The AN-32 which went missing in Arunachal Pradesh did not have two new transmitters that come with the upgrade, which could help with search & rescue

New Delhi: The missing Indian Air Force military transport AN-32, with 13 people on board, was one of the aircraft that had not been upgraded yet, which may have decreased its chances of survival.

In fact, none of the 46 upgraded AN-32 aircraft, out of the total fleet of over 100, is deployed in the Northeast, known for its dangerous terrain and adverse weather conditions, sources in the IAF told ThePrint Tuesday.

The deployment priority of the upgraded aircraft has been to operationally sensitive areas, the sources said. Around 55 of the AN-32 aircraft have been upgraded, with 46 being inducted.

“Just about 50 per cent of the total number of AN-32 aircraft have been upgraded, so the IAF has to deploy them based on operational considerations,” a source said.

In the Northeast, however, the job of AN-32 pilots is as fraught with risk, as they have to fly to remote areas such as Mechuka — the destination of the missing aircraft, located at an elevation of 7,000 feet in the West Siang district of Arunachal Pradesh — through rough terrain and poor visibility conditions, to deliver food and rations to the border outposts.

According to an NDTV report, among other upgrades, the refurbished AN-32s come equipped with two contemporary Emergency Locator Transmitters — the ARTEX C406-1 and the portable KANNAD 406AS — as against the obsolete unit that was installed in the missing AN-32.

As a result, no signal from the unit has been detected by IAF and Army rescuers who have been trying to find wreckage of the aircraft.

However, the AN-32 aircraft that had disappeared in 2016 with 29 people on board was one of the upgraded ones — 10 aircraft had been upgraded by the IAF in 2015.

Speaking to ThePrint, an IAF official said when it came to military equipment or aircraft parts, being obsolete didn’t mean they would be junked. “Even the MiG-27s are obsolete, but they are still flying,” the official added.

Stalled Upgradation Program

The AN-32 transport fleet is the backbone of the tactical transport mobility requirements of the IAF.

The aircraft plays a major role, both during peacetime and conflict, by transporting troops and material to far-flung areas. It can also operate from remote airfields which have minimal ground infrastructure. AN-32s also regularly transport food and equipment to the troops stationed in the Siachen region of Kashmir, known as the world’s highest battleground.

After the 2009 crash of an AN-32, India had signed a US $400 million contract with the Ukrainian manufacturer Antonov to upgrade the IAF’s 105 AN-32s by overhauling the airframes and engines, and fitting the platforms with advanced avionics, navigation and communication equipment.

By 2014, around 55 aircraft had been modernised. However, the upgradation program got stalled in 2015 due to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, when the latter annexed the Crimea region.

India and Ukraine later agreed to resume the upgrade program as the latter has developed alternatives to replace the Russian-made systems on the AN-32.