Today in New Delhi, India
Mar 09, 2019-Saturday
New Delhi
  • Humidity
  • Wind

EDITORIAL | IAF tragedies are becoming far too common

The Indian Air Force can begin addressing the problem by being more transparent and releasing periodic reports on accidents and their causes.

editorials Updated: Feb 21, 2019 08:23 IST
Hindustan Times
IAF,Aero India,Hawk
A still from a video footage shows an aircraft in flames after two aircrafts of IAF's aerobatic team Surya Kiran crashed near the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru, Feb 19, 2019(PTI)

During the rehearsal for the Aero India show currently underway, two Hawk Mk 132 aircrafts collided resulting in the death of one pilot. The tragic news comes close on the heels of a Mirage 2000 crash on February 1, which led to loss of two pilots. A Jaguar crashed on January 28 and a Mig-27 crashed on February 12, thankfully without any loss of lives.

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.

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 brave pilots do not become casualties.

First Published: Feb 20, 2019 20:43 IST