Frequent crashes of the MiG-21 fighter aircraft in the IAF inventory have earned the planes the nickname of 'flying coffins.' But Mig-21s were inducted into the IAF way back in 1964 i.e. almost fifty years back (a record for any service) and have served the country well in all the wars it has fought since then. Why is the IAF and the government wants these planes flying till 2017? Why are the new contracts being indefinitely delayed? CNN-IBN's international affairs editor Surya Gangadharan joined IBNLive readers for an interaction on the MiG-21 crashes in IAF.
Q. Flying Coffins - aptly named. What is the percentage of fatality in the MIG-21 crashes so far? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. The IAF has all those records but maybe reluctant to release them. Look at it this way, the MiG-21s have been in service for more than 40 years, frankly this is far beyond their operational life and although some were upgraded (and others retired), the upgrade was only to avionics and perhaps to a limited extent the air frame. The engines remained the same. There have been problems with the supply of quality spares, maintenance has been an issue. So put all that together the MiG-21 (otherwise a fine aircraft) gets labelled flying coffin.
Q. In the Himalayan Tsunami rescue operations Defence Choppers and fixed wing crafts were extensively used. All these were of IAF or a mix of Army and IAF? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. They were a mix of army and air force. But the army doesn't have any fixed wing aircraft, only the IAF does(and of course the navy). The army deployed its Dhruv ALH, Cheetahs and Chetaks. The air force also uses the Dhruv, Cheetahs and Chetaks but also Mi-17V5s and Mi-26 transport helos. The C-130J aircraft were used for the first time in disaster response, evacuating people from dirt airstrips. AN-12s also.
Q. The MIG 21 are a good aircraft and have proved their worth. What I feel that the pilots who are flying them do not possess the capability flying the machine. Don't you feel that with the current situation young people choose the Armed forces as a last option and join when they have nowhere to go? This situation is bound to get worse as the politicians are neglected as they are not vote banks? Asked by: AKS
A. You are mixing up too many things. The MiG-21 is a good fighter but it's no longer in its prime, its more than 40 years old. From what I'm told and have read, it's also a pretty unforgiving aircraft when landing since the speed is very high and cannot be decreased as it could stall (I hope this bit is correct). Newly graduated pilots fly the MiG-21 although many others maybe moving to other aircraft also. Maybe since they are new they commit mistakes, it happens. I think people are choosing the armed forces for the relative security of tenure, the comfortable lifestyle not to forget the pension! All the army academies are full, not sure about air force and navy but it would be substantially the same there also I guess.
Q. What we need to address is looking into the comforts of the people operating (flying or maintaining) these sophisticated aircraft? Things surely are improving but we need to have a closer look at the right people being inducted which can only be possible by giving the defence forces their due. Don't you agree else substandard who are given extra flying to make the grade people would be flying these machines and the crashes would keep occurring even if we have new aircraft? Asked by: Arun
A. I understand the army relaxed its standards for officer cadets some years ago, not sure about the air force. The navy now insists that all its officers have a B.Tech degree and all its sailors have diplomas or equivalent. It's a technical service and they seem to be getting the right kind of people. The point to note is that the air force does a lot of flying, more than many other air forces and accidents (due to pilot error or otherwise) will happen. Even the top of the line Su-30s are now starting to crash, even the Mirage jets (although these are getting old).
Q. Other than the issue of MIG - 21 does the IAF have adequate numbers of transport and fighter crafts? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. The IAF squadron strength has been coming down. I think currently it's at 34. The IAF brass want 43 squadrons comprising aircraft of all kinds (fighter, transport, helicopter). If the Rafale comes through they'll get 126 of them. Then there's the LCA and the Fifth Gen Fighter, 9 more C-17 aircraft are due, at least 6 more C-130j aircraft and then the Chinook for heavy lift etc.
Q. The accidents that occur are not because the aircraft are old but because flying them requires certain skills which the new inductees lack as the training standards have been reduced? Asked by: Arun
A. There was a problem training rookie pilots because the AJT Hawk came in only a few years ago. So young pilots were moving from propeller aircraft to jets without an interim fighter to serve as a bridge. A lot of crashes happened because of that deficiency. Now the Hawk is in and the Pilatus for basic flying is also in, so the situation has improved.
Q. Is there problem in pilot ejection during emergency? Asked by: Satya
A. Not that I know of, you should check with a pilot.
Q. Not AN 12 these aircraft are AN 32's? Asked by: Anonymous
A. Sorry my mistake the An-12 was retired quite some years ago. These are the An-32.
Q. How is the LCA project of HAL progressing? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. The defence minister has set a deadline for December for operational clearance-2. The problems have been identified, the technology and skills are there to fix it. Let's hope the december deadline is adhered to.
Q. Were the pilots in such crashes mostly on their training flights? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. Today's crash was of a flight lt, who will be very young. This may have been his first squadron posting and you are required to do a lot of flying to master you aircraft.
Q. Are there any prohibitive clauses on the MIG - 21 deal which will not permit replacement of MIG - 21 until 2017? Asked by: sundar1950in
A. Nothing of that kind. The problem is the LCA is not yet ready. Even if it gets final operational clearance next year it will be some years before production reaches the kind of level that will ensure the retirement of all the MiG-21s.