India has grounded its entire Sukhoi-30 fleet after a recent crash because it doesn’t want to put its pilots in harm’s way.
The fighters have not flown for a week after a Su-30 MKI of the Indian Air Force crashed near Pune, raising questions about the safety record of the fighter.
With the IAF operating close to 200 twin-engine Su-30s, the grounded planes represent almost a third of the country’s fighter fleet. India is due to get 72 more of these planes, each worth over Rs. 200 crore.
The IAF is down to 34 combat squadrons, as against an authorised strength of 44. Each squadron has up to 18 fighter planes.
An IAF official said safety checks with “special focus on ejection seats” were being conducted and flight operations would resume only after each plane was cleared. A highly-placed source said the pilots of the plane that crashed on October 14 near Pune had reported “automatic seat ejection.” One of the two pilots was involved in a previous Su-30 crash too.
Five Su-30 fighters have crashed during the last five years, setting off alarm bells in the IAF. The Su-30 fleet has been grounded at least twice in the past.
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major told HT, “A fleet is grounded when you have no clue as to what brought the plane down. It’s serious.”
Asked if buying Su-30s was a doubtful choice, Major said the planes were splendid but IAF needed to get to the bottom of the problem. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited assembles and repairs these planes in India.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had told reporters on October 4 that the Su-30 fleet was facing certain problems, but he refused to elaborate. The IAF’s Su-30 fleet has faced a high number of mid-air engine failures during the last two years, said another official.