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Ukraine to upgrade IAF's 100 Antonov cargo planes

A lineup of An-32s (K-2744, K-2764, K-2717). File photo

NEW DELHI (PTI): Left with an aging cargo aircraft fleet, India said it has signed a deal with a Ukraine firm to modernise its 100 medium lift AN-32 aircraft.

The contract, worth over USD 400 million, was signed between Ukrainian military export monopolist Ukrspetsexport and India to upgrade the twin-engine turboprop planes operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The Kiev-headquartered Antonov Aircraft Company will give the eponymous 20-tonne-capacity aircraft "a full upgrade of on-board communications and navigation systems," Defence Ministry officials said here.

The Antonov-32s are the lifeline of Indian soldiers battling uninhabitable weather conditions and the harsh terrain to protect the icy heights of Siachen Glacier, once described as the world's highest battlefield.

The aircraft is mainly used for carrying cargo, supplies and troops to Siachen, where guns fell silent following a November 2003 ceasefire accord with Pakistan, and for transportation of personnel and equipment in other parts of the country.

Incidentally, IAF lost one of its AN-32 aircraft in a crash in Arunachal Pradesh just about a week ago, in which seven IAF men, including the air crew, and six army personnel were killed.

Though a probe into the AN-32 mishap is going on, the IAF continues to successfully operate these cargo planes in other parts of the country. In February 2000, an AN-32 crash-landed at an airfield in Arunachal Pradesh. Earlier, another AN-32 crashed in Delhi's Palam airbase killing 21 on board. The arguably worst mishap was the mid-air collision of two AN-32s while flying in a formation in 1992.

In fact, India, which bought the aircraft in the 1980s, operates about a quarter of the total 360 AN-32s that Antonov had manufactured during the Soviet era.The other major operator of this aircraft is the Ukrainian air force, which still has about 150 of the plane in service.

The upgrade of the IAF AN-32 fleet is likely to commence this year and the first lot of about 20 aircraft would be modernised at the Antonov's repair base in Keiv. The modernisation programme for the aircraft aims to increase its service life by another 15 to 25 years, officials said.

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