Five crew members were killed when an Indian Air Force transport plane crashed near Gwalior on Friday, jolting the world's fourth-largest air force and exposing cracks in its safety standards.
Barely an hour after it took off from the Agra airbase on a training mission, the IAF's US-built C-130J Super Hercules aircraft went down 75 miles west of Gwalior along the Madhya Pradesh-Rajasthan border, sending shockwaves across the air force.
The crash comes a little over three years after the IAF inducted the first of its six C-130J planes, configured for special operations and airborne assault.
C-130J Super Hercules aircraft remains (HT photo)
The IAF identified the dead as Wing Commander Prashant Joshi (captain), Wing Commander Raji Nair (co-pilot), Squadron Leader Kaushik Mishra (additional pilot), Squadron Leader Ashish Yadav (navigator) and Warrant Officer KP Singh (systems operator).
Former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major described the crash as "absolutely shocking" as the aircraft had the "best safety record" of any military plane worldwide. The IAF has ordered a probe into how the newly-acquired aircraft could have crashed during a training exercise involving two C-130J planes.
The crash comes a month after Admiral DK Joshi stepped down as navy chief, accepting moral responsibility for a string of accidents involving leading Indian warships. Attacking the government over the crash, the BJP asked it to own up responsibility for a rash of mishaps in the military.
Watch video | IAF's Super Hercules crash shocking: Retired Wing Commander
More than 35 air force planes and helicopters have crashed during the last three years, at a time when the force is grappling with deteriorating force levels. The IAF currently operates 34 fighter squadrons, against a desirable 42.
In a Parliamentary standing committee report made public in February, the air force had admitted that it would be difficult for it to tackle a combined threat from China and Pakistan, raising questions about the country's ability to fight a two-front war.
India had signed a $1.2 billion contract with the United States for buying six C-130J planes. The IAF plans to buy six more C-130Js, operated by 16 international air forces.
File photo: Indian Air Force C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft fly in a low-level tactical formation during the Shoor Veer military exercise near Hanumangarh, located near the India-Pakistan border. (AFP photo)
The plane, powered by four Rolls-Royce engines, can carry 92 combat troops and has a range of 3,332 km and a top speed of 671 kmph. Built by US aerospace major Lockheed Martin, it can carry out precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions.
The aircraft can be used for a variety of missions such as special operations, combat delivery, peacekeeping, low intensity conflict, search and rescue, disaster relief and humanitarian missions. It was involved in the hunt for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. Self-protection systems ensure survivability in hostile air defence environments.
The plane comes with major system improvements over the previous variant (C-130 Hercules), including an advanced two-pilot flight station with fully integrated digital avionics, colour multifunctional LCDs and head-up displays, fully integrated defensive systems, digital map displays, new turboprop engines with six-bladed propellers, digital auto pilot and an enhanced cargo-handling system.