India Refurbishing its AN-32 Transport Fleet
The Antonov AN-32 “Cline” builds on the general design of the widely-used AN-26 light transport plane, but high placement of the engine nacelles above the wing allow bigger propellers, driven by 5,100 hp AI-20 turboprops that almost double the output of the AN-26′s engines. As a result, the AN-32′s 14,750 pound/ 6900 kg load capacity is almost 50% better than its AN-26 cousin’s, and it can take off with much better load fractions in hot and/or high-altitude conditions, whose thin air could be a problem for other aircraft. AN-32s serve with a number of countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, and Latin America, and the type was purchased in 2008 by Afghanistan.
India was the plane’s launch customer in the 1980s, and its fleet of up to 105 aircraft are used by the IAF’s Parachute Training School, by its military and humanitarian personnel and supply airdrops, and as an important link in the transport chain to the disputed Siachen glacier area in northern Jammu and Kashmir. That length of service has taken a toll, hence India’s decision to modernize over 100 planes.
The New AN-32REs
According to India Strategic magazine, the $400 million project envisages Total Technical Life Extensions (TTLE) for 40 aircraft at designer certified plants in Ukraine, at the rate of 10 aircraft annually. It also includes the supply of material and transfer of technology for the upgrade of remaining 64 aircraft at IAF’s No. 1 Base Repair Depot (BRD) at Kanpur (tl. 104). The upgrades in Kiev are expected to be completed by March 2014, and the upgrades at 1 BRD by March 2017.
The process began with a Parliamentary Committee suggestion in 2000-01. The intent to upgrade the AN-32 fleet was restated in 2006, and India went on to perform pre-upgrade surveys of its fleet. Anotnov and Israel’s Elbit Systems were said to be the likely contractors, andthey may still be involved as sub-contracted design consultants and avionics providers. The formal announcement cited the Ukraine’s Spets Techno Export as the contract winner.
The AN-32 upgrade program appears to have survived India’s contract to purchase 6-12 C-130J Hercules aircraft configured for special forces operations, and appears to be complementary to it. On Oct 14/08, Zee News quoted Agra Air Station’s Air Officer Commanding Air Commodore Shouvik Roy:
“With special operations being the focus of the Air Force in the days to come, the upgraded aircraft will be used increasingly for operations involving tactical transport. The improved on-board avionics will facilitate night operations and even search and rescue.”
So, what goes into a TTLE’d An-32RE?
As an IAF official put it to the Press Trust of India:
“The avionics of the aircraft were up-to-date when it was inducted during the 1980s, but is quite crude compared with today’s requirements… With the upgrades on-board, we will have better flight management system, glass cockpit display, landing system and other equipment to improve accuracy and lend a multi-role operational edge to the aircraft.”
Those changes will require cockpit layout changes, and noise and vibration reduction measures are also reported. With over 800,000 flight hours on India’s 104-plane fleet, the airframes also undergo extensive structural refurbishment to extend its service life for another 15-20 years, and some changes to improve landing capabilities.
Contracts and Key Events
“Developing cooperation with India on the AN?32 programme, ANTONOV Company proposes to realize the principle of integrated operational support of the aircraft. It implies all the services, including: scientific and research investigations, scheduled maintenance and repair, engineering services, training of personnel, modification of the aircraft, providing with technical documentation, warranty maintenance, spare parts and vendor items deliveries to be rendered through the “single window” – ANTONOV Company. This system will provide the most efficient interaction between the aircraft operator and enterprises participating in the programme.”
It’s a lucrative opportunity, but India’s poor experiences with the Ukrainian firm’s Russian counterparts is likely to be an obstacle.
June 8/11: The IAF inducts the first 4 refurbished An-32RE transports back into service at the Palam AFB. India had sent 5 AN-32s to the Ukraine, and the remaining one will be inducted after it is finished re-equipping.
An-32s have limited range, and Spets Techno Export ferried the An-32REs from Kiev to Ankara, Turkey; Cairo, Egypt; Jeddah, Saudi Arabia; Doha, Bahrain; and the United Arab Emirates, before bringing them to New Delhi. India Strategic’s article also discusses the deal’s value, players, and timelines.
March 10/10: A Parliamentary reply clears up one aspect of the deal:
“The Government has signed a contract for ugpradation of AN-32 aircraft with M/s Spets Techno Export, Ukraine on June 15, 2009. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in written reply to Shri Gireesh Kumar Sanghi in Rajya Sabha today.”
July 22/09: India MoD release:
“A contract for Total Technical Life Extension, Overhaul and Re-equipment of AN-32 fleet has been concluded with Spets Techno Export, Ukraine to overhaul and upgrade these planes, as part of the IAF fleet management approach. The project includes calendar life extension up to 40 years, overhaul and re-equipment of AN-32 aircraft. There were no conditionalities at the time of acquisition of AN-32 with the Russian Government. This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in a written reply to Shri Vijay Jawaharlal Darda and Smt Shobhana Bhartia in Rajya Sabha today.”
June 13/09: Reports say that India’s Ministry of Defence signed a $400 million deal with Ukrainian firms to refurbish “close to 100″ AN-32s under a life extension contract. Reports are slightly conflicting, due to lack of transparency on both sides.
Word of the deal leaked after a June 9/09 AN-32 crash, shortly after it took off from the Mechuka landing base, near the Chinese border. Investigators are still looking for the aircraft’s “black box” as of June 18/09. Indian Express.
March 3/09: Jane’s adds that the upgrade will involve about 70 aircraft, adding that around 50 of the 100 remaining AN-32s will require structural refurbishment, as well as systems modernization. It will apparently be performed in cooperation with Elbit Systems, whose avionics are popular with the Indian military.
Feb 16/09: According to the Ukraine’s official news agency UKRINFORM, Ukraine’s Aviant Aircraft Building Plant in Kiev appears to have won the upgrade contract for India’s AN-32s. Ukraine’s national news agency reports that:
“At the meeting with India’s Defense Minister it was noted that in the context of a recent victory of the Ukrainian party in a tender on modernization of the fleet of 105 An-23 planes of the Indian Air Force, the relevant bilateral military-technical cooperation has prospects of achieving a qualitatively new level. The work on the contract is being completed now.”
Contract amounts were not mentioned. In India, however, it is wise not to count on any contract until it is actually signed.