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The Indian Air Force (IAF) has embarked on a mission to find a suitable replacement for its ageing AN-32 transport aircraft, as the earliest members of this fleet are set to mark 44 years in service by 2031-32. The AN-32, initially introduced in 1986, has served the IAF diligently for decades, but with the passage of time and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the aircraft’s reliability and availability have been increasingly compromised.

While the AN-32 was known for its robust performance and powerful engines, the challenges of sourcing spare parts and addressing obsolescence issues have taken a toll on its longevity. In response to these concerns, an ‘upgrade’ initiative was proposed in 2009 to enhance the aircraft’s structural integrity, avionics, and communication systems.

However, progress on this front has been sluggish, with only 46 of which 40 were done in Ukraine and the rest were to be carried out in India by IAF’s base repair depot in Kanpur. But the programme came to a halt after bitter relations between Moscow and Kyiv following the Russian annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

The need for an upgrade became apparent as the AN-32 fleet aged and wear and tear accumulated. As time goes on, the procurement of spare parts becomes increasingly expensive and challenging, posing significant operational hurdles for the IAF. It’s worth noting that the IAF is the sole major operator of the AN-32 globally.

One of the notable operational characteristics of the AN-32 is the high vibration levels and noise generated by its powerful engines, particularly during extended flights. This noise and vibration can lead to pilot fatigue over long missions, highlighting the importance of addressing these issues in any potential replacement aircraft.

IAF already has issued an RFI for MTA aircraft that can carry an 18-30-ton payload for which it got a response from the US’s Lockheed Martin, Brazil’s Embraer and Europe’s Airbus. A separate proposal is also in place to procure more Airbus C-295S to replace the An-32s which have a similar load-carrying capacity.

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