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Sukhoi deployment in Tezpur hit by inadequate infrastructure

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NEW DELHI (PTI): India's plans to bolster its military strength along the border with China by deploying its potent Sukhoi fighter aircraft in Tezpur have been badly hit due to poor infrastructure at the front line airbase.

"Tezpur's infrastructure is inadequate to deploy and operate the heavier Su-30MKIs. The infrastructure development plan for the airbase in Assam is awaiting a nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security," a top IAF officer told PTI here on Thursday.

The plan includes strengthening the tarmac of the airbase, which had till recently operated only MiG-21 variants, so that it can handle the Russian-origin Sukhoi air superiority multi-role fighters, the officer said.

India had on June 15 formally inducted four Su-30MKIs in Tezpur in anticipation of having a full squadron of 18 Sukhois at the airbase this year.

But now the plans have been postponed till mid 2010, when the infrastructure project would be completed, the officer said, adding the full squadron currently based in Lohegaon near Pune will move to Tezpur only then.

The slow delivery of SU-30MKIs by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has also contributed to the delay in deploying the squadron in Tezpur.

The IAF officer said the Air Force had two years ago asked HAL to increase Sukhoi's rate of production to 18 aircraft a year instead of the then rate of 14 aircraft.

The IAF is showing urgency in the matter as it plans to have new Sukhoi bases in the east and north of the country.

It has identified Chabua in Assam, Halwara in Punjab and Jodhpur in Rajasthan as the new airbases to operate Sukhois from 2010.

At present, the IAF has five Sukhoi squadrons in two Sukhoi bases in Lohegaon, which is the home base for the aircraft where all squadrons are raised and rookie pilots are trained, and Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh.

The IAF currently has about 100 Sukhois in its fleet out of the 230 that it contracted from Russia for USD 8.5 billion, under which 140 of the aircraft would be manufactured by HAL through technology transfer.

HAL would also produce 40 more of these fighters under a fast-track procurement order for USD 1.6 billion placed two years ago. The first of these 40 Sukhois would roll out from 2011, the officer said.

Defence Minister A K Antony had recently informed Parliament that IAF would have a 230-strong fleet of Sukhois by 2015.

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