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The implied truth


March 3, 2019

During the rehearsal for the Aero India show, two Indian Air Force Hawk Mk 132 aircraft collided resulting in the death of one pilot. Before that a Mirage 2000 crashed on February 1, which led to loss of two pilots. Earlier, a Jaguar crashed on January 28 and a MiG-27 crashed on February 12, 2019. Not a good beginning of the year for the IAF!

Not so long ago, the Indian Air Force had lost 29 fighter aircraft in a three-year period, including 12 MiG-21s, in crashes in which six pilots had lost their lives. As per Indian official records, more than 170 IAF pilots have been killed in MiG-21 accidents since 1970, a huge figure.

The Russian Ambassador to India Alexander Kadakin had said that spare parts of MiG-21s acquired by the IAF were fake. “For MiG and other planes, you need authentic parts. And then you are surprised why your planes fall because spare parts are bought from unauthorised sources.”

Former Indian defence minister A.K.Antony had informed the Indian parliament that over the last 40 years, India had lost more than half of its MiG combat fleet of 872 aircraft.

The minister disclosed that ‘482 MiG aircraft accidents took place till April 19, 2012’. Antony had also revealed that these crashes led to the loss of precious lives of 171 pilots, 39 civilians and eight persons from other services.

India received the initial batch of Sukhois in 2002. The first of these aircraft crashed in 2009, and since then at least five more have crashed.

Admits an Indian writer: “Shoddy maintenance is also a reason as India is notorious for its ‘chalta hai’ or ‘it’ll be alright’ attitude. In this backdrop, shoddy maintenance could well be a factor. Of late, there have been a number of incidents reported widely in the media about IAF ground crew involved in all sorts of serious crimes. The IAF should look at establishing an elite division of ground crews to service its high-end aircraft.”

Another conceded: “Most of Indian combat aircraft are Russian made. They are relatively unreliable, and have a poor serviceability. e.g. SU-30 MKI has a poor serviceability of 55%, i.e. out of 220 odd Sukhois India has in March 2016, only 55pc (121) are available for operation. On top of that, Sukhois are heavier and have a longer scramble time. Even MiGs don't have high serviceability. Indian Air Force despises Russian aircraft for these bad qualities. They develop problems very frequently.”

The Hindustan Times recently questioned the efficiency of the IAF in an editorial: “The problem of crashes is not new for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The year 2018 saw a number of crashes involving Sukhoi, Jaguar and MIG planes. In fact, the number of accidents that IAF has had with MIGs — 482 in 40 years till 2012 — had earned the aircraft the dubious title of flying coffin. The infamy was immortalised in the iconic film Rang De Basanti in 2006.

“Why are IAF planes so accident prone? One, it is simply the problem of slow movement on defence modernisation. IAF is flush with ageing planes on their last legs. Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi recently dismissed a plea asking for judicial enquiry into the February 1 Mirage crash claiming that the aircraft was very old and bound to crash.

“Two, IAF is known to make its pilots undergo intense and rigorous training. Such a practice puts immense strain on the limited number of aircraft, pilots and the support staff.

Three, tardy maintenance and upgrade of some of these planes has also been an issue. IAF puts the blame on HAL, which indeed is running way behind the schedule on a number of projects including the Mirage 2000 upgrade. Four, IAF has to operate in harsh tropical weather which is quite demanding on its planes. Then there are problems such as bird strikes, which, some estimates suggest, are responsible for 10% of accidents. It should be noted that the government scrapped a Rs 250 crore tender for buying bird detection and monitoring radars in 2015.”

The newspaper advised the service: “Perhaps, IAF can begin addressing the problem by being more transparent. An annual, or even a triennial, report on accidents and their causes would be a good way to start.

Some individual cases may be embarrassing to the service, but an aggregate release of data would do much good simply by shining the light on deficiencies — and ensure that more of its pilots do not become casualties.”

It seems that the Indian Air Force lacks the level of readiness and efficiency the Indian people hope it would have in the current regional dynamics.

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