In the melting mid-afternoon skies of Nasik an iron bird thunders over the 50-year-old MiG Complex of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. Below, in the large hangars scattered across the tree-dense campus, different stages of another beaky Sukhoi 30 fighter plane are being pieced together part-by its 43,007-parts.
Trudge to another hangar a few snaky lanes away and another Su-30 sits on a rig, innards unravelled, wings taken apart and the neural wires keeping their codes intact. The Su-30’s cycle of birth, life and re-birth happen in this one place. The Russian origin Sukhoi-30 — prefixed with the Indian mark of MKI — is called the backbone of the country’s air defence. Building, reconstructing and designing its different elements are all in a day’s work for the three main teams of the 5000-strong complex.
The 3,500-acre MiG Complex breathes ‘Su-30’, yet keeps the old fighter’s name. It assembles the fighter plane under a 2000 licence from Russia, senior officials at the complex told The Hindu during an invited visit to the Su-30 manufacturing facilities. The first lot of 50 Su-30s was bought. Of the 222 Su-30s to be built by HAL Nasik, 149 have flown out to Indian Air Force bases since 2004. The last delivery to the IAF is to be completed in 2018-19, said G.S.R. Prasad, senior executive of the aircraft manufacturing unit. For the remaining 72 planes, the production team is focussed on delivering 14-16 aircraft a year through four years.
In its 20-odd flying years Su-30 passes through the three arms of the complex — Manufacture, Repair & Overhaul, and Aircraft Upgrade Research & Design Centre.
It takes two to three months to assemble a Su-30. At one large ‘shop’, as we move past large grey titanium blocks and arcs from Russia laid on the large tables, we hear tales of how the precious, foot-thick chunks are tamed into a shapely wing or a fuselage ring a few millimetres thick. Then they are welded, wired, fastened, engined and eventually made into a whole mean war machine.
The Nasik facility also houses the certifying Regional Centre for Military Airworthiness. Once ready, the Su-30 is test flown nearby at the Air Force’s air field at Ozhar. On that day, five Su-30s waited on the tarmac for their turn.
Two planes sat bared on rigs at Repari & Overhaul. Now is the time to recharge the middle-aged first batch as they near 1,500 flight hours. It takes 15-24 months to pluck out and micro-inspect each part, return or replace it, and may be fit a new engine from the Koraput facility, said Prakash Joshi of Overhaul.
Over the years, the Indian content of Su-30 has been increasing to 60-70 per cent by sourcing of parts from industries in Nasik, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai and Coimbatore. The AURDC keeps the plane’s eyes and ears — avionics — sharp with timely improvements, said R.P. Khapli from Design. The complex supports the 450-plus Russian-origin fighter and transport fleet. It is fitting the Su-30 with the BrahMos cruise missile for first testing in December.