13 feared dead in air force crash, AN-32 overhaul languishes after Ukraine-Russia spat - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Monday 3 June 2019

13 feared dead in air force crash, AN-32 overhaul languishes after Ukraine-Russia spat

AN-32 takes off from Mechuka, a heavily used landing ground for supplying army troops on the Sino-India border

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th June 19

In a harsh reminder of the unforgiving terrain the Indian Air Force (IAF) AN-32 transport aircraft operate in, one of these IAF workhorses crashed in Arunachal Pradesh on Monday. There were 13 military personnel on board. 

The aircraft was flying from Jorhat, over high, densely forested mountains, to the advanced landing ground (ALG) at Mechuka, close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. AN-32s carry supplies that sustain army troops on the LAC.

“No wreckage has been sighted so far. IAF is coordinating with Indian Army as well as various government and civil agencies to locate the missing aircraft,” stated the IAF.

The crash was an eerie echo of another one almost exactly a decade ago, when 13 personnel were killed in June 2009, when an AN-32 crashed soon after taking off from Mechuka.

In another incident that remains a mystery, an AN-32 with 29 personnel on board disappeared from radar screens on July 22, 2016, when flying from Chennai to Port Blair in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. No wreckage or bodies have ever been located.

Soon after the 2009 crash, the IAF signed a $400 million contract with Antonov, the Ukrainian firm that built the AN-32, for modernizing the 103 aircraft-strong fleet with improved avionics for flying in difficult conditions. The modernization was also intended to add ten years to the AN-32’s service life.

By 2014, 45 AN-32s were modernized in Ukraine, and then 10 more in the IAF base repair depot in Kanpur. But the programme then stalled when Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula. Kiev cut ties with Moscow and essential Russian components for the AN-32 upgrade became unavailable.

Monday’s crash again underscores the urgent need to resume the long-overdue modernization and overhaul of the AN-32 fleet that has been flying since the late 1980s. The aircraft that crashed was high in priority for overhaul.

Ukrainian sources say the development of AN-32 parts to replace those earlier provided by Russia is almost complete. Meanwhile, Ukraine has sourced some AN-32 components from the global market and resumed work in Kanpur. 

Modernization of the remaining 47 AN-32s can pick up pace only when Ukrainian components start flowing. 

The AN-32 carries up to 6 tonnes of cargo or 50 passengers. It operates from small ALGs like Mechuka, and also provides a ferry service for local residents.


  1. What about the locator beacons ? Thought they were to be added on every transport aircraft in the fleet ?

  2. All our hearts are for the bereaved families of the 13 dead, crashes like these should not be taken lightly they cause the same grief as loved ones killed by terrorist attacks like Pulwama. Yet the media does not give them as much attention.
    These victims did not die in the line of duty confronting the enemy, they died due to negligence and the families have a right to be compensated in full, which given the circumstances should be a huge amount.
    It’s is the responsibility of the Air Force to keep their Aircraft in airworthy condition.
    If it was the absence of adequate maintenance due to the unavailability of parts, this aircraft should have been grounded.
    It is unacceptable that during peacetime risks are taken with our service personnel whatever the circumstances.

  3. मैं जोरहाट एयरबेस में रह कर आया हूँ जो AN32 एयर क्राफ्ट है वो सब बहुत पुराने है उन्हें बदल देना चाहिए

  4. The crashed aircraft was upgraded one or non upgraded one? IF upgraded one then this report isn't really relevant in this context other than generating fear that IAF is operating obsolete equipment causing deaths.

  5. Politicians of all colour don’t care Safety of defence personnel , how defence ministry allow aircraft to fly w/o min tracking equipment.
    Politicians surround them self with jamming equipment, commandos,to protect themselves, spend on own safety but not on defence safety.
    Black box not available, gps not available in this aircraft.

  6. This is terrible :-(
    Antonov is in big troubles since many of the parts they need are made in Russia and due to political spat, they're screwed. Some possible solutions :

    1.) Since now Dassault is also an Indian company and they had merged with Bréguet, they own the intellectual property of a forgotten marvel, the Bréguet 941S. This 1961 baby could carry 8t payload, take off in 185m and land into 120m at MTOW. A bit complex due to analog technology but today, with digital control of engines, much lighter and more powerful turboprops and modern composites, re-creating a Br.941-NG taking profit of tech evolving would still be relevant. 4x 1900-2000hp instead of the 1450hp ones, well, 12t payload, maybe more, underwing pylons, more range+more speed, maybe potential at carrying a MOAB or MOP, optional folding wing would be a bliss for carrier use, easy access to Himalayas landstrips reputed as the most dangerous existing = they'll love it in Nepal, potential for firefighting, landing on islands beaches, creating regional airlines without any airport, then add ASM, ASuW, cargo, COD, gunship/CAS, AWACS, ELINT, JSTARS, SAR, tactical refueller, even bomber, etc etc etc.
    I must say I have a crush for this kinda mini C-130 which was too in advance in its time since it appeared in... 1961. France used it in small numbers for SOFs until the mid 70's

    2.) Well, Dassault+Reliance = DRAL. Antonov may not still be able to make many parts but they have all blue prints and Dassault has great experience with CNC and 3D-Printers... Considering the dread situation Antonov is in, maybe would it be clever to... acquire the company for peanuts? Moreover, India may be able to get parts from Russia.
    There are many designs that still have huge potential:
    - An-2/3/4/6 biplane : there are 10-15k in need of replacement and in need to be replaced by smth affordable
    - An-12 worths a C-130
    - Antonov An-22 Antei : Turboprop w. 80t payload : more than a C-17
    - An-70/171/188 : even more impressive than A400M (and much cheaper).
    - An-124 Ruslan is the largest aircraft ever mass-produced and a sought strategic airlifter with 150t payload. With A-380 at high risk to disappear (likely due to the terrible mistake of not having fielded a cargo version),
    - An-24/32; An-225; An-72 families may be interesting too, etc...

    For sure, it woudn't be a pure make-in-India thing, but taking control of the company, finishing the assembly in India,mmmmmhhh... Buying a company with a well known brand, enormous potential while, due to no luck, the company is on the brink of folding, this may be a nice business : just think how Adidas shoes came back from the grave...


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