The Parliamentary Committee on Defence has noted with concern that the frontline combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Sukhoi-30MKI, do not have protection of hardened shelters in air bases which would save them from direct hits of bombs in the event of a war.
The report, which was submitted in parliament recently, says that “the Committee are concerned to find that our air force is already short of planes and worse than that hardened shelters are not available for even the limited numbers of aircraft that is available with the Service”.
The IAF informed the committee in oral evidence that the aircraft are deprived of hardened shelters because the Sukhoi-30 MKI cannot be fit into the existing ones because of their large size. “It is a much bigger aircraft. Therefore some New Generation Hardened Aircraft Shelter (NGHAS) has to be made in which not only a SU-30 can fit but also servicing, loading of weapons and maintenance activities can be done inside the shelter,” the committee was informed.
The committee members were also informed by representatives of the MoD that the NGHAS “is a large project and it costs thousands of crores of rupees”. It was further informed that NGHAS are specialised structures and “are designed to save a Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft from direct hit of 2000 lbs bomb”.
The committee, which is headed by Major General BC Khanduri (retd) noted that it is extremely pertinent that no damage is caused to the available aircraft. It also said that while the New Generation Hardened Aircraft Shelter (NGHAS) project is conceptualised for this purpose, nevertheless, the committee desired that there should not be any delay in execution, as such delays have become a common feature of all the projects.
It was in 2002 that the first Russian-made Sukhoi-30MKI variant was accepted into the IAF while in 2004 the first indigenously assembled Su-30MKI entered service. The IAF had signed a contract initially for 272 Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft to form 13 squadrons. The IAF informed the committee that the delivery of Sukhoi-30 MKI will continue till 2030, resulting in equipping 3 more squadron in the next four to five years. The IAF requires at least 45 fighter squadrons to counter a two front collusive threat against Pakistan and China. The IAF today has 35 active fighter squadrons as against a Government authorized strength of 42 squadrons.
In its recently tabled report on the manufacture of Sukhoi-30 MKI by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) too had pointed out certain anomalies with the aircraft due to it being parked in the open sun.
The CAG report had mentioned that a review of 42 cases of repairs undertaken by HAL in Sukhoi 30 MKI, up to March 2010, disclosed that fuel leakage was the main snag in 36 cases and complaints relating to leakage from fuel tank were reported by IAF immediately after delivery of the aircraft. The leakages had caused pre-mature withdrawal of the aircraft from active flying.
Among the reasons that that been attributed for the problem were that the Sukhoi-30 MKI had been “parked outside in hot conditions”. The HAL management had told CAG that the other reasons for leakages were operating the aircraft at higher ‘g’ levels, high manoeuvers and hard landings and aircraft parked without fuel for longer time. They had added that fuel leakages could not be fully excluded due to inherent design features of the aircraft.
The Sukhoi-30MKI squadrons of the IAF are today stationed at air force bases across the country. Among the places they are stationed at are Jodhpur, Halwara, Sirsa, Pune, Bareilly, Tezpur and Chhabua.