06 December 2011

Why Indian MIGs are 'Flying Coffins'?

Defense is said to defend us, but how they will if they themselves are roaming in “flying coffins”. According to various surveys and statistics, Indian Air Force (IAF) is said to have the worst record of more than 500 air crashes, and this is so called a ‘World Record’, a world record of destruction. None of any other world’s Air Force faced such a disappointing honour of such huge number of crashes on non-battle situations. It was the 500th incident on 25th Aug, 2008, when a MiG – 29 crashed into the Arabian Sea off Jamnagar coast during a training mission. It can be a accident or mortal mistakes once, twice or even thrice a year, but not for hundreds of times. Why this simple equation is so hard to accept for our Ministers?

The recent incident in Sirsa, Haryana, where a MiG-21 crashed shortly after takeoff was a fortunate event for the pilot as he escaped the grave crash by ejection. It was the 7th incident in the MIG-21 crash this year, which is again not easily acceptable. In 2003 report from ‘The Hindu’, 350 such incidents took place during the last 13 years alone, where more than 170 pilots lost their lives. Such incidents earned the tag of “flying coffins”. An unspecified American analyst said that, “This is really unacceptable. Some heads should roll over this, and frankly this insane crash rate is making the IAF the laughing stock of air forces around the world”.

Some Salient facts about the crashes with references:

1. India, using mostly Russian aircraft, has an accident rate of 6-7 per 100,000 hours flown compared to 4-5 for all NATO air forces. 2. The Indian rate had been over ten for many years, and it is still that high, and often higher, with other nations (including Russia and China), that use Russian aircraft designs. 3. F-15s and F-16s have an accident rate of 3-4 per 100,000 flight hours. 4. 1970 – 2005: IAF has recorded around 700 crashes since 1970, with around 180 pilots, and scores of civilians on the ground losing their lives. 5. 1970 – 2005: If the 793 MiG-21s progressively inducted in IAF since 1963, 330 have been lost in accidents.

 In early 1980s, IAF realized that it’s losing both of its aircraft as well as fighter pilots, it set up a committee under Air Marshal La Fontaine to study the problem. The committee submitted its report saying that these accidents are the results of the young pilots wanting to give high performance MiG-21 fighters. It was recommended to lay Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) to bridge the gap between the two stages of performance, which remained a dream till decade, and only recently the plan again passed to sanction Hawk AJTs, which was nothing but a cruel joke towards those who faced demise in the crashes thought out the years.

IAF’s Mission Statement states that, “The mission of the Flight Safety organization of the IAF is to ensure operational capability by conserving human and material resources through prevention of aircraft accidents.” Now the vital questions comes, whether they have lived up to this statement? What are the real reasons for so many crashes? Whether they are taking any kind of measures to prevent such situations? Is IAF a crying wolf? Or facing shortage of Jets? Or they are busy blaming the young, inexperienced but enthusiastic fighter pilots?

But then also it is said that most of the crashes have been attributed to pilot incompetence and a lack of training and poor manufactured local parts by the Russians. After so many hundreds of MiGs had crashed, the IAF blames the manufacturer of a faulty fuel pump? The reasons for the crashes,showed by the IAF in 2005 are as followed:

1. Human error – 40 percent

2. Technical defects – 41 percent

3. Servicing – 2 percent

4. Bird hits – 9 percents

5. Unresolved – 6 percent

6. Others – 2 percent

Human error is only natural. It should be appreciated that a professional makes mistakes. But it is only one part of the story and only can experience can take care of it. But what is the other side of the coin? Not improving the technicality isn’t a human error too? A fighter pilot has no chance like these top sportsman who are firmly on ground and are able to play the next innings or the next match. It is more unfortunate when the entire blame is pushed upon the courageous pilot who faces death rather than accepting own faults. It is very difficult particularly for the families of those who lost someone close to accept error or error of judgment on the part the individual. Even the First Indian Astronaut Rakesh Sharma blames the faulty Planning in defense public sector units for MiG crashes.