'Why Do IAF Aircraft Keep Crashing ? An Analysis ' - Redux
The loss of two young IAF Fighter Pilots (Flt Lt Advaitya Bal & Wg Cdr M Rana) on Thursday, 28 Jul 22, in MiG - 21 crash in Barmer ( Rajasthan ) is indeed sad.
When MVI asked for comments , Gp Capt Johnson Chacko, a former seasoned IAF fighter pilot who had flown the Hunters ,Canberras and MiG 25 ,said: "The aircraft is due to be phased out by Sep 2025 by which time replacements are expected to be inducted. MiG 21s were the state of the art air craft in 1963 when they were inducted. The IAF does not have the required number of fighters to fulfill its purpose as of now. Further depletion in the number of fighter aircraft will adversely affect the combat capability of the IAF".
Gp Capt TP Srivastava, another former IAF fighter pilot and instructor who had flown and safely ejected from the MiG 21 air craft , when contacted by MVI and asked to comment on the extended life of MiG 21 upto 2025 said: "Obsolete aircraft are not unsafe aircraft as long as they are maintained by competent technicians and flown by mature pilots" and further added : " USAF will fly B 52 bomber for 100 years and F 16s for 90 years."
On 16 Dec 2021, Mission Victory India ( MVI) had published an article titled ' Why Do IAF Aircraft Keep Crashing ? - An Analysis ' by Gp Capt TP Srivastava.
The original version of this piece was first published as chapter 31 of our book ' A Campaign Called Victory India ' 2016 ( Pentagon Press, New Delhi ) .
This article ( which has valuable comments from Air Mshl Narayan Menon and Gp Capt Johnson Chacko) is now being republished for benefit of all concerned .
Before publishing this article MVI requested Air Mshl Narayan Menon for his valued comments .
What MVI received clearly shows the Way Forward: Air Mshl Narayan Menon said "I stand by my earlier remarks. The recent night accident of a MiG-21 Trainer is unfortunate and the Court of Inquiry will establish the cause/s and the reason why the pilots did not eject.
All MiG-21 fighters flying today are the latest Bison variant which has the
basic airframe and engine but has vastly improved avionics and other
systems. The trainer aircraft that crashed was an older variant. Before
being offered for flying all aspects of its serviceability/air worthiness
would have been thoroughly checked. Trainer aircraft are an inseparable
part of fighter squadrons.
Air Force is deficient in fighter squadrons and these Bisons have sufficient
TTL(total technical life) and can not be dicarded without futher
weakening our combat potential. But a phasing out plan has already been
put into effect and we will see a reduction in their numbers soon.
The MiG-21 is our largest fleet if one counts the various versions of it and
has been with the IAF for six decades. It has served the IAF with
distinction in all operations though we have lost many due to accidents.
While all actions should be taken to reduce accidents in the IAF, there is
an urgent necessity to induct new fighters so that we can continue to retain
and sharpen our fighting capability."
I wrote this article in 2001, when I was a Serving Group Captain and sent it to the then CAS directly, without an iota of doubt that we in the IAF have lost and continue to lose an aeroplane every month for the past 43 years!
Defending the indefensible has got us nowhere. Most, if not all, accidents are due to Human Error, be it technical and/or pilot. An error in servicing, whether committed by an HAL technician or by a line technician in a squadron dispersal, is a human error. Likewise, there have been hundreds of accidents due to pilot error/indiscipline.
Whenever a system either fails or does not operate at an optimum level, ‘Supervision’ is the first area that one needs to look at.
Our ‘Supervision’ is questionable without doubt.
I wrote this article to be published in the Flight Safety Journal of the IAF but it was not published.
My friends in the BLUE may not react very favourably to my factual statement but let it not be construed by the others that I am in any way denigrating the men in the magnificent flying machines. All we need to do is to adopt simple/elementary measures to stop losing the expensive machines and at times, irreplaceable lives.
In the Air Force we are free to air constructive dissent and diametrically opposite points of view, even while in uniform.
Every time an armed forces person dies, a part of me dies with him while saluting his ultimate sacrifice.
My article is in two clear and unambiguous parts:
Firstly, the number of aeroplanes lost during the period 1972–2001 (30 complete years) has been quoted as 450. The actual numbers, without any doubt, will be more. For the period 2002 till June 2015 (13 years 06 months) the actual numbers are not with me. The Parliamentary Committee report states 87 aircraft lost in the past seven years i.e. 2009 till date. For the period of seven years i.e. 2002 till 2008 (seven years), I do not have the figures but a professional guess will be at least 60 aeroplanes. Now you have the statistics almost correct i.e. 450+60+87= 597. I will bet my last dime that the numbers will be lesser than the actual figure.
This article is conceptual and procedural. Hence every word is valid even today and will remain so, even in the next century!
30 Years of ‘NO WAR’ Attrition: 1972–2001
In the last 30 years, the IAF has lost only two fighter aircraft while engaged against the enemy (Kargil 1999); however, it has lost nearly 450 fighter aircraft during normal peacetime i.e. nearly an ‘AIR FORCE’.
The performance of the IAF in all wars in the post-independence era has been sterling, particularly in the 1971 war. The Indian Armed Forces have not been engaged in a full-fledged war in the past 30 years. The Indian Army, however, has been involved in fighting a high-intensity counter-insurgency for the last 15 years. The transport and helicopter fleets have given an outstanding account of themselves in maintaining the Army in hospitable and practically inaccessible terrain round the year in the most adverse circumstances.
Both the fleets have given a reasonable account of themselves in restricting the number of accidents during peacetime. The helicopter fleet, however, in the last few years has shown an undesirable upward increase in accidents. We cannot however say the same for the fighter fleet, which has during peace time operations, accounted for a loss of nearly 450 aircraft. Is it acceptable to us? Is it affordable by the nation? Why have we remained consistent in such a negative way in as far as the aircraft losses (fighters only) are concerned?
There is no way that a sound and professional Air Force can afford this rate of attrition. Do we really believe that the absence of an Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) is the cause for such attrition? If it is indeed so, then the acquisition of an AJT would, if not eliminate, at least reduce the number of accidents by a large number. However, if we were to look at the type of accidents we continue to have with total professional honesty and sincerity, it would be quite evident that absence of an AJT is not the cause of accidents.
In any job, particularly in a single-crew cockpit which is what most of the IAF fighter fleet is and would remain, it is my considered opinion that professional integrity, professional maturity and professional competence are the key qualities and IN THAT ORDER of importance. That we are a professionally competent Air Force, I have no doubt, but our demonstrated past performance spread over 30 years does not convey the same about our professional discipline in and outside the cockpit. Nevertheless, it is about time, and I believe it is still not too late; to look at this aspect with an open mind.
Discipline has two components; Maturity and Integrity. Non-professionals would react and reject any pointers to their professional maturity and more importantly, integrity. Of course some amongst us might defend this by merely saying nonchalantly, “So what if we have been losing on fighter aircraft every 20–25 days for the past 30 years?” For those who believe that a loss of nearly 450 aircrafts (nearly an Air Force) is a cause of no concern to them, they can discontinue reading any further.
A majority of the accidents involving fighter aircraft that the IAF has had and continues to have, has been essentially due to human error. If we scratched our memory banks, how many of us can cite even one example of a fighter aircraft breaking up in mid-air or a because of a major structural failure (perhaps except a MIG-29 where a fin flew off)? The majority of the aircraft has been lost due to some human failure of the other, including mid-air collisions involving fully serviceable aircraft.
Why has this been happening with an amazing regularity in spite of the comprehensive orders, instructions, guidelines, directives, SOPs and so on? Have we actually been as disciplined as we are required to be when all by ourselves in the cramped cockpit of a fighter aircraft? A review of the performance of our past 30 years would certainly be a “No”.
We cannot defend the indefensible by coming out with lame excuses every time an aircraft is lost. The loss becomes even more compounded when the aircrew is also lost. Incidentally, CAT-II and CAT-III accidents have not even been taken into account, many of which too were caused due to human error.
We must remember that the flying skill is a motor-controlled mechanical skill whereas decision-making in a cockpit is a brain-controlled mental skill. Therefore, the competence element (flying skill) is actually subordinate to the rational decision-making (mental skill) and is controlled by the brain. “Discipline” emanates from mental skill, of which maturity and integrity are two inseparable components.
While analysing this vital aspect of accident prevention we must look at certain vital statistics related to fighter flying. These are:
IAF fighters fly nearly one lakh hours per year.
Fighter squadrons depending on type/task fly around 200+50 hours per month.
On an average, a fighter aircrew flies 250 sorties per year or around 5,000 sorties in an active flying service span of 20 years, i.e. up to finishing the command tenure. This takes into account staff tenure, leave, etc.
An average fighter squadron flies on nearly 20 days and 07 nights in a month.
On an average, the fighter aircrew flies not more than 10–25 sorties per month (depending on their Operational/Supervisory status)
No fighter pilot of the IAF flies three sorties per day on a sustained basis, notwithstanding the fact that we continue to quote this ad nauseam. Those who still have reservations may merely look at their log books. Few Supervisors, especially in the type-training squadrons and as QFIs in the training establishments, are the only exception.
A fighter pilot therefore, for the most of his service, averages just about one sortie per flying day. Is it too much, therefore, to expect from him to find time to interpret his Flight Data Recorder of every sortie, himself?
It is about time that we stopped talking about the “Rate of Accidents”. This is for statistical purposes only. An individual in the field needs to be made aware of the number of aeroplanes lost. This figure would set him thinking far more constructively than an “Accident Rate” of 0.7. It actually conveys nothing.
The loss of fighter aircraft at the rate of one aircraft every 20–25 days for the last 30 years is yet another dimension that we must scrutinise very closely. The MiG-21 FL (Type-77) and perhaps one squadron of MiG-21M (T-96) are the only pre-1971 war fleet that we presently have. Of course, how can we forget the majestic Hunters and the ever-reliable Canberras? Thus, the existing fighter fleet of MiG-21 BIS (1975), MiG-23 Variants (1980s), MiG-25(1980s), MiG-27(1980s), M-2000(1985), MiG-29 (1987) and SU-30(1994) are a mix of mostly old and few new aircraft.
The ground environment has undergone a quantum upgradation in as far as equipment acquisition is concerned. Yet, if we continue to lose aircraft at the same rate as in the 1970s, shouldn’t it be a cause for concern? Let us also be conscious of the fact that we should be concerned about the replacement costs of a fighter aircraft we lose ever so regularly.
Let the auditor be worried about the depreciated value of, say, a MiG-21 BIS of 1980 vintage which may be valued at a few lakhs in the loss statement. Let us accept that our fleets are old and would remain so in the foreseeable future, but that should not be quoted as an excuse for losing an otherwise fully serviceable aircraft in a silly accident.
Yet another aspect that we must be seized of is the alacrity with which some of us condone many mishaps by merely stating that aviation in general and fighter flying in particular is a dangerous profession. It indeed is and that is why there are so many checks and balances to ensure aviation safety.
Every accident without fail is caused when one or more parameters linked with aviation safety are breached voluntarily or due to carelessness. The only exception in our scenario is a brilliant record (may it remain so in the years to come) of aviation safety in our premier establishment; Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE).
The aircrew who come for courses are put through the grind involving some of the most complex exercises, yet there have been hardly any mishaps but there have been numerous mishaps involving a fresh FCL/FSL immediately after he reaches the squadron. Can we reason out why? We must ask ourselves whether our so-called “Supervisors” existing in the fighter squadrons are as professionally mature as indeed they must be professionally competent. A Supervisor in my view must meet the requirement of what I term as the IMC, which stands for Integrity, Maturity and Competence and IN THAT ORDER. Supervisors who need to be supervised are a liability, rather than an asset.
Do we therefore, need to have a relook? Holding routine flight safety meetings at the station and flight safety council meetings at regular intervals has obviously not made any dent, hence is not the answer—definitely not the complete answer. What should we do as individuals and an organisation to reverse this trend? The starting point of this process is in accepting the necessity to look in this direction afresh and to accept the fact that all that we think we have done to arrest/reserve this trend has not been enough.
Air Chief Marshal D. A. Lafontaine, as Station Commander Bagdogra, had once remarked while talking about leadership in the air that it is the job of the formation leader to ensure that his formation members stay in position and complete the mission successfully. On the face of it, a very simple statement, but in my view it contains more substance than all the existing orders and instructions put together.
I was indeed fortunate to have heard him say these prophetic words as a young flying officer. I owe it to him and I am proud of the fact that I have never lost my wingman and as a Squadron Commander I have had no accidents—none whatsoever—in my Squadron. How many of us, especially Supervisors, can say the same? As an individual I have looked at this problem of enormous magnitude with a different perspective.
Instead of telling the whole Air Force to be flight-safety conscious and not have accidents, it is far simpler to address each and every individual and exhort him to not involve himself in an accident. A task, which is not very difficult for an individual to achieve! Of course, the individuals have to be told a lot more about demonstrating professional maturity and integrity than merely professional competence—if after losing nearly 450 aircrafts in 30 years we do not know why we are having accidents (except due to the non-availability of an AJT). Perhaps, we don’t wish to address the issue.
Before attempting to suggest the remedial measures, let me state, clearly and categorically, that our existing orders and instructions on the matters related to aviation are more than comprehensive and that we need no more instructions. The Lafontaine Committee and Rathore Committee reports are but an excellent piece of investigative work in this regard. Our problem is effective supervision and implementation. What can we do to remove this malaise? I recommend the following:
Do away completely with any PUNITIVE MEASURES being awarded to the aircrew, technician or anyone else related with an accident involving an aeroplane, except where INDISCIPLINE is evident beyond any reasonable doubt. I shall endeavour to differentiate between indiscipline and impulsive action.
I shall give an example: A pilot gets airborne for a medium-level sortie but carries out sustained low flying for 25 minutes in the local flying area—if detected, he should be punished for indiscipline; However, yet another pilot having flown a mission as briefed, while rejoining, does a beat up lasting few seconds over the rejoin point, which is an impulsive action and if detected, must invite corrective actions only by way of counselling.
If punished for such an impulsive action, an individual is unlikely to improve. Repeated impulsive actions at regular intervals constitute indiscipline. Fear of punitive action for an error/mistake made while performing a normal task invariably forces an individual to cover it up and/or not report to his colleague/supervisors. The same fear psychosis prevents an aircrew reporting “near accident situations” viz. a near miss from which an individual has got away.
The disdain and callous manner in which the fighter aircrew treats the FDR print-out is unbelievable. No (repeat)—No—mission should be flown even on the same day but definitely not on the next flying day unless and until the FDR of the previous mission has been interpreted in totality and debriefed. There would be many “Doubting Thomases” among us who would say one of the following:
- That is already happening and the FDRs are being read and interpreted meticulously—Such individuals are suffering from an ostrich syndrome.
- That there is not enough time to do so—Such individuals do not want to interpret the most advanced aid in aviation.
- That some of the FDRs e.g. SARPP (in MiG-21 Variant) does not give any detail— Such individuals do not know their job.
Unless we train, groom and convince our aircrew, particularly single-cockpit, that an FDR interpretation of the previous sorties is their life insurance prior to undertaking the next sortie, we shall continue to drift in the manner that we have been doing so consistently for the past 30 years. The current practice of maintaining the FDR registers and annotating certain data is more for maintaining records than for learning/debriefing anything constructive.
Institutionally and organisationally, we need to convey to all and sundry that the organisational efficiency and combat power of the IAF is dependent on our flight safety records and not the other way round. The present organisational set-up, in my opinion, is flawed to the extent that it conveys that flight safety is at best a peripheral issue; such perceptions are inadvertently conveyed to all, in particular to the budding generation, when they see that the flight safety organisation at the Air HQ is not really at the Air HQ (VB). It is located at R. K. Puram.
Whether we like it or not, we must accept and understand that the R. K. Puram complement of the Air HQ is not “the Air HQ”. It is a psychological aspect and should be viewed as such. It is suggested—rather strongly recommended—that the entire IG branch be shifted to the Air HQ (VB) on priority. Needless to state that someone would have to make space for it! I have my own views on the issue; however, if the basic proposal is acceptable, the rest can be worked out at the Air HQ itself.
The Flight Safety and Accident Investigation Course, in my opinion, is an exceedingly well-tailored course, so very essential for all those involved in the profession of aviation, but absolutely a must for the single aircrew cockpit. Once again, our organisational apathy would be quite evident if we were to merely look at the number of the ‘online’ aircrew which has done this course. Even those who have, are either far too senior or may not be have been remotely employed with the tasks directly related to aviation safety. There is, therefore, a crying need to correct this flaw. The following is recommended:
To start with, the entire staff in the type-training squadron and all the QFIs before starting their instructional duties need to undergo an FS & AI course on priority. We must understand that this group is the core group responsible for not only teaching the basic flying but also grooming a matured and conscientious aircrew.
Simultaneously, the Air HQ should work on a plan to put through this course all the aircrew selected for the fighter stream before they commence flying at the MOFT/Type Training squadron.
The above proposal would obviously mean a quantum increase in the workload of the IFS. Of course, the starting point would be the acceptance of the above proposal. I am quite aware that there will be few takers for it because flight safety has been and still remains only a little more than ‘lip service’; our performance in the past 30 years is a proof thereof. Even this proposal, which I believe to be fully implementable within the organisational resources, would see the light of the day only if we have the will to do so.
This is a long-term plan hence the success or failure of the proposal does not invite any discussion at this stage. In order to implement this proposal, the IAF would have to slog for the next six to seven years only, because by then the ab initio aircrew which had undergone the course prior to commencing their flying in the MOFT/Type Training squadron, would have come up for selection for the APFI course. At that stage, a refresher of two weeks would be more than adequate. We must ask ourselves whether we have the professional maturity and resilience to undertake such a programme.
We seem to have forgotten that ‘long and stretched working hours’ are indicative of two things. Firstly, too much of work and secondly, thoroughly incompetent and inefficient supervisors! The hours that the aircrew/men spend in the squadrons are abnormally long and are not commensurate with the output in terms of the numbers of sorties flown. The fatigue and the boredom thus caused can and have resulted in many mishaps in the past.
Unless we address this issue of curtailing the usually long working hours ‘doing nothing’, the avoidable mishaps would remain our inheritance. It is for the Supervisors to understand that continuing the flying operation at a lethargic pace on a regular basis results in the individuals becoming a little carefree, if not careless. If during such moments there is a crisis by way of an aircraft emergency, the individual/s would almost certainly fail to rise to the occasion.
During the trifurcation boards, we continue to segregate the aircrew as fighter, transport and helicopter. There is a need to review this decision. In my opinion, the aircrew should be segregated initially in only two groups: ‘fit for single-crew cockpit’ and ‘fit for multi-crew cockpit’. The QFIs would obviously be required to play a far greater role in achieving this. A trainee who is an extremely good flyer but shows traces of overconfidence and arrogance in the cockpit is, in my opinion, unfit for a single-crew cockpit.
An aircrew fit to occupy a single-crew cockpit must have demonstrated maturity and integrity and not merely professional competence. This cannot be done after the individual has become a Squadron Leader. It can only be done in the ab initio training stages. By the above suggestion, it is not implied that all the aircrew put under the category of ‘fit for single-crew cockpit’ are to fly fighter aircraft.
Some of them indeed may not be fit to fly fighter aircraft due to simple reasons, e.g. air sickness. The above suggestion should also not be construed as indentifying the aircrew in two groups viz. matured and less matured. The above suggestion is an attempt to identify the positive trait and that is how it should be interpreted. We must clearly understand that Integrity and Maturity have no relationship with age.
Yet another casualty due to our non-professional approach has been serious and needs dedicated simulator training wherever available. I include the regular cockpit drill for emergency practice and blindfold checks in the same category. Our utilisation record of all simulators (from KTS-4 simulator for MiG-21 to Air Combat Simulator) would show a comprehensive utilisation through all these years throughout the year.
How many MiG-21 aircrew can say with total professional honesty that they indeed, throughout their years of active flying, did a simulator training themselves and more importantly ensured that the youngsters underwent a comprehensive simulator training programme by actually flying the simulators and not merely writing their names as having flown them? Dedicated simulator training and comprehensive FDR interpretation are the key to ensuring a safe and total mission accomplishment by all the aircrew throughout their span of active flying. Supervisors, are you listening?
It must be clarified that I have focused only on a single-crew cockpit. The Transport and Helicopter streams have not been excluded because in a multi-crew cockpit the chances of error reduce manifold. That they too need a grooming in this vital aspect is natural. The IAF needs to do some hard thinking to ensure that the most important component of Air Power does not reduce in numbers due to the losses caused by silly and totally avoidable accidents.
The IAF fleet, as it exists today, is old no doubt, but even a MiG-21 (all variants), if serviced properly, flown with a flawless preparation and most importantly with a mission analysis done meticulously, would not fail either in the air or on the ground. If we are unable to stop/reduce the accidents, the IAF would continue to shrink in size.
We must not forget that in the existing geostrategic environment it is the Air Power that would be required to give the country a favourable conflict termination situation, if and when diplomacy fails and we go to war.
Response: Gp Capt Johnson Chacko (Read)
I read the above article and appreciate the thought. The author has called a spade a spade. Unfortunately, the freedom of expression has been curtailed by the 1: 3 promotion policies and a change in the spirit of the crew-room culture where Rank never existed. This has killed a valuable feedback mechanism that had been available to the Commanders in the past.
This has effectively inhibited one more channel in which the youngsters used to express themselves to the senior officers under the cover of alcohol in parties. It would be worthwhile to have a study, may be by the CDM, to assess the effect of change in the promotion policy to 1: 3, now that a considerable period of time has elapsed after the introduction of this policy.
I agree that the attributes of Integrity, Maturity and Competence need to be at the forefront of any military venture. We do not have a set of attributes that an individual needs to have at the time of selection, who can be trained at the Academies and assessed for during the Appraisal. What is looked at in the SSBs is different from what is assessed as the OLQ in the Academy and what is there in the ARs. They are different in the Army, Navy and Air Force. For an Air Warrior, may be the three that have been mentioned need an additional weightage.
Accidents can be attributed to indiscipline in almost all of the cases. However, accidents will happen, since man was not designed to fly. There are more than enough rules that have been formulated that a person can’t keep track. There needs to be a review and carefully rescind what is not needed or contradictory. With the state of serviceability that exists, a pilot can be blamed on ten counts as per the instructions, SOPs, etc., in force, even if he has done an uneventful sortie. We also need to ensure that it does not kill initiative as all the situations cannot be covered by rules.
That Flight Safety is Paramount, we have heard that many times. We have a system of APMs that monitor the areas in which an AF Station may be located; the SO Provost to whom they report to and a PM Air to whom the SO Provost reports to regarding the extra-curricular activities of even the Station Cdr. Why not have such a system for Flight Safety, since it is paramount? The Station Flight Safety &Inspection Officer (or his avatar) does hardly any Inspection.
He does not have the freedom to project the areas where the potential for accidents exists unless it is concurred to by the COO/Stn Cdr. If they don’t concur then he cannot approach the higher formation. Some may say that this will be a noose around the Stn Cdr’s neck, but if Flight Safety is paramount, then this noose needs to be there.
To err is human, so be inhuman...that is not the solution.
Flying Ace's Respond
Response: Air Mshl Narayan Menon (Retd)
I do not agree fully with T. P. Srivastava or Chacko. If all pilots are filled with safety concerns at all stages then the fighting edge will be dented. The long working hours are caused by environmental reasons and not by bad supervisors.
Today the seniors who make it to beyond a certain rank are pilloried and abused for being spineless and gutless. Not true.
The IAF has operated against the best in the world and come out with their heads held high.
Supportive Response: Gp Capt Johnson Chacko
I agree with Air Mshl Nana Menon.
If everything is rule bound, then missions may not be accomplished as an initiative even in the right direction will be killed. Aviation is inherently a risky business. How to reduce risk is the question. On one end of the continuum is—Don’t Fly-No Risk and at the other end is to fly more and fly safe. The more one flies, the more experience he gains and the more safe he is expected to be. Analogous to driving a car! But even experienced drivers meet with accidents occasionally.
Good judgement is the result of a series of bad experiences and good experience results from a series of bad judgements. The essence is to draw the line where the bad judgement turns into a disaster and to avoid it.
There are Rules of Engagement. They are different during peace and war. During peace, Rules have to be followed and during war it is Engagement. How training should be conducted (for Engagement) by following all the Rules is the moot question. So, there are Operational aspects and Flight Safety aspects to any mission. Operational aspects may dictate that one flies at extremely low levels but Flight Safety rules may state that one cannot fly at such levels. So during peace time one does not do so. If so, how will he fly at such levels if that is needed during war?
A Relevant and Supportive News Story, Pune Mirror, 12 Aug 2015
20 Fighter Aircraft have Crashed in the Last Five Years; IAF forms Committee to Probe Reasons, make Changes in the Training Schedules
By Sandip Dighe
A number of aircraft belonging to the Indian Air Force (IAF) have crashed in the recent years, and sources in the IAF have hinted that the pilots training may have been compromised, leading to these incidents. “Due to non-availability of basic trainer aircraft, intermediate jet trainer and full complement of advance jet simulators, pilot training was compromised. Considering these things, it’s an alarming trend we have seen in recent years”, said a senior IAF officer, wishing to stay anonymous.
According to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) data, 20 fighter aircraft (3 Sukhoi, 12 MiG and 5 Jaguar) have crashed in the last three years. When asked that why the instances of MiG aircraft crashes are significantly higher, the officer said, “MiG 21s and 27s were brought in from Russia in the 1960s and 1970s. Considering the rise in MiG accidents, three squadrons of the ageing MiG 21 and 27 fighter jets are set to be phased out this year. Three squadrons of 18 aircraft each will be pulled out due to the end of their life cycle.”
The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) have found that the accidents involving a human error (HE) increased from 41 per cent in 1991–97 to 51 per cent in 2010–13. HE comprises the errors made by the aircrew on flying duty or ground duty or both.
“Various preventive measures like invigoration of aviation safety measures, streamlining of accident reporting procedure, analytical studies and quality audits of the aircraft fleet have been undertaken to reduce accidents. The IAF has also constituted a special committee to investigate the reasons behind the accidents and accordingly make changes in the pilots’ training”, said Wing Commander S. S. Birdi, IAF spokesperson, Delhi.
“If you check the statistics over the last few decades, there has been a steady decrease in the number of accidents,” he pointed out. In 1971–80, 29 accidents were recorded, while the corresponding figures for 1981–90 were 31. It then reduced to 27 in 1991–2000 and further to 17 from 2001–10. However, the last five years of this decade have already seen 20 crashes.
Former Air Chief P. V. Naik added, “In the 1960s, we weren’t used to MiG aircraft. Due to the delta wing, MiG aircraft had a high inertia and this led to accidents. Over time, we overcame this issue. The MiG aircraft uses old technology and, of late, this is contributing to the crashes. As far as HE is concerned, there are various contributing factors involved, but in order to reduce percentage of HE, sophisticated simulators and availability of trainers can play a pivotal role.”
The Way Forward
Gp Capt Johnson’s concluding remarks are well brought out and most valid. The conclusion is to do all the training including maintenance and peacetime flying as meaningfully as possible with simulated operational/warlike situations to the extent possible or desirable so that the wartime or actual operational needs are met most effectively.
Accidents will occur despite the best efforts to avoid them and that cannot be helped. But that does not mean that those accidents which occur due to carelessness, indiscipline or lack of effective supervision involving actual flying, air control, supervision, monitoring including aircraft serviceability and maintenance should be condoned or overlooked as these are/will not be actual/pure ‘accidents’ but indefensible disasters that happen basically due to an avoidable human error or oversight.
This aspect of human error needs maximum focus and attention as that can and surely will reduce the high rate of accidents that have been occurring in the past 43 years without adversely affecting the flying efficiency of the men in blue and also the overall operational effectiveness of the IAF.
A DSSC alumnus, Gp Capt Srivastava is a military luminary who has written extensively on international relations, strategic affairs & Defence Procurement Procedures for leading strategic journals.
(Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial stance of Mission Victory India)