The ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine has significantly disrupted the supply chain for spare parts of Russian-origin aircraft, compelling the Indian Air Force (IAF) to intensify its efforts towards indigenization. Air Commodore Rajeev Shrivastava, Air Officer Commanding of No. 3 Base Repair Depot (BRD) in Chandigarh, highlighted the conflict's impact on spare parts availability and increased costs, prompting the IAF to prioritize domestic production of aero-spares.
The 3 BRD plays a crucial role in maintaining and overhauling Russian-origin helicopters and AN-32 aircraft engines within the IAF's inventory. Air Commodore Shrivastava disclosed that the depot has already achieved indigenization of more than 15,000 types of spares for the IAF's Mi-17 series of helicopters and Kamov variants used by the Navy.
The conflict has accelerated the indigenization drive, with a five-year goal to achieve self-reliance and reduce reliance on foreign suppliers. Multiple components and complex sub-systems have been indigenized, and ongoing projects are progressing rapidly.
Given the IAF's substantial reliance on Russian-origin aircraft, particularly the Mi-17 medium lift helicopters (MLH), efficient maintenance is essential. The depot faces the challenge of sustaining a significant MLH fleet with limited support from original equipment manufacturers. Air Commodore Shrivastava emphasized that strategies such as life revision studies, outsourcing, in-house innovation, reclamation, and collaboration with industry and academia have been employed to address this challenge.
Collaborative efforts have resulted in the development of indigenous capabilities, including the ability to overhaul the Mi-17 V5 variant and its aggregates. Notably, this achievement was accomplished without technology transfer from Russia. An instance of this collaboration is the partnership with Punjab Engineering College, Chandigarh, to create an artificial intelligence-based tool for health monitoring and preventive maintenance of Mi-17 aero-engines.
Overhauling the Mi-17 V5 variant abroad typically costs around Rs 6 crore per aircraft and takes approximately 12 months. In contrast, utilizing indigenous capabilities reduces the cost to Rs 80 lakh per aircraft, with a timeframe of four months.
While the IAF initiated the overhaul of older Mi-17 variants with technology transferred from Russia in 1992, the project to develop indigenous technology for the Mi-17 IV and V5 versions began in 2019. These versions exhibit distinct engines, avionics suites, and flight parameters.
The IAF's plan involves overhauling about 30 helicopters annually, necessitating collaboration with the private sector. The private sector is anticipated to contribute manpower, equipment, spares, and execute specified tasks under the IAF's guidance.