The Indian Air Force's (IAF) fleet of Soviet-origin Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters, that were grounded for years are set for an overhaul, reported The Tribune.
The overhaul will take place at the No. 3 Base Repair Depot (BRD) in Chandigarh with assistance from Russian experts.
A senior IAF officer disclosed that a team of Russian specialists had recently visited 3 BRD to discuss the project's details. It is anticipated that the finalisation of the overhaul will occur within three months, with the process expected to be completed within a year after signing the contract.
According to sources, the main overhaul work will be carried out at 3 BRD, which is responsible for the maintenance and overhaul of Russian helicopters in the IAF.
However, some components will need to be dismantled and sent to Russia for repairs.
Earlier, these helicopters were sent to Russia for overhauls. However, this process faced delays a few years ago, resulting in the expiry of their technical life and rendering them inoperable.
The first Mi-26 was grounded in 2013, with the remaining two following in 2014 and 2017.
Operational since 1985, the fleet's maintenance faced challenges. IAF deliberated on various ways to overhaul the helicopters, including shipping them to Russia. Ultimately, overhauling them in India was deemed the most feasible option.
The helicopters are part of the IAF's No.126 Helicopter Unit, 'The Featherweights,' based in Chandigarh, which also operates the recently acquired US-made CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters.
The restored Mi-26s, operating alongside the Chinooks, will significantly enhance the IAF's heavy lift capability, crucial for transporting men and equipment to forward areas.
IAF officers have noted the absence of the Mi-26's capabilities, particularly during the 2020 standoff with China in eastern Ladakh. These helicopters played a vital role in the 1999 Kargil conflict, airlifting essential war equipment to strategic locations.
With the capacity to airlift up to 20 tonnes – comparable to the C-130 Super Hercules transport aircraft – the Mi-26 can transport heavy vehicles inside its fuselage. The Chinook, in contrast, can lift up to 12 tonnes and is used for ferrying lighter vehicles and artillery in an underslung mode.
In fact, in early 2002, the US leased a civilian Mi-26 to recover two damaged US Army MH-47E Chinook helicopters from a mountain in Afghanistan, as well.
Initially, four Mi-26s were acquired from the erstwhile Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. One was lost in a storm in Chandigarh in 1998 and was later replaced. Another crash occurred near Jammu in 2010.
Despite high maintenance costs, the Mi-26s have been crucial in military operations and civil aid during natural disasters, airlifting artillery, heavy equipment, and construction machinery to high-altitude and remote areas.
Editorial Associate at Swarajya. Writes on Indian Military and Defence.
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