The Indo-Russian military relations are wavering once again as India has decided to look beyond Russia for long-term maintenance and product support for its fleet of Ilyushin-76 heavy transports and Ilyushin-78M tanker transports. The Indian Air force (IAF) has been put off by Russia’s dithering attitude when it comes to providing spares and service to India and has decided to look support from elsewhere since the Russian original equipment manufacturer (OEM) is not forthcoming.
The IAF has floated a global tender to attract firms who can provide its Il-76/78 fleet service support to ensure IAF requirements to maintain present airworthiness standards for a period of five years which can be extended to ten years. The IAF has also clarified that the bidders need to have the support of the Ilyushin Design Bureau which is the Russian OEM in this case.
As per the tender, the main clause is the guarantee of a minimum serviceability of 70 per cent of the number of aircrafts included in the contract during the currency of contract. The vendor is required to meet this requirement by providing all the required maintenance and product support. The tender adds that on any single day the serviceability of each fleet (IL-76 and IL-78) should not fall below 50 per cent of total number of aircraft included in the contract. The IAF has offered to pay the winning bidder an incentive if higher serviceability percentage above the minimum specified is achieved during execution of the contract. There is also a clause which penalizes the bidder if they do not maintain the required mark. Apparently, the nine IAF Ilyushins which will be undergoing overhaul and total life extension at the time the contract is expected to be awarded will not be included.
For the IAF, it has been a logical move to look for other sources if the Russians cannot deliver the goods. It is a known fact that the number of IL-76/78 aircraft in service is huge and cannot just be phased out despite its age. Even the Boeing C-17 heavy lift aircraft will not arrive immediately and their numbers will be few compared to the multiple operations of the Indian Armed Forces. Besides, the new heavy lift aircraft like C-130 J Hercules and C-17 Globemaster are meant to compliment the fleet of Ilyushin heavy lift aircraft of the IAF.
Russia has been a crucial defence partner of India and the majority of equipment by the Indian Armed Forces is of Russian origin. However, India has started to drift away from its traditional supplier and started exploring options from other countries like US, France, Israel and UK. The stop-and-start supply of spares, the irregular maintenance and unreasonable price hikes have been a stumbling block for India. Besides the current Ilyushin aircraft maintenance issue, the IAF has been looking for countries other than Russia for special tools and spares and global tenders have been floated for parts and tools related to MiG fighters, AN-32 transport aircraft, Mi-17 helicopters and OSA-AK surface-to-air missile systems. Even the Indian Army sidelined Russia recently by issuing a Request for Information (RFI) for the acquisition of active protection and counter-measure systems for its T-90S main-battle tanks (MBT) bought from Russia.