MIG 21; when did they finally admit and after how many lives ?

Discussion in 'Indian Air Force' started by roma, Nov 23, 2009.

  1. roma

    roma NRI in Europe Senior Member

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    In reading the thread about the Tejas LCA i came across the statement that it is a replacement for the ageing mig 21's in the force. Even from abroad i have often read that the mig 21 was dubbed the flying coffin. I have hear and read about the frequent loss of precious life of pilots , men in who a lot of investment and taxpayers money must have been spent. I alos have heard the various officers and government officials repeatedly deny there was anything wrong with the mig 21.
    since when was the defacto admission made , implicit in the fact that the Tejas is to replace the mig21 ? and has there been any governmtnet statement to the fact ? has there ever been any kind of inquiriy regarding the numerous loss of life ?
    Most grateful for your replies and comments.
     
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  3. icecoolben

    icecoolben Regular Member

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    I agree with u. India should definitely replace its mig-21 quickly. But the tejas even in its current form hasn't obtained initital operational clearance. Otherwise the air force could be forced to order atleast 3-4 squadrans as fighters and advanced trainers.
     
  4. proud_hindustani

    proud_hindustani Regular Member

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    I have a feel India would retire Mig-21 soon after they successfully inducts Tejas and put them in operational condition.

    India's another keen to purchase MMRCA which will replace Mig-21
     
  5. sob

    sob Moderator Moderator

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    the official reaason GOI and MOD have always given is the lack of a trainer aircraft.

    Yet they took nearly 2 decades to finalise the deal with BAe for the trainer aircraft. It is due to this apathy that the AVM had to finally speak out in the open to the press about the politics being played.

    IMO the in recent times only George Fernandes was the Defence Minister was able to kick the babus in MOD up their butts. With regard to frequent complaints from the soldiers at Siachen ( IIRC he visited troops at siachen 22 times, and once on Christmas with a cake),he found that the babus were sitting on the files for a very long time. His solution was very simple, he ordered that the Babus to be transfered to the Siachen on a rotational basis. This was enough for all the files on Siachen area to move extra fast.
     
  6. icecoolben

    icecoolben Regular Member

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    Buying mig-21 factory after 2001 when v are desperate to phase out the aircraft is not the best solution anyway.

    by 1984, india was ordering mig-29 in good numbers, we should have taken that opurtunity to customise them like su-3mki and mass produce them locally using tech transfer, instead of relying on the newly created ada to develop tejas within such a short time. Anyway we missed that bus 25 years ago and acquiring mmrca now. What is so increadible about chinese industry is that how many times they could re-engineer the mig-21 and present it as a newly built aircraft, why could not HAL develop such a capability, given the tech transfers it had and the numbers it built. Even eastern europeon countries customised their mig-21s after licencing them. Just goes to show hal's incompetence. Our first aircraft hf-marut would have still been flying successfully with several variants had it had been produced by china or poland, czech etc given their ability to constantly upgrade such older generation planes. Frankly our aerospace sector cannot afford public sector monopoly units for our armed forces and nation's sake.
     
  7. Sridhar

    Sridhar House keeper Moderator

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    On a crash course


    A spate of accidents resulting in the loss of men, machines and money raises questions about the training imparted by the Indian Air Force to its pilots, besides their selection and the equipment systems available for training.
    RAVI SHARMA

    'THE only certainty is uncertainty.' This adage sums up the situation the fighter pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) often find themselves in. According to sources in the Directorate of Flight Safety and answers given by successive Defence Ministers in Parliament, between 1990 and May 2001, the IAF lost 177 aircraft, 66 of them MiG-21s, in accidents - 16 (eight of them MiG-21s) in 1998, 31 (15 MiG-21s) in 1999, 26 (10 MiG-21s) in 2000 and six (four MiG-21s) until the end of May in 2001. Worse, it lost 54 pilots in these accidents, most of them young flyers - flying officers and flight lieutenants - who had just been cleared for operational flying in their respective squadrons. The monetary loss for the IAF on account of these is over Rs.1,000 crores.
    [SIZE=-2]RAVI SHARMA[/SIZE]
    [​IMG] An array of Kiran aircraft at the Air Force Academy at Dundigal in Andhra Pradesh. The reliable but aging aircraft are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2005, but the IAF is sceptical whether their replacement, the HJT-36, will be ready by then.
    While bird hits and technical failure led to some of these accidents, the majority of them were caused by pilot error.
    The MiG series have been the biggest casualty: 66 MiG-21s, nine MiG-23s, 17 MiG-27s, three MiG-29s and one MiG-25. Other aircraft that crashed include a state-of-the-art Mirage 2000, nine Jaguars, nine Cheetah helicopters and 11 Russian-made Mi series helicopters (Mi-8, Mi-17 and Mi-35).
    In the case of an accident caused by pilot error, the explanation often given after the customary court of inquiry is: "Due to a lack of Situational Awareness (S.A.), the pilot committed a critical error which resulted in the loss of the aircraft and/or the pilot." In other words, the pilot did not have the required level of S.A. or was not sufficiently trained to attain that level.
    The IAF has been searching for the reasons for these crashes for some years now. In 1997, a high-power Committee on Fighter Aircraft Accidents, headed by A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister then, went into the issue and submitted a report. It is not known whether any action was taken on the basis of the recommendations. Studies have also been undertaken by the Air Head Quarters (Air HQ) and civilian scientists selected by the IAF to correlate data on the accidents and Air Force Selection Board (AFSB) records of the pilots who were involved in them. Records of the AFSB and the results of the Pilot Aptitude Battery Test (PABT), which evaluates the psychomotor skills of the pilots, contain the recommendations made by interviewing officers, group testing officers and psychologists of the AFSB. These studies can help pinpoint whether the pilots concerned were found to have personality limitations - mental, physical or stress-related - during the selection process.
    According to informed sources, a study has indicated that even cadets who exhibited personality limitations during the AFSB's assessment process were cleared in a split decision (2-1) under the assumption that the personality would improve with training. Many a time, these sources say, such cadets committed errors, leading to crashes. But the study does not conclude that all cadets who had been cleared by split decisions are likely to err. A crucial question before the Air HQ and the AFSB during the selection process is: Between nature (natural qualities) and nurture (training), what should be given more importance? Said a senior officer: "In some cases the training environment can reduce personality limitations but in many it cannot. But if AFSB personnel are deliberately pushing through borderline cases in the hope that training will straighten them out or if there is nepotism, it is dangerous and has to be stamped out."
    The Air HQ is not likely to make these studies public. There is also a tendency to close ranks and deny any systemic failure.
    The PABT system is also not without its faults. In an effort to modernise the PABT process, the IAF installed new, indigenously built PABT machines at the AFSBs at Mysore, Varanasi and Dehra Dun and set new norms of selection. The move created more problems than it solved. The new norms resulted in an increase in the rate of rejection of candidates and the IAF switched back to the old norms. In effect, while the machines are new, the selection norms are old. According to sources in the AFSB, the problem arose because the IAF, in its hurry to introduce a "new innovation", overlooked the need to check the reliability of the new machines.
    According to many pilots, the IAF should have gone in for readily available pilot evaluation systems instead of making amateurish attempts in the name of innovation. Indications are that the Defence Institute of Psychological Research is planning to build a "new" PABT machine.
    The training methods have been seriously questioned. Many pilots say that if sufficient time and money are invested, even a monkey could be taught the 'stick and rudder skills' required to fly an aircraft. Even the air forces of rich countries do not get unlimited time or money. And, given the complexity of modern aircraft, the next generation of flyers require more than "stick and rudder skills". According to fighter pilots, a major reason for pilot error is the lack of S.A., which is generally defined as the continuous process of successfully dividing one's attention among the many inputs of jet-flying, to create an accurate picture of the environment in which one is flying. It appears that it is only after the spate of crashes that Air HQ realised the importance of S.A. All training establishments now have a course in S.A.

    [​IMG]
    The Air HQ is contemplating other changes as well. It is likely to introduce a new training schedule for cadets undergoing pilot training at the Air Force Academy (AFA), the IAF's premier training establishment, at Dundigal, 35 km from Hyderabad. Under the present schedule, trainees will have to complete two stages of flying, each comprising about 140 hours, before the batch is trifurcated and the trainees are assigned to one of the three aviation streams - fighter, transport and helicopter. According to the new schedule being contemplated for cadets who will form the first batch of 2002, they will have to complete only 65 hours of flying on the Hindustan Propeller Trainer, the HPT-32, built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), before trifurcation.
    The present schedule comprises Stage I, Stage II, Stage IIA and Stage III. (Stage IIA, which was introduced in 1996, is only for fighter pilots.) In Stage I, which is spread over 24 weeks, the AFA imparts ab-initio training in flying and non-technical subjects. Cadets from the National Defence Academy (NDA) or direct-entry pilot trainees (who initially undergo the Pre Flying Training Course at Begumpet, near Hyderabad) fly a total of 65 hours - dual flights for about 14 hours and the rest solo. Pilot trainees of the Army and the Navy initially undergo training at the Basic Flying Training School in Allahabad.
    Stage II is also spread over 24 weeks. Advanced training is given at the AFA or at the Air Force Station at Bidar. Cadets fly the HAL-built HJT-16 (Kiran Mark-I) aircraft, which has a jet engine. This stage involves 80 hours of flight, 30 of them solo.
    The pilot officers chosen for the fighter stream undergo Stage IIA of the training for 24 weeks at the Hakimpet Air Force Station, near Hyderabad. They could be commissioned into the IAF or the Navy. The training is on the Kiran Mark IIA (85 hours) or the Polish-built Iskara (95 hours). In Stage III, fighter pilots are trained at the IAF's MiG Operational Flying Training Unit at the Salanibari Air Base, Tezpur (Assam) or at a forward MiG squadron. They fly vintage MiG-21s for around 110 hours during a period of 48 weeks. Although they are ready for posting at a forward squadron after completing Stage III, they would be "Fully Ops" (fully operational for day-and-night flying) only after another 200 to 225 hours of flying in the squadron. It takes two to three years for a fighter pilot to become Fully Ops.
    Pilots chosen for the transport stream move to the Yelahanka Air Force Station, near Bangalore, for Stage III training, which lasts for 48 weeks. They fly the Dornier 228 (85 hours) and the An-32 (50 hours).
    For helicopter pilots, Stage III takes place at the Helicopter Training School (HTS), Hakimpet. They are trained on the Chetaks and the Cheetahs for 100 hours.
    Since trainee pilots in Army Aviation (the Army has only helicopters in its inventory) and those recruited under Short Service Commission (SSC) rules are commissioned only in the helicopter stream, they undergo just 30 hours of training in Stage I on the HPT-32. They then move on to type-specific helicopter training - SSC candidates go to the HTS and Army Aviation pilots to Devlali in Maharashtra.
    The IAF, faced with a shortage of pilots, chose the SSC route only for a brief period, from 1990 to 1995. In all, there were six courses, and 70 helicopter pilots have been commissioned. The first batch of ground duty officers in this stream was commissioned in June 1993 and the first batch of women pilots in December 1994.
    Before being sent to the AFA, trainee pilots have to pass the PABT, which can be taken just once, and have to be cleared by the AFSB.
    Since air forces around the world constantly redesign the contours of their outfits to meet modern-day requirements, there is nothing wrong per se in the IAF contemplating changes in its training schedules. But what is debated is the methodology it is going to adopt. A debate is on on the pros and cons of assigning cadets to the three aviation streams after 65 hours of flying, and the most crucial question is whether the move will help reduce the number of aircraft mishaps.
    [SIZE=-2]M. MOORTHY[/SIZE]
    [​IMG] The remains of a Kiran Mark I that crashed into the grounds of the Vandalur zoo outside Chennai minutes after taking off from the Tambaram Air Force Base on May 3.
    Another important aspect of the problem is that the high-speed Russian-made MiG series of aircraft, especially the MiG-21, are involved in a majority of the mishaps. MiG-21s, known earlier as Type 74, are of the 1950s vintage. At one point of time they were arguably the most widely used fighter aircraft in the world.
    India started procuring MiG-21s from the Soviet Union's MiG-MAPO after the India-China war of 1962. The IAF has had over 300 MiG-21s (around 18 squadrons) - the MiG-21M (ground attack), the MiG-21 FL (interceptor), the MiG-21 BiS (multi-role), and so on. Although the MiG-21s have undergone vast changes and have been upgraded, mainly in terms of avionics, they are fast ceasing to be state-of-the-art aircraft. In March 1996, India signed a $126-million contract with Russia to upgrade 125 MiG-21 BiS fighters, which will be called MiG-21-93. But the upgradation programme has been delayed, with the Russian technicians finding it difficult to integrate Western and Israeli avionic systems into the MiG airframe. Two prototypes are currently flying, but it appears that it would take at least five years before HAL's Nasik and Sonabeda divisions are able to upgrade all the 125 MiG-21 BiSs.
    Has the MiG-21 outlived its utility? Does it have to be progressively decommissioned? And, most important, should it be used for training?
    The majority opinion in the IAF seems to be that while the MiG-21 is still worthy of being flown, it is not ideal for teaching a young fighter pilot the skills of supersonic flying. Said an Air Commodore: "From the subsonic Kirans/Iskaras the fighter pilot goes straight to the supersonic MiG-21. The lack of a trans-sonic aircraft, the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), in the IAF has affected training and is certainly one of the reasons for the crashes. The Kirans have a take-off speed of about 180 kilometres per hour (kph) and the MiG-21s, 350 kph; the Kiran has a maximum cruise speed of 720 kph, and the MiG, 780 kph; and, most crucially, while the Kiran has a landing speed of just 170 kph, the MiG-21's landing speed is almost double that." A pilot who has over 2,000 hours of flying on the MiG aircraft said: "If a pilot in the MiG-21 cockpit goes into a regime that the aircraft is not capable of, it is very difficult to recover."
    When the MiG-21 is used for training its rate of utilisation is 50 to 100 per cent more than if it were to be used solely for operational flying in the squadrons. This reduces the aircraft's life. Over the past few years, the IAF has used the MiG-21 way beyond its certified engine hours. Technicians from HAL, besides those from Russia and Romania, handle its maintenance in various degrees but the results have been poor. Also, since it has been used extensively for training, the life-span of the MiG-21 is fast running out. In an attempt to tide over this problem, India has in recent years bought all the MiG-21 trainer aircraft (the two-seater version) that were available in the markets of Eastern Europe. A squadron commander said: "We have become a sponge for MiG-21 trainers, so much so that today in a squadron there are more two-seaters than single-seaters." Finding spares has been a problem, and India has been forced to "cannibalise old parts from any MiG-21 that is available," he said. This makes the aircraft unsafe. Many officers say that the early MiG-21 models should have been phased out 15 years ago.
    After doing two sorties in the aircraft, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, the Chief of the Air Staff, said that the MiG-21 was a "high-demanding aircraft seeking skill and response of the highest order from pilots". He made it clear that the IAF would have to keep the MiG-21 in its inventory until the end of this decade. What he did not say was that the IAF does not have a choice since the indigenously designed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which is scheduled to replace the MiG-21, is not going to be ready for squadron service until 2015 (according to the IAF's estimate, which has been confirmed by a Parliamentary Standing Committee).
    (The high-profile LCA project was conceived way back in 1983 with the objective of building an indigenous fighter aircraft that would be tailor-made for the IAF. It was thought that the LCAs would be an ideal replacement for the aging MiG-21s, MiG-23s and MiG-27s, which constitute nearly two-thirds of the IAF's combat fleet. It could also replace the Sky Hawks and three series of Mirages. But given the fact that HAL has never produced more than 12 aircraft a year, it would take 18 months for HAL to provide aircraft for just one squadron. The IAF needs 200 LCAs, and even if production gets under way in 10 years HAL would take over 16 years to meet this demand.)
    Tipnis disagreed with the view that deficiencies in the MiG-21 have led to the crashes. Then the question is: If the aircraft is still good, are the training methods faulty?
    For any air force, the rate of accidents is an indicator of the efficacy of its training methods. This is measured by Category 1 Complete Write-off Rate, or CAT 1 rate, of an aircraft for every 10,000 hours of flying. The United States Air Force has a CAT 1 rate of 0.134 and the IAF 0.89. This despite the fact that the machines that IAF pilots fly (Mirage 2000s and MiG-29s) are just as good as those the U.S. pilots fly (F-16s) and the flying parameters for the two air forces are the same. (The CAT 1 rates for the IAF's Mirage 2000s and Jaguars are 0.4 and 0.6 respectively, which are close to the ideal rate; but the figure for the MiG aircraft (2.8) is very high. A retired Chief Flying Instructor of the IAF said: "Any training method is only as good as the results, and here we have failed. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Over the years there has been no realism in flying training."
    Will the proposal to trifurcate batches after 65 hours of flying be a step in the right direction? If this proposal is implemented, pilot trainees will have to be assessed much before they are properly trained. The question is whether an accurate assessment of a trainee's aptitude and skills can be made in just 24 weeks. Cadets who fail to get the stream they desire might feel let down. But an advantage of early trifurcation is that the life of the IAF's reliable but aging Kiran (Mark 1, 1A or 2) fleet could be extended because only those chosen for the fighter stream will use it in Stages II and IIA of the training. Kirans are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2005 and will be replaced by the HAL-built Intermediate Jet Trainer, the HJT-36.
    According to Dr. Krishna Das Nair, Chairman, HAL, the HJT-36 will fly in 2002 and enter squadron service well before 2005. HAL already has a purchase commitment from the IAF for 225 aircraft. Although HAL has been interacting with the Air HQ to finalise air staff requirements on the HJT-36 project, the IAF is sceptical whether HAL can deliver a dependable aircraft in time. Hence the need to 'save' the Kiran as long as possible.
    The IAF's apprehensions are not unjustified. Until recently, flying the HAL-built HPT-32, the backbone of basic training, was "a nightmare" for its training establishments. After a series of accidents the IAF had almost declared the aircraft "too dangerous to fly solo". The major problem was that its engine cut off in mid-air owing to the entry of vapour from the fuel lines. This forced the IAF to alter drastically its training schedule from 80 hours to 40 hours in Stage I in 1996. The duration was reduced in order to avoid solo flying by cadets in HPTs. (Solo flying had to be undertaken only on Kirans or Iskaras.) In what is called a "1116 modification", HAL's engineers managed to solve the problem by creating an air separator tank that gathers the vapour and feeds it back to the fuel tanks. But there have been engine cuts even after the modification.
    The officers in charge of training feel that HAL should offer better training aircraft, possibly by developing a more advanced version of the HPT. HAL's plan to make a basic turbo trainer (BTT) has not materialised. Being a turbojet aircraft, the BTT has the advantage over a propeller aircraft like the HPT, but its development might cost $1 billion. The easiest answer would be reverse engineering, and aircraft like the Brazilian- designed Tucano are available for this purpose. But HAL does not appear to be keen on this option.
     
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  8. Sridhar

    Sridhar House keeper Moderator

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    The lack of an AJT has also affected the IAF. Successive governments have promised to acquire one. Addressing a conference of IAF Commanders in 1993, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao said that money could always be found for the aircraft. After much vacillation, the IAF decided to acquire the British Aerospace's Hawk 100. Air Marshal S.G. Inamdar, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Air Command, who headed the Price Negotiating Committee for the purchase of AJTs, told Frontline last February that the IAF preferred the Hawk because it met all the qualitative requirements. If an agreement is signed, the IAF will get 66 Hawks, which will be stationed at Bidar. However, a question mark hangs over the deal, with India assuring Russia that the decision to buy the Hawk would be reviewed by the end of 2001. This assurance was reportedly given by the Indian delegation led by Defence Minister Jaswant Singh at the meeting of the Indo-Russian Inter-governmental Commission held in Moscow in June. Apparently, Russia is still keen on selling the MiG-AT which, it claims, is the only fourth-generation fly-by-wire trainer that can be reprogrammed to simulate the flying characteristics of any modern jet fighter.
    Tipnis said recently that the presence of an AJT would help improve the training of pilots and make it easier for them to handle supersonic jets. The AJT would also help increase the number of fighter pilots being commissioned from among those candidates from the AFA. The IAF's plans to induct nearly 220 Sukhoi-30 MKI (Su-30 MKI) and Mirage 2000 aircraft into its forward squadrons will increase the demand for fighter pilots.
    When the IAF reduced the number of flying hours in Stage I of training from 80 hours to 40 hours, it said that other air forces around the world had taken a similar decision and cited the example of the Israeli air force, which has a 40-hour schedule for basic training. But the two air forces operate in quite different circumstances. The biggest difference is that the Israeli air force uses top-of-the-line simulators. The IAF neither has the simulation hardware nor does it give much importance to simulators, which are part of the standard operating/training procedures of other air forces. The IAF's position is: "Simulators are simulators, flying is flying." A retired instructor says: "The policy of not coupling the two means that we are frittering away airplane hours."
    The philosophy behind the use of simulators, which are basically training aids on the ground, is simple: derive the maximum "bang per buck" or "juice per hour of flying". First, there is the zero flight time simulator. After a certain number of hours on such a simulator, a cadet can be put in the air straightaway. But this may not be ideal for any air force. The new generation simulators with their computer-generated imagery can accurately simulate conditions - sight and sound - that the cadet will face in the air. They also simulate the six degrees of motion that a pilot experiences in the air. Three of them are rotational (roll, yawn and pitch) and three transitional (forward, sideward and upward). Instructors can simulate any number of sorties and, more important, any number of emergency situations.
    The AFA's only simulator, Kiran, is not functional. Installed in 1987, it has become obsolete. Its display system has been unserviceable for the past six months, and engineers from the IAF's electronics branch are trying to fabricate a printed circuit board (PCB) for it. But even a PCB may be a temporary solution since the simulator's interface is expected to fail any time. The Computer Maintenance Corporation, whose last annual service contract for the interface ran out in June 2000, has refused to re-sign a service contract because getting the spares for the vintage machine is a problem. The Aeronautical Development Establishment, which developed and built the simulator, washed its hands of it in 1996. With the Kirans expected to fly until 2005 there is an urgent need to replace the simulator, which could cost Rs.10 crores.
    There is also a theory that attributes the increase in the number of crashes to the strained relations between fighter pilots and the technical staff following the substantial hike in the risk allowance paid to the pilots. According to this theory, the technical staff have adopted a work-to-rule attitude, which has resulted in inadequate maintenance of aircraft.
    The level of motivation of the cadets is another area of concern for the IAF. Fewer and fewer of them opt for the fighter stream. This is evident from the fact that in recent times more than one winner of the Sword of Honour, awarded to the best all-round cadet, at the AFA have opted for the less glamorous transport stream. This despite the fact that only fighter pilots can hope to become Chief of the Air Staff and that transport pilots are mockingly called "truck drivers". The desire to take up an operational stream (transport, in this case) could have stemmed from personal considerations - such as the possibility of joining the growing number of civilian airlines after quitting the IAF.
    Senior officers say that the fading of the glamour that was earlier associated with the uniform has had a deleterious effect on the IAF. As a result, there has been a general lowering of air staff requirements so that those in the lower brackets can make it through. The Air HQ has been putting subtle pressure on flying instructors to "pass"' borderline cadets. Given the systemic constraints, it is an uphill task for the instructor to churn out brilliant pilots.
    While the use of old aircraft (mainly MiG-21s), the lack of AJTs and simulators, the less-than-optimum level of maintenance of machines and questionable training methods have contributed in varying degrees to the spiralling rate of mishaps in the IAF, the root of the problem lies in the fact that "the best of the best material (cadets) is just not coming to the Air Force". A senior officer at the AFSB said: "The talent that is currently available for pilot training is not grade I or II, but grade III. In this situation, all efforts that are taken - be it the acquisition of an AJT or the upgradation of MiG-21s - will at best mean that we are jumping from one level of mediocrity to another."
    Said an Air Marshal: "In the hands of a fighter pilot is a Rs.200-crore machine - arguably the largest amount of public money that any individual holds singlehandedly in India. This amount is nothing when compared to the pilot's contribution during a war effort. Given this fact, a fighter pilot has to be selected from the very best of talent. A person with the best psychomotor skills, the best engineering brain and the best discipline, and in the peak of physical fitness. So we have to choose this man from as wide a net as possible."
    The general opinion in the IAF is that a system should be designed in such a way that the best talent is attracted and retained for 12 to 14 years. While the enhanced risk allowances have made the fighter pilot stream comparatively lucrative, the glamour associated with the profession will have to be reinvented.



    On a crash course
     
  9. Sridhar

    Sridhar House keeper Moderator

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    Flying coffins?

    Posted: Aug 04, 2003 at 0000 hrs IST
    Aircraft accidents in India, by their very nature, put everyone who knows something on the defensive since people who may not know anything about aeroplanes become instant — and aggressive — experts. The issue of MiG-21 falls squarely in that category. Little do those who happily use the term “flying coffin” from the comfort and safety of air-conditioned offices realise that they are talking about the aircraft which has been the backbone of the Indian Air Force and defence for more than three decades, including at the heights of Kargil, four years ago; and has a useful life to serve still. People happily seek replacing the 300-odd aircraft in service. This would cost the country upwards of Rs 500,000 crore at an average per unit cost of $40 million — that is, nearly eight-times the annual defence budget, while demanding, as Amartya Sen has, a cut in current levels of defence spending!
    The air force and the pilots undoubtedly would be happy flying the latest and the best fighter aircraft provided the country could afford them. What we also need to remember is that the air force as an institution is the one group that is most concerned about aircraft accidents since it is a part of that close-knit family that has to bear the brunt of an accident directly. And ours is one of the most professional air forces in the world. For respected, knowledgeable political leaders to claim, therefore, that the IAF considers life cheap is nothing short of gross irresponsibility. This is not to say that accidents should not be reduced to the barest minimum. Unfortunately, the debate in the country has been trivialised or buried under a welter of emotion.
    Indian air force pursues one of the most scientific approaches to prevention of flying accidents. It has the choice of continuing with realistic training which naturally carries greater risks, or make flying safer by not undertaking the more demanding flying exercises of the type in which an experienced squadron commander and another pilot got killed at night in Srinagar. We also need to remember that the air force operates at a technological level much higher, even in the “old” MiG-21s, than that available in India. We need to note that behind every accident there is inevitably a human failure, even if that goes back all the way to the designers. What the air force needs is the public confidence and support to cope with the challenges that it has to face in balancing operational training with safety. Merely criticising the air force without offering practical solutions is hardly the best way to express that confidence.

    Don’t shoot down IAF over the MiG myths




    If there is anything more important for the Indian Air Force than defending the country, it is to ensure cost of such defence is minimum. Thus, while we must train and prepare for perhaps the most demanding profession on Earth, we aim to ensure accidents are kept to the lowest levels.
    The reality is since man was never meant to fly, and especially fly in fast and highly manoeuvrable jet fighters that require split-second responses, there are occasions when things go wrong. Many ponderables and imponderables combine to cause accidents.
    But if there is anything that hurts the IAF internally is the loss of an aircraft and even more painful, the loss of precious lives. Every loss of aircraft means that one less operational aircraft is available for the country’s defence. As regards loss of life, this amounts to not just the loss of a trained combat pilot, but also a family member.
    People like P. Chidambaram (‘‘Where Life is Cheap’’, July 27) who claim the IAF treats life cheap know little about the Air Force, its ethos, traditions, and professionalism. His column may be called Politically Correct but it is not factually correct. Allow me to outline some bare facts.
    MiGs are the mainstay of the IAF and have been so for three decades. The IAF has different types of MiGs — the MiG-21, MiG-23BN, MiG-23MF, MiG 25, MiG-27 and MiG-29. There is an unfortunate tendency to club them together.
    Most people are not aware that the MiG-21 has 21 variants of which 10 have served in the IAF. These are the Type 74, Type 76, Type 77, Type 96B, Type 96, Type 75, the Bison (upgraded MiG-21), and the two-seater Type 66, Type 69 and the Type 69B.
    All these types were inducted into service between 1969-1976. Each one is a modified improvement of the earlier variant, with the last of the aircraft being manufactured in 1989.
    Three different types of engines equip these fighters and trainers. Every sub-system and component of the aircraft, including its engine and airframe, has a design life after which it is replaced.
    The aircraft and its systems are subject to scheduled maintenance ranging from pre-flight to between flights, daily and weekly inspections, and overhaul at defined intervals. The criteria for airworthiness are the serviceability of the aircraft and its systems within its design life-cycle. There is no arbitrary concept of ‘‘age’’.
    The basic truth is an aircraft is either serviceable or it is not, irrespective of age. There is no halfway house in military aviation and this must be clearly understood. Therefore, contrary to what is often conveyed in the media, the IAF does not fly unserviceable, unfit or non-airworthy aircraft.
    No air force in the world phases out its aircraft merely because of age. They are periodically refurbished and upgraded. In most cases, phasing out is done either because technologically the aircraft is markedly inferior to its potential challenger, or because it has completed its design life.
    The United States Air Force still flies the B-52 aircraft, which is 45 years old. The IAF still uses the Canberra, introduced in 1957.
    One has to look at MiG-21 accidents in perspective. The MiG-21 fleet comprises 47 per cent of the total fighter inventory of the IAF and yet accounts for nearly 70 per cent of total sorties flown by the IAF’s fighter fleet. In the absence of an advanced jet trainer, the IAF is compelled to use the MiG-21 as an operational trainer.
    Though the MiG-21 technology is of 1960s or 1970s vintage it does not automatically follow that it is unsafe to fly. It is unfair that the sobriquet of ‘‘Flying Coffin’’ has been conferred on a truly versatile flying machine.
    In 1999, the aircraft proved its worth as a frontline combat aircraft in Kargil and again when a MiG-21 shot down a Pakistani Atlantique aircraft which intruded across the border.
    It is unfortunate that eminent people have publicly questioned the integrity of the IAF. The IAF has in practice one of the most scientific approaches to flight safety. The number of fighter aircraft lost in accidents has been progressively coming down, from 30 per year in the 1980s to 23 per year in the 1990s. It is now 18 per year.
    Fighter flying is intrinsically hazardous. Man and machine have to operate at the limit of their capability. In aviation, even a small mistake in judgment or skill could lead to disaster. Human failure, whether at the level of design, manufacture, maintenance or flying, could individually or collectively lead to such mistakes. The goal of the IAF’s flight safety programme is to ensure these errors don’t happen. When they do, it is to investigate the failure and prevent recurrence.
    The author is inspector general, air safety, IAF
     
  10. Quickgun Murugan

    Quickgun Murugan Regular Member

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    IAF lost 36 aircraft, 32 lives in plane crashes since 2006 - dnaindia.com

    New Delhi: The IAF has lost 36 aircraft and seven helicopters in accidents during a period of nearly four years beginning 2006 as 32 persons, including IAF personnel, were killed in the mishaps, the Lok Sabha was told today.

    "Thirty-six aircraft and seven helicopters of the Indian Air Force (IAF) including the MiG series have crashed during the last three financial years and the current year as on November 16," defence minister AK Antony told Lok Sabha in a written reply to members' questions.

    In 2006-07, there were four fatalities during the mishap for which Rs21.77 lakh was paid as compensation for loss of lives and civil property.

    In 2007-08, three lives were lost and Rs14.25 lakh paid as compensation. Three more lives were lost in 2008-09 with Rs25.01 lakh compensation paid.

    This financial year, 22 lives were lost with Rs67.8 lakh paid as compensation.

    The IAF has witnessed nine crashes in 2009 alone, of which about 15 IAF and Army personnel lost their lives in a major crash involving an AN-32 transport aircraft in the north east early this year.
     
  11. roma

    roma NRI in Europe Senior Member

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    my comment : SIR , it's a hefty reply and pardon for not being able to read through it all.
    Would i be correct in saying that your article in reply is stating inessence that the Mig 21 in india was not the casue of the deaths but rather pilot error ? , at least in the majority of cases ?

    tia for your confirmation or otherwise.
     
  12. roma

    roma NRI in Europe Senior Member

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