Warplanes: India Loses Faith In Russia

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January 13, 2016: At the end of 2015 a number of very senior Indian officials went to Russia to meet with their counterparts there and one items at the top of the agenda was the continued reliability problems with the Su-30MKI jet fighters. Fifty of these Russian designed aircraft were built in Russia for India and the rest of the 272 aircraft order is being assembled locally. Deliveries should be complete by 2019 and at the moment India is not keen on ordering any more. There is a reason for that.

India has been complaining out about these reliability problems since 2010 and the most telling statistic is the percentage of Su-30MKIs out of service for maintenance or repairs. Russia promised that this would only be about 25 percent, which is competitive with similar Western aircraft. India points out that in reality between 40 and 45 percent of the Su-30MKIs are out of service, many for reliability problems that Russia assured India would not happen. The impact of this lower availability means that of the 210 Su-30MKIs India has only about 126 are available to fight rather than the 157 Russia promised. That means 31 fewer Su-30MKIs available to use in wartime. That is a significant loss and India is demanding a solution. Most of the problems are related to engines and Russia says it has narrowed most of the problems down to difficulties related to ball bearings. The engines are also assembled in India, using Russian and Indian made parts. Russia has devised several fixes for the engine problem but the readiness (for combat) rate of the Su-30MKI has not changed. India is demanding that Russia allow Indian firms to manufacture many more spare parts. Russia does not like to do that because spare parts are more profitable than the aircraft.

The Indian Air Force has lost five of its Russian designed Su-30MKI jet fighters since 2009. In 2011 the commander of the Indian Air Force took an hour-long flight in one of India's Su-30MKI to reassure Indian pilots that the Su-30MKI was safe. Two had crashed in 2009, due to mechanical failures and there were widely publicized reliability problems with the engines and many of the other Russian designed and built components of the aircraft. There have been two losses since 2013.

Indian pilots are understandably nervous about the safety of the many Russian warplanes they fly. The MiG fighters India used since the1960s are much more dangerous but the more recent Su-30 models were believed to be a lot safer than they turned out to be. Russian efforts since then to fix the problems have not reassured Indian pilots or politicians and India is running out of patience.

It’s not just mechanical problems. In 2012 India went public with yet complaints about an unspecified "design flaw" in the electronic flight control system for the Su-30MKI. There were also problems with ejection seats and several other components of the new Russian “stealth” fighter (the T-50) which India is helping to develop. All this has led India to negotiate a deal to buy 129 French Rafale fighters and hope that this would persuade the Russians to improve the reliability of Russian aircraft. Russia insists that it has the T-50 problems under control but the Indians are unconvinced and threatening to withdraw from helping pay for development and buying over 150 of the T-50. Privately Russia blames many of the reliability problems on poor Indian maintenance and construction practices. India is more open about describing the Russians of being incapable of matching Western reliability standards.

 


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