Navy's Sea Dragoned Ilyushin-38s Nosedive

I took the photo to the right on August 21 this year while at the Zhukovsky air base outside Moscow for the MAKS 07 air show. In case you're squinting at the bad photo quality (or haven't clicked on the photo), that's the third of five Indian Navy Ilyushin-38 maritime patrol/anti-sub warfare aircraft that are in Russia for the Sea Dragon maritime avionics and sensors suite upgrade -- and it's just sitting there. It was sitting across the runway closer to the maintenance hangars, flanked by an American F-15C (which was participating in the flight and an Antonov-148.

Kommersant reported on September 7, "The Indians claim Sea Dragon failed to correspond to the technical design assignment during the test operations in the Barents Sea. The system allegedly failed to discover a submarine that was at the target distance from it. According to Russia’s participants of the tests, Sea Dragon operated up to the weather conditions in the North."

The Navy, on its part, has said that there are serious technical glitches in the integration that don't match up to requirement standards. The Navy has therefore suspended payments on the upgrade of the third, and the fourth, fifth if Russia does not aquiesce and agree to work on the three, to bring them up to the required performance configuration.

The Kommersant report says, "India hasn’t accepted Russia’s Il-38 jets with the Sea Dragon navigation system and suspended the payments under the contract sealed by Rosoboronexport and executed by Ilyushin Aircraft Construction Company. The result of delay could be the failure of Rosoboronexport in the tender that India holds to choose eight new antisubmarine jets."

Damn straight. As it stands, the Navy is extremely keen on the American Boeing P-8 Poseidon, a 737-based long-range MPA, for which a mock-demonstration was given to a Navy team at Seattle in July, not to mention the A-319-derived MPA in Spain. So if the Russians are going to stick with this habit of springing nasty surprises on ongoing contracts, they're only gnawing away at their chances of a) getting any new deals, and b) working on reliability issues that so desperately need to be ironed out for any new deals to be discussed in the first place. This whole business of springing rude commercial surprises is really pissing people off.

Worst of all, if the Russians are refusing to accept feedback from the Navy on the SD-upgrade, they’re messing with a capability that the Navy needs possibly more immediately than any other. With only a limited upgrade of the Tu-142s and the Il-38s stalled at Zhukovsky, there’s precious little to watch over whole swathes of sea without blinking. The hits just keep on coming. It’s time the government took a seriously strong stand with the Russians. The past may be the past. But the future better be on terms that suit both countries.

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