On Friday afternoon, an AN-32 aircraft carrying logistics and 29 Indian Air Force Personnel from Tambaram to Port Blair went missing over the Bay of Bengal. While search operations are underway to trace the aircraft, they have not yielded any result so far.
Known as the workhorse of the IAF, there are more than 100 AN-32s in the Indian air-fleet with the first purchase being made in 1984. In June 2009, India signed a $400 billion deal with Ukrspetsexport Corp., Ukraineās state-run arms trading agency, to upgrade 104 of these aircrafts in its fleet. The upgradation including improvements to avionics, a revamp of the cockpit and an increase in capacity to 7.5 tonnes.
While 40 of the 104 aircrafts were to be sent to Ukraine for the upgrade, 64 were to be modernized locally at a Kanpur-based depot. However, the upgrade process hit a major roadblock due to the Ukraine conflict with five of these 40 aircrafts undergoing upgrade being untraceable. Further, the indigenous upgrade of the remaining 64 AN-32s stopped due to paucity of spares and absence of Ukranian engineers.
"As AN-32 formed the bulk of the medium-lift segment of the transport fleet, urgent replacement of the Avro fleet, finalization of the joint development of medium transport aircraft and possible fresh purchases are some of the options which IAF will need to work on an urgent basis," retired Air Force wing commander Bhim Singh told Vivek Raghuvanshi of Defense News.
Salient features of the AN-32
The AN-32 is a twin-engine aircraft imported from Antonov Design Bureau, Ukraine. The aircraft is designed for both civil and military operations and can undertake landings on rough and uneven surfaces.
It can be operated even in difficult weather conditions for local and international routes, at any time during the day or night. The aircraft is supposed to be multi-purpose and sturdy, and is designed to endure extreme temperatures of up to +50 degrees Celsius. It is also equipped to fly over mountain airfields at an elevation of 4500 meters above sea level.
With advanced flight navigation systems and radio communications equipment on board, the AN-32 can also be used to ferry military personnel, paratroopers and cargo over short and medium range air routes. It is also used by the IAF in disaster relief operations and to deal with forest fires.