On Thursday late evening two Indian Air Force fighter pilots were killed after their MiG-21 trainer crashed in Barmer. Both the pilots were on a training sortie in the western sector after they were airborne from Barmer’s Uttarlai Air Base when it crashed.
According to an official statement issued by the IAF following the crash, “a Court of Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.”
View of IAF Veteran
Group Capt Sundeep Mehta, (retd), former helicopter pilot and defence analyst, sharing his views with Financial Express Online said: “It is tragic to lose bright young lives in air accidents. Though every accident is investigated thoroughly, repeated, large numbers of accidents, especially of MiG 21s have been our bane for many decades now.”
According to him, “The pilot’s lives are put to higher risks because of the Operational Preparedness imperatives. Here the decision makers have `NO CHOICE’ because replacement of old technology machines are long overdue, be it MiG 21 or Chetak / Cheetah Helicopters or AVRO HS 748. Do not forget that HPT 32 had to be grounded in similar circumstances.”
What can be done?
“All this speaks of the total lack of accountability of the Ministry of Defence. If both the manufacturers (indigenous), the designers, developers (DRDO) and end users – the Services are all under one ministry. Who else is there to blame?”
“What seems to make a prophesied case for smooth coordination is actually quite the opposite. If the left hand is the seller and the right hand is the buyer – it can only go one way – downhill,” he opined.
In his opinion, “Enquiries or just its findings are also not made public, obviously there is more to hide – than reveal.”
“Remember: the Aircrew performed their duty to the best of their ability, their training and judgement, with the equipment they were provided. Right to the end. Let us not fail their trust in us. Change what we have to,” Group Capt Sundeep Mehta, added.
More about the MiG-21
The MiG-21 has been used for training the pilots since the1980s, 1990s & early 2000s. This was being done as there was a delay in the induction of advanced jet trainers and this led to an increase in the number of accidents of the MiG fighters.
The IAF got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and it progressively inducted 874 variants of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters to bolster its combat potential.
This aircraft was inducted in IAF back in early 1963 and over a period of time 874 variants of the MiG-21 fighters of Soviet origin were inducted in the IAF to bolster the combat strength. And today there are four squadrons of the MiG-21 Bisons still in the fleet of the IAF and the plans are to phase them out by 2025. These aircraft were to gradually phase out earlier, however the strength of fighter squadrons in the IAF has delayed the process.
One MiG-21 squadron is expected to be retired in September this year. According to senior officers, “End of September 2022, 51 Squadron which is based at Srinagar air base will be number plated.”
According to the official data (Ministry of Defence shared in the Parliament) since 2010, more than 20 MiG 21s have been involved in accidents and 2003 and 2013, around 38 MiG 21 aircraft crashed. Number of IAF pilots lost in crashes is around 170.
IAF is supposed to have a strength of 43 squadrons, however even after the induction of 36 Rafale fighters and planned induction of 40 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas which are to be delivered soon, the number will be just 29 squadrons.