Retire the Cheetahs

Discussion in 'Indian Air Force' started by AVERAGE INDIAN, Oct 9, 2014.

  1. AVERAGE INDIAN

    AVERAGE INDIAN EXORCIST Senior Member

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    The culprit in the Cheetah helicopter crash at Bareilly which robbed the lives of three Army officers is the Indian government, more specifically, the UPA government which enjoyed two successive terms at the Centre. For over a decade, the Indian Army has been pressing the defence ministry for replacing the aged Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, used for transport and surveillance activities. Once known as the lifeline of the armed forces in high-altitude areas like Ladakh, North Kashmir, Siachen and the North-East, the Indian Army went on record in 2012 terming the copters as “death traps” which had outlived their threshold lifespans by 15 years. In the past five years, over 12 officers have been killed in Cheetah crashes. When clubbed with other accidents involving the antiquated Mig-21 aircrafts and the indigenously developed Advanced Light Helicopter Dhruv, it is distressing that the frequency of air crashes have not impelled the Centre to expedite their procurement efforts. In July, a Dhruv helicopter crashed killing seven Indian Air Force Personnel, while in March, five IAF men were killed when their C-130J Super Hercules aircraft crashed.

    The initial bids to purchase 197 reconnaissance and surveillance helicopters were first issued in 2003 and the process repeated in 2008. The CBI inquiry into one of the competitors Augusta Westland and allegations of involvement of top military officers and politicians scared the UPA’s defence minister AK Antony from proceeding despite the process reaching the final stage. The irony is that even the original equipment manufacturer has discontinued production of the Cheetahs, first inducted into the Indian Army in 1971, and their spare parts. That Antony told Parliament in March 2007 that the Cheetah fleet would be replaced indicates that he was well aware that the Cheetah had exceeded its ‘use by date’. Though their airframe life is about 4,500 hours, the Cheetahs have reportedly logged over 6,000 flying hours by 2010-2011 itself. In places like the Siachen glacier, Cheetahs were made to fly at 20,000 feet, despite a flying ceiling of 17,000 feet. Interestingly, media reports indicate that the Army turned in desperation to Hindustan Aeronautical Limited’s Cheetal helicopters which apparently have failed to clear high altitude tests. HAL also faced the ignominy of the IAF grounding its 40-copter-strong Dhruv fleet till checks were carried out after the July accident.

    In contrast to the UPA, the new government, has begun on a positive note, opening the defence sector to 49 per cent FDI. Despite decades of State support, India’s defence research and manufacturing capabilities have not kept pace with the armed forces’ needs. Foreign procurement with their involvement of middlemen and the direct exposure of senior officers to the giant financial stakes involved has been riddled with corruption allegations or proceeded too slowly for timely induction. While fears of the indigenous industry getting swamped by the foreign players exist, too many young men have died in vain for their government’s sloth. With the present defence minister also doubling as the finance minister, there are worries about decision-making slacking again at South Block. But the increased involvement of Indian companies like Tata, L&T, RIL and Mahindra portends a future where the hold of sarkari red tape over the defence sector will lessen. If the Cheetah helicopters epitomise the dismal state of affairs in this sector, the new dispensation must not waste any more time in commissioning new purchases. It must put an end to the senseless deaths of officers in routine peacetime operations.

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