IAF Antonov AN32
IAF Antonov AN32twitter

The Soviet era manufactured Antonov-32 aircraft of the Indian Airforce (IAF) went missing on Monday (June 3) during its Jorhat-Mechuka flight in Assam with the entire 13-member feared dead.

However, the search operation to locate the missing aircraft is still underway. One of the most reliable aircraft for ferrying troops and logistics to the forward posts is now facing a lack of upgrades. As per a report published in the Economic Times, the AN-32 of the IAF is yet to be upgraded with airframe strengthening, advanced avionics, and radars.

Notably, more than 100 of these aircrafts in-service face poor serviceability, tardy maintenance, shortage of spares, huge delays in life extensions and overhauls.

One of the officers of the Indian Airforce said, "The AN-32 in question, with six officers and seven others on board, was non-upgraded but it's too early to say whether the accident was due to some technical snag or human error. Flying in the Arunachal sector is also risky, with mountains hiding behind clouds. The weather can pack up at any time."

It is to be noted that under similar circumstances, another AN-32 twin-engine turboprop aircraft on a regular sortie had crashed in the same Jorhat-Mechuka-Mohanbari sector exactly a decade ago, killing all 13 personnel of the defence forces. One of the officers privy to the investigation of the crashed AN-32 said, "The court of inquiry into that crash held it was due to 'human error (aircrew)'. The pilots apparently got disoriented after entering some clouds, with the aircraft hitting a mountain in what is technically called 'controlled flight into terrain."

Dornier Aircraft
Parked Indian Air Force's transport aircrafts Antonov An-32 (foreground) and Dornier Do 228 are seen from the air traffic control during a media tour at the Yelahanka Air Force Station.Reuters

Aging fleet with the poor serviceability and maintenance is the major reason for the crashing of these aircraft. Around 118 AN-32s were inducted in the Indian Airforce, between 1984 and 1991, since then the aircraft has a better record of successfully ferrying troops and supplies to forward bases.

But with operational life nearing its end, the Government of India signed an agreement worth $400 million to upgrade the aging AN-32s in Ukraine, the country where it was originally manufactured. "The total technical life of 25 years of the AN-32s was coming to an end at that time," the officer added.

As per the plan, the initial lot of these aircraft were to be upgraded in Ukraine with the rest going through a 'total technical life extension, overhaul and re-equipment' in India. The objective was to increase the operational life of these power horses, 15 years beyond the original 25 years. But like any other project involving the upgrades in the Indian defence forces, the project faced turbulence with delayed maintenance.

Shockingly, only 50 of more than 100 AN-32s upgraded till date. The officer further added "The upgrade project, which was to be completed by 2013, has almost halted. Apart from airframe strengthening to increase operational life from the earlier 25 years to 40, the upgraded AN-32s were to be fitted with enhanced ground-warning systems, new weather radars, advanced GPS, multi-functional displays and the like."