Indian Air Force frontline Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet is believed to have crashed after it went missing around 60 km north-west, at 70°03′ N n 92°30′ E, of the Tezpur air base in Assam, towards the Line of Actual Control with China on Tuesday morning. No trace of the twin-engine fighter or the two pilots was found till late in the night despite a major search and rescue mission being launched by the IAF.
The ill-fated “air dominance” Sukhoi, being flown by a squadron leader and flight lieutenant, had taken off in a two-aircraft formation sortie from the Tezpur airbase at about 10.30 am. “Radar and radio contact was lost with the missing Sukhoi at 11.10 am. Its last reported position was 60 km north-west of Tezpur,” said an officer.
Though some reports held the Sukhoi could have gone down near the West Kameng district in Arunachal Pradesh, IAF officials said no trace of the missing fighter had been found in the densely-forested and mountainous terrain in the region. No signals from the locator beacons on board the jet were also detected.
IAF has already lost at least seven of the 240 Sukhoi-30MKIs, which are the latest and the most potent fighters in its combat fleet, till now. In all, India has contracted 272 twin-seat Sukhois from Russia for over $12 billion, with the bulk of them being “produced under licence” by Hindustan Aeronautics. Overall, the armed forces have lost over 60 aircraft and helicopters in crashes, which have killed over 80 people, just since 2011.
The Sukhoi fleet is now likely to be grounded for systematic precautionary checks before they can take to the skies again, like it happened after crashes in April 2009 and December 2011. Last year, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had admitted to problems with the Sukhois, citing 69 incidents of technical glitches mainly revolving around the engines in the previous three years, as was reported by us.
There are still persisting doubts over serviceability of the Sukhoi fleet due to engine problems, shoddy maintenance, poor availability and management of spares, though the government now says it has improved to over 60% now from the earlier 52%. Incidentally, on March 17, India and Russia had inked two pacts for long-term maintenance support for the Sukhois.