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India's Sukhoi fleet faces problems despite Russian spare parts deal

March 22, 2017 (Photo Credit: Manish Swarup/AP)
NEW DELHI — Despite signing a long-term agreement with Russia for the supply of spare parts and the rendering of technical assistance for five years for India's Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft, the fleet continues to face  maintenance problems and a lack of spare parts.

T. Suvarna Raju, chairman of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, signed an agreement with Yuri Slyusar, president of United Aircraft Corporation,  and Alexander Artyukhov, director general of United Engine Corporation, in  the presence of Indian Defence Minister Arun Jaitley and Russian Industry  and Trade Minister Denis Manturov. The deal took place here on March 17 during an India-Russia military industrial conference.

The agreement will enable HAL to procure required spares directly  from the original equipment manufacturers authorized by Russia's Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation.

"The deal will bolster the after-sales service and  reduce the lead time of procurement of spares drastically. The agreement will result [in an] increase in the serviceability of the Su-30MKI fleet as spares would be available on time," Raju said.

However, a senior Indian Air Force official said this is only a long-term support agreement between HAL and the Russian original equipment manufacturers and therefore does not cover anything related to license production of critical spare parts that can improve serviceability of the fleet.

HAL has been manufacturing Su-30MKI under license from Russia since 2004. The Indian Air Force has placed a total order of 222 aircraft. So far,  187 aircraft have been delivered, and the remaining 35 will be delivered in the  next two years.

HAL is also responsible for after-sales support, snag disposition,  on-site repair and rectification, aircraft modification, and upgrade and  obsolescence management of the Indian Su-30MKI fleet. But the company faces roadblocks to carrying out timely repair, overhaul and maintenance orders for the Su-30MKI fleet due to the poor supply of required spare parts.

"The [Su-30MKI] fleet is prohibitively expensive equipment and faces problems due to high, premature failure rate of subsystems like  engines, radars, missiles, avionics, etc.," said Vinod Kumar Narang, a retired Indian Air Force air  vice-marshal.

Narang noted that the major issue regarding maintenance is not the supply of spare parts but rather the rapidity of repairs of line-replaceable units and shop-repairable units. He asserted that the Russian suppliers make  good money by supplying new spare parts at solid profit margins, but are always reluctant to quickly make repairs at 25 percent of the cost of new  items.

A senior Indian Ministry of Defence official said HAL has identified 485 systems  for the country's Make in India initiative for which HAL requested private industry interaction with Russian OEMs for the transfer of technology.

"However, United Aircraft Corporation and United Engine Corporation of Russia have categorically clarified that they have spare capacity and  they will support IAF, but they are not willing to transfer ToT to private  Indian industry," the MoD official said.

A senior HAL executive said the company has demanded Russian OEMs provide full support for the supply of spares, share transfer of  technology at the component level and improve serviceability of the Su-30MKI fleet. In addition, the company said Russian OEMs must ensure full transfer to technology to Indian partners to manage obsolescence of the fleet.

A diplomat with the Russian Embassy here said the issue will be taken up with the Indian MoD to establish a joint venture for the design and development of spares in India.

The production cost of Su-30MKI aircraft for HAL is high due to a steep rise in the cost of raw special material, alloys, associated  wastage during the production of components and low productivity.
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