Thursday, December 3, 2009

20 years of MiG disasters

New Delhi, 2 Dec: The Indian Air Force (IAF) has lost 265 MiG fighter jets in crashes during the last two decades leaving 140 people dead, defence minister Mr AK Antony said today.

"In the last two decades (since April 1989 and up to 26 November, 2009), 265 MiG fighter aircraft of the IAF have crashed. A total of 96 service personnel and 44 civilians were killed in these cases," Mr Antony told the parliament in a written reply. Dubbed "flying coffins" for their frequent crashes, only 150-160 of the over 450 single-engine MiG-21s with the IAF are still in service. A large number have been lost in accidents during peace time.

Mr Antony said that all precautions are being taken before flying the aircrafts.

"Each aircraft accident in the IAF is investigated through a court of inquiry and remedial measures are undertaken accordingly to check their recurrence in future. Besides continuous and multi-faceted efforts are always underway in the IAF to enhance and upgrade flight safety," Mr Antony added.

However, a senior IAF official said that because it faces a shortage of fighter squadrons, the IAF cannot afford to phase out the ageing MiG-21s. If it does that, it would diminish its force level drastically. "The main problem with MiG-21s is that they are very old and the on-board systems have become obsolete," a highly-placed IAF official, who has flown the combat aircraft, told IANS. The IAF, the world's fourth largest air force, currently has a fighter squadron strength of 33.5 against the sanctioned 39.

The Indian Government has issued tenders for acquisition of 126 medium multi-role combat aircrafts but the acquisition has been delayed due to time consuming procedures, which include submitting of bids, technical evaluation of proposals from global military suppliers and field trials. The first aircraft would conservatively be inducted only by 2020, according to defence ministry sources. The assessment is that the retirement of the five squadrons of MiG-21s will diminish the IAF's conventional edge over its adversaries. The current deadline for the retirement of MiG-21s is 2011. But this is likely to be pushed back further due to the slow pace of procurement and indigenisation process. The latest crash took place 11 September when a MiG-21 went down in Bathinda in Punjab, killing the pilot.

The MiG-21s, inducted in 1964, proved their worth in the 1971 war with Pakistan and again in 1999 during the Kargil conflict, also with Pakistan. The IAF inducted its first MiG-21 from the erstwhile Soviet Union five years after their induction into the Soviet Air Force. Thereafter some 450 MiG-21 jets were inducted in the IAF to bolster its strength.

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