Crash landing for IAF
The Indian Air Force has grounded its newly-inducted fleet of BAE Systems Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainers after one of the aircraft crashed last Tuesday.Updated: May 05, 2008, 21:34 IST
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has grounded its newly-inducted fleet of BAE Systems Hawk 132 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) after one of the aircraft crashed last Tuesday. It was trying to take off from the Bidar air base when the accident happened.
This is a major embarrassment for the IAF. After all, it has been barely a couple of months since the Hawk was inducted into service at an elaborate ceremony attended by the defence minister and top officials of BAE Systems. While it is too early to speculate on what caused the crash, the IAF would do well to ponder why its fleet continues to be a source of concern for the country’s military aviation planners.
The Hawk’s induction doesn’t seem to have been without its teething problems. Reports speak of several complaints about the availability of spares, as a result of which some of the aircraft were even grounded for a brief period.
No wonder the Hawk has had such a shockingly low serviceability rate of 40 per cent, as it spent most of the time on the ground rather than teaching pilots tactics and weapons skills in the air. Ironically, this is happening just when the IAF breathed a huge sigh of relief at the arrival of the long-awaited AJT.
The absence of an AJT had meant rookie pilots were forced to play leapfrog while switching from jaded basic trainers to frontline fighters. Pilots of the IAF and the Indian Navy are usually put through their paces on propeller-driven aircraft, before they graduate to the HJT-16 Kiran basic jet trainers.
With the crucial next step — the AJT — missing, young pilots suddenly found themselves in the cockpit of supersonic fighters. The Hawk may not have any major defects, given its impeccable record with other air forces in the world. But till such time it is cleared for sorties, the IAF should ensure that specially certified test pilots oversee training operations to minimise pilot error and the fleet’s vulnerability.
The sooner this ‘window of vulnerability’ is addressed, the less the chances of pilots coming home on a wing and a prayer.