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Sukhoi Su-30 jet crash raises heat in Rajya Sabha


New Delhi : The crash of an Indian Air Force Sukhoi Su-30 combat jet in Rajasthan this April, the first accident involving the plane since it was inducted 12 years ago, generated much heat in the Rajya Sabha Wednesday, prompting Defence Minister A.K. Antony to intervene and state that the IAF was “very happy” with the aircraft.

“The Su-30 is one of the most advanced jets in the world. The IAF is very happy with it. The IAF feels it is one of the best in the world,” Antony maintained.

Antony had asked his deputy, M.M. Pallam Raju, to reply to the main question on the April 30 crash of a twin-seat Russian-origin Sukhoi Su-30MKI near Jaisalmer in Rajasthan.

He, however, stepped in when member after member asked searching questions about the crash and one MP even wondered why the IAF was persisting with Russian-origin aircraft when others were available.

“Was it a case of a wrong pilot in a right plane?”, “Has the black box been sent to England?”, “What precautions were taken before take-off?”, “Did the pilots report a malfunction?”, “What is the state of investigations”… those were some of the questions asked but not all were answered.

Answering the main question, Raju said the Su-30’s black box had been “badly damaged” and efforts were underway to retrieve the data contained in it.

“The black box has been badly damaged. There is only one company in the UK that can retrieve the data contained in it. That effort is now underway,” Raju said.

“Once we find out what went wrong, then rectification can be done,” he added.

Raju did not rule out the “possibility” of technical failure “because of the aircraft’s fly-by-wire technology”, even as he dodged a question on whether the data chip of the jet’s rear seat had been sent to Russia for decoding.

The jet’s pilot, Wing Commander S.V. Munje, and the co-pilot, Wing Commander P.S. Narah, had managed to bail out in time but the latter was killed after being apparently hit by the falling debris of the aircraft.

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Nair is on record as saying that the ejection mechanism of the rear seat may have been faulty.

Responding to a supplementary on the precautions that were taken before the aircraft took off, Raju said: “There are standard operating procedures that are followed. If there was any disorder, it would have become known.”

“However, once in the air, there is the possibility of malfunctioning because of the aircraft’s fly-by-wire technology,” the minister added.

“A court of enquiry is underway. I cannot reveal anything more till it is completed.”

The Su-30 was inducted in 1996 and the IAF fleet currently comprises 98 aircraft. This will rise to 230 by 2015, Antony said.

Of the Su-30s in the IAF fleet, some were bought in flyaway condition from its Russian manufacturer while state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) manufactured the others under licence. It was not clear which category the crashed jet belonged to.

The Su-30 has won universal acclaim from the air forces of the US, Britain and France whenever it has been fielded against them in war games. Eight Su-30s had participated in the prestigious Red Flag exercise with the US Air Force at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, last year and had more than held their own against their counterparts’ F/A-18 and F-16 combat jets.