Operating alongside Chinooks, the resurrected Mi-26 will give a substantial boost to the IAF vertical heavy lift capability to airlift men and equipment to forward locations
After remaining grounded for years for want of overhaul, the IAF’s fleet of Soviet-origin Mi-26 heavy lift helicopters is finally in for a fresh lease of life.
The helicopters will now be overhauled at No.3 Base Repair Depot (BRD) in Chandigarh with Russian assistance.
“A team of Russian experts had visited 3 BRD recently to work out the modalities of the project,” a senior IAF officer revealed. “We expect things to be finalised in about three months and the overhaul thereafter is expected to be complete in about a year’s time after the contract is signed,” he added.
Sources said the overhaul will primarily be done at 3 BRD, which is responsible for the maintenance and overhaul of Russian helicopters in IAF service. “Some components, however, will have to be dismantled and flown to Russia for overhaul and repair,” an officer said.
Earlier the helicopters were flown to Russia for overhaul. However, the process of send them overseas a few years ago was mired in delays due to which their technical life had expired and they could not be operated. In Service since 1985, the first Mi-26 was grounded in 2013, followed by the other two in 2014 and 2017.
The IAF had explored various options, including shipping the helicopters to Russia and after working out the financial and technical aspects, found overhauling them in India to be the most suitable option.
Operating alongside the Chinooks, the resurrected Mi-26 will give a substantial boost to the IAF vertical heavy lift capability to airlift men and equipment to forward locations. Some IAF officers said the capability of the Mi-26 was sorely missed during the build-up along the Line of Actual Control in eastern Ladakh following the confrontation with China in 2020. In the 1999 Kargil conflict, these had played a crucial role, airlifting Bofors howitzers and other war equipment to strategic locations.
The Mi-26 has the capability to airlift up to 20 tons of payload, which is about the same as the C-130 Super Hercules transport aircraft, as well as carry heavy vehicles like trucks and bulldozers in its fuselage. The Chinook, on the other hand can airlift up to 12 tonnes and ferry light vehicles, artillery guns and other equipment in the underslung mode.
In the mid-1080s, four Mi-26s were procured from the erstwhile Soviet Union. One was lost in a freak incident at Chandigarh in 1998, when it toppled over during a storm. It was replaced a few years later. In 2010 another Mi-26 crashed near Jammu.
Though expensive to maintain, the Mi-26s have performed yeoman’s service both during military operations as well as in aid to civil authorities during natural calamities. They have airlifted artillery guns, heavy equipment and construction machinery to high altitude areas and remote parts of the country.