A MiG-27 ground attack fighter crashed within minutes of take-off from the IAF’s Hashimara airbase in West Bengal on Thursday morning. The pilot, Wing Commander KD Singh, managed to eject safely. The air force has ordered a probe to pinpoint the reasons for the crash, which takes the number of IAF aircraft lost this year to six, among them four MiG variants.
The crash comes at a time when the air force boasts of achieving an all-time low aircraft crash rate of 0.44 accidents per 10,000 hours of flying in 2005-06, compared to 1.84 accidents in 1972-73. The MiG-27, considered to be a “safe aircraft“, is currently undergoing an upgrade programme at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited’s MiG complex in Ozhar.
The aircraft is getting an avionics upgrade, superior navigation systems and improved targetting accuracy with the integration of Israeli and Russian technology. Inducted in the IAF in 1984, the number of MiG-27s in IAF’s fighter fleet is second only to the MiG-21s, which form more than half of the air force fleet. The air force, which has over 150 MiG-27s, has lost eight such MiG variants since January 2001. The latest aircraft to go down belonged to the 222 Squadron of the 16 Wing at Hashimara.
However, August 31, 1998, will remain a black day in the history of IAF because as many as three MiG-27s crashed that day. But to be fair to the air force, the statistical data of the last decade indicates a downward trend in accident rates of the fighter fleet, which has registered a drop of 57 per cent in crash rate compared to the 1970s.
Notwithstanding the favourable statistics, losing valuable assets, even if the rate of depletion has improved, does not augur well for an air force which aims to acquire “strategic reach” but whose air power has eroded considerably in recent years. The present squadron strength of the IAF has plunged to 33 against the authorised 39.5 and it’s expected to nosedive further to 29 during the Eleventh Plan period (2007-12).
Investigations into crashes have revealed that human error and technical malfunctions cause 90 per cent of the functions. The rest are caused by environmental factors such as rough weather and bird hits. As per the recommendations of the EXCOM (expert committee on aircraft accidents) constituted by the defence ministry in 2004, pilots are undergoing more night sorties and following newer training modules for rough weather orientation.