The Indian Air Force may have put the lives of its fighter pilots in jeopardy by failing to install autopilot on the Jaguar deep-strike penetration aircraft, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) has found.
The world’s fourth largest air force has lost four fighter pilots and three Jaguar aircraft worth Rs 282 crore due to pilot disorientation over the last eight years.
Under this condition, the pilot’s perception of an aircraft’s altitude, position or motion differs from reality.
Pilot disorientation caused the death of three fighter pilots and loss of four Jaguars in the 1990s. A twin-seater Jaguar costs Rs 95 crore compared with Rs 110 crore for a single seater.
While the defence ministry had concluded a contract for 35 auto pilot systems worth over Rs 37 crore around a decade ago, the installation has not yet commenced, the CAG said in a report tabled in Parliament last week. The systems, delivered between 2006-08, were to be fitted on the fighters by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
The delay in procurement and the failure to induct the procured system becomes more significant in this context (loss of aircraft and fighter pilots), the auditor pointed out.
The government spends over Rs 10 crore on training a fighter pilot.
The autopilot enhances aircraft safety by trimming the pilot’s workload, allowing him to concentrate on navigation, target acquisition and weapon delivery.
The defence ministry admitted that the autopilot helped in reducing pilot stress and cockpit workload. It, however, told CAG that the autopilot could not have helped the situation substantially in the last three crashes.
Air Marshal A K Singh (retd), who has flown Jaguars for over 25 years, said, “Autopilot can make all the difference if the pilot experiences spatial disorientation. Its absence has a direct bearing on pilot safety.