Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, July 8
Over 20 years in the past in India’s final border battle, the IAF’s Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter had performed a key function within the army build-up alongside the Line of Control (LoC) to evict Pakistani intruders, however throughout the present stand-off with Chinese troops on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) they’ve remained on floor because the overhaul of the fleet has been delayed for years.
The IAF has three Soviet-origin Mi-26s, the world’s largest helicopter, which might be primarily based with No 126 Helicopter Unit at Chandigarh, the identical outfit that operates the newly inducted US-made CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopter.
During the 1999 Kargil battle, that was fought between mid-May to July-end, the Mi-26s had airlifted and positioned artillery weapons, together with the Bofors howitzers, which have been instrumental in neutralising enemy bunkers, to strategic positions. In addition, they’d additionally ferried troops and heavy tools to the frontline.
According to IAF officers, the Mi-26 can elevate as much as 20 tonnes of load or accommodate 82 troops. “A Bofors gun that weighs 11,700 kg cannot be airlifted or tactically re-deployed by any other helicopter in a single sortie,” an IAF officer stated. “Similarly, there is no other alternative to rapidly position trucks, fuel bowsers, specialist vehicles, bulldozers and construction equipment in remote areas,” he added.
The Chinooks, which have been inducted in 2019, at present make up the IAF’s vertical heavy elevate element, however their payload capability is about half that of the Mi-26 and it can’t singularly airlift heavier tools just like the Bofors or a truck. Last yr, in its report on capital acquisitions by the IAF, the Comptroller and Auditor General had made some vital observations on the choice course of between the Mi-26 and Chinook.
In service with the IAF since 1986, the primary Mi-26 was grounded in 2013, adopted by the second in 2014 on expiry of their stipulated technical life. The third, although nonetheless fly-worthy, has remained non-operational since 2017, IAF sources stated. They are required to be ferried to Russia for overhaul. The IAF set into movement the method to provide a contemporary lease of life to those grounded flying machines about 4 years in the past however the plans stay mired in bureaucratic equipment.
Ideally, the primary overhauled helicopter ought to have been again in service about 5 years in the past, sources stated, however apparently monetary points and a few observations by officers within the Ministry of Defence have held up the overhaul course of.
The IAF expects every helicopter to take 10-12 months for being returned to fly-worthy state. This would contain non-destructive evaluation of the airframe, engine parts and different methods to evaluate their integrity, alternative of sure elements and refurbishment of the flight deck and fuselage. The overhauled machines could be anticipated to proceed serving for one more 15-20 years.
The IAF had initially projected a requirement for six Mi-26s, however 4 have been procured from the erstwhile Soviet Union. One was misplaced in a freak incident at Chandigarh in 1998, when it toppled over throughout a storm. It was changed by a brand new helicopter in October 2002. In 2010 one other Mi-26 crashed close to Jammu whereas taking off.
Though costly to take care of, the Mi-26s have carried out yeoman’s service each throughout army operations in addition to in support to civil authorities throughout pure calamities. Besides air upkeep of ahead posts, they’ve additionally airlifted heavy tools and development equipment for civilian infrastructure improvement initiatives.