings, bearings, connectors, switches and circuit-breakers, the HAL source said. And the Russians have not transferred all aircraft technology and continue to supply ready-made parts for which no license has yet been granted, the HAL source said.
The licensed production is performed under the supervision of about 50 Russian officials to ensure their technology processes, the HAL source added.
India began licensed Su-30 production in various phases in 2004, and it expects to produce the last of the 140 aircraft by 2016.
HAL’s Nasik facility makes the airframe while all electrical items and assemblies are made at four different divisions of the company. The AL-31FP jet engine is manufactured at HAL’s Koraput division. The Hyderabad division makes the plane’s radar and radio equipment, and the Lucknow division makes mechanical and electrical instruments, including pumps and oxygen systems. The Korwa-based facility makes all navigational gear, which includes optical laser systems.
In addition to technical problems with the subsystems, the cost of the India-built aircraft is as much as 30 percent higher than the aircraft provided by Russia, the Indian Air Force source added.
The Indian-built aircraft cost more because of the need to procure the high-tech integrated subsystems from Irkut, and the cheaper labor in India is offset by inefficient procurement systems, the HAL source admitted.
The Indian Air Force has often complained about the shortage of spares and high-tech subsystems from Russia, hampering aircraft maintenance.
The Russian diplomat said a steady supply of spare parts cannot be ensured because of erratic orders from India, slowing deliveries. Moreover, HAL and the Indian Air Force do not make long-term inventory and requirements plans, the diplomat added.