In a recent article penned for The Times of India, Defence Editor Rajat Pandit highlighted the numbers provided by the Ministry of Defence to the Rajya Sabha on military aircraft crashes. Pandit noted that the latest figures reveal that at least 42 military personnel have died in 45 aircraft and helicopter accidents in the last five years. The write-up mentioned steps such as modifications and better checks for aircraft and systems, additional training for the air and ground crew, reduction in aircraft and engine life, etc. that have been suggested by the Indian Air Force for prevention of crashes.
In addition, Pandit also talked about the armed forces being forced to use obsolete helicopters like Cheetahs and Chetaks along with aircraft like the Mig-21s. He pointed out that while the former two lack modern avionics, suffer from poor maintainability and a high crash rate, the latter has a vintage design and does not incorporate modern systems with built-in safety mechanisms. The Mig-21s have also had a high crash rate and taken the lives of multiple pilots over the years, Pandit relayed.
MVI received a response to this article from Group Captain TP Srivastava (Retd). Written in the format of an open letter, the response reads:
Read your write up on military air crashes.
Your article contains numerous half truths, lots of ill-informed views, and poorly arrived at conclusions.
Before proceeding further:
1. I have been in a fighter cockpit for over three decades.
2. I have been in a MiG-21 cockpit for nearly 30 years, having flown a few thousand missions.
3. I have trained ab-initio pilots on MiG-21s, without a SINGLE accident.
1. Old aircraft do not crash.
2. Poorly maintained aeroplanes crash.
3. Poorly trained and inadequately supervised pilots crash.
4. Indisciplined pilots crash.
5. Pilots who cannot clearly identify the “point of no return” crash.
6. Sometimes, crashes occur because of extraneous factors viz. 'Get Homeitis' and/or 'We Must Reach There' syndrome, weather and other constraints notwithstanding.
7. Few outstanding examples of such VIP crashes are late PM Morarji Desai, late Minister of State for Defence Mr. Somu, and the most recent Mi-17 crash that killed 14 young lives without reason.
8. Factors viz. disorientation and error of judgement at a crucial juncture also result in crashes.
Now, about erasing your understanding of 'old' aircraft:
9. USAF has decided to fly B-52s for over 100 years
10. USAF has recommenced the F-15 upgrade programme to keep it flying for nearly 60 years.
11. F-16 variants have been flown for nearly 50 years, and will fly for another 30 years at least i.e. till 2060 and beyond.
Your incomplete research on such a vital issue is merely sensational in nature.
A word about MiG-21s:
MiG-21 variants are one of the finest flying machines produced after 2nd WW. IAF will fly the MiG-21 variants for at least another 10-15 years subject to availability of spares.
All MiG 21 crashes, without exception, have been due to human error. Be it caused by the pilot in the cockpit or by technical crew error while servicing or poorly manufactured/overhauled aircraft by HAL. No MiG-21 has ever broken up in the air. Or for that matter no fighter/tpt/heptr has broken up in air.
In my IAF span of 34 years I know of only two structural failure accidents.
1. A Dakota, which had returned to squadron service after major overhaul crashed when its left engine/wing fell off while in the air. No survivors.
2. A MiG-29 crashed after one of the two tail fins flew off in the air. Pilot ejected and survived.
In the future, you may like to do in depth research, seek views of genuine experts and then embark on writing.
Gp Capt TP Srivastava
The IAF veteran had previously published an analysis on the causes of air crashes in an MVI article headlined ‘Why Do IAF Aircraft Keep Crashing? - An Analysis’