The loss in early June of an Indian Air Force Antonov An-32 “Cline” twin-engine transport has raised concern about the efficacy of flying the 40-year old airlifter. The An-32, with 13 on board, was heading to the Mechuka Advance Landing Ground in Arunachal Pradesh, on the fringe of the border with China just 30 km away. It went missing 30 minutes after takeoff in the treacherous mountainous terrain of northeast India.
A $400 million contract was signed with Ukraine a decade ago to upgrade the air force’s fleet of around 105 An-32s by overhauling the Ivchenko AI-20 turboprop engines, rebuilding the wing structure, and improving avionics, navigation, and communications equipment. Around 40 aircraft were upgraded in Ukraine by Ukrspetsexport. A further 60 remain to be fully upgraded in India. However, the upgrade of these machines has been caught up in a labyrinth of political spats between Russia and Ukraine, resulting in delays due to the non-availability of components and spares.
A wider issue of concern over the An-32 remains. “At least three An-32s went missing in the past decade and were not found. So we will never know the cause,” a maintenance engineer told AIN. “This is clearly an indication of a lack of a safety culture in India. Whether it is a car accident on the road or an aircraft, the lack of anxiety [over the losses] is brutal.”
Meanwhile, there is hope among the military and vendors that the new defense minister, Rajnath Singh—former Home Minister in the Narendra Modi government—will put high on his agenda the $3.15 billion acquisition of 62 Airbus Defense and Space C-295 twin-turboprop tactical military transport aircraft in a joint venture partnership with Tata Advanced Systems. Of these, 16 will be imported directly and the rest will include elements of indigenous content. While they are primarily to replace Avro 748Ms, an Air Force official told AIN that, with modifications including a ramp for high-altitude air-drop missions, they could provide an alternative to the An-32.
Update: On June 11 an Indian Air Force Mi-17 crew located the wreckage of the An-32, near a mountain top at around 12,000ft elevation