Saturday, June 20, 2015

IAF haunted by repeated crashes! What exactly is happening ?

 IAF jets are falling from the skies, what exactly is happening ?

        IAF top brass is worried, not for the depleting squadron numbers but it’s the repeated crashes that have for long haunted the air force. An answer to this is to be found in the near future if IAF has to keep up the morale. This year alone IAF has already lost six aircraft, even the most advanced jet of the fleet Su-30 MKI has crashed raising alarms.

       IAF has lost two Jaguar deep strike aircraft, and the advanced hawk trainers. Every year IAF loses around ten aircraft as a result of crashes for most of the crashes mechanical issues emerge as the main problem.  With a depleting force these crashes may prove costly and with every crash reduces the morale and confidence of the guardians manning their machines 24/7 come what may.

This year the crash pattern is very disturbing -

January - Mig 21

March - Jaguar

May - MiG 27

May - Su 30 MKI

June - Hawk AJT

June - Jaguar

      The very main reason for crash has been mechanical issues but there have been isolated cases when human error’s have also led to crashes.

First up the MiG 21

        India currently operates nearly 200 of the upgraded Bison and Bis variants, all these jets are scheduled to be phased out within the next two to three years. MiG 21 will be replaced by the home grown LCA Tejas. Mig 21’s have proven their might overtime and have completed some of the most difficult missions possible by a fighter jet. But the MiG 21 is a aging platform that has crosses its shelf life. The replacement program for MiG 21 was conceived but is materializing only now. A stop gap measure was totally out of question owing to the cost and the setback LCA would receive it was ever to happen.

 Many other nations currently operate MiG 21 in their fleet, notably Syria which is using it against ISIS. Syria has lost only three fighter jets over these years. The reason for crash was the missiles and rockets targeted at them by ISIS extremists. Is the maintenance of aircraft to be blamed for this? The facts themselves speak out, India lost over four MiG-21 at the same time Syria lost three but all three were lost in hostile environments. But out MiG-21 were on routine sorties and not on active combat duty.

Not much changes with the advanced version of Mikoyan series IAF operates. The back bone and the most advanced jets of our air force the ‘Flankers’ have their own story to narrate. Right from the induction phase flankers have had problems with their engines and fly-by wire technology. IAF has repeatedly raised this issue with HAL the primary maintainer for Indian jets. 

      HAL has in turn requested Russian firms to resolve the issue. The solution worked out by Russians is yet to be inducted in to our jets leaving them vulnerable. IAF flies more than 200 Su-30 which are to guarantee ‘air-superiority’ for the nation, six Su-30 have crashed so far since their induction into the force. Russian’s till date have lost only a single flanker till date which was attributed to a pilot error.  Again a question rises as to what is the issue?

What can be the reason for these crashes?

     The very first step in IAF has a huge and unaddressable problem, lack of training to the future guardians. IAF is the fourth largest air force in the world, yet lacks a reliable trainer jet. Basic, intermediate and advanced platforms are missing in the air force, the Hawk is being inducted in large numbers. Pilatus is also being induced but when the pilots are to operate the most advanced jets will this really help? Most of our jets are based on Russian technology but the training is held mainly in western jets, will this not compromise the knowledge and skill of our pilots? 

       Issue with maintenance is another reason IAF to worry of. The availability rate of Su 30 MKI is currently 50%, meaning of the 200 odd Su 30 MKI less than 100 jets are in flying condition. The aircraft are checked and re-checked before taking to the skies, soon after landing the pilots are required to note down even the minute changes in the system. And it is up to the maintenance team from then to get the aircraft to its best possible state. IAF has raised its concern with the number of ground staff available for maintaining these jets.

     The spare parts issue has also haunted IAF for years, with jets being imported from other countries IAF again has to depend upon these nations for maintaining the jets.  The contracts for the spare parts are contracted and sub contracted which turns out to be a big issue in the whole story. The procurement of these crucial parts is a long and cumbersome process and has to be cleared by various offices before being finally cleared for procurement. 

     These long pending delays usually cripple the operations of the jet. All IAF jets have to undergo scheduled maintenance at regular intervals to make sure the jets are in the best possible conditions. HAL usually contracts these key functions to private companies who in turn sub contract the work thus crippling the work cycle a certain authority is not maintained. The contracts rely upon HAL for procuring spares and HAL again has to look up to the base countries of the jet to dispatch the spares thus delaying the whole work.

     The other problem can be the flying hours attained by the jet, the service availability issue was a very critical problem in the last regime.  50% availability is extremely low considering the age of the jets. A single hour of flight can cost well over a million.  Are our jets really clocking the mandated flying hours?

      The new government is now drawing up plans to boost our aerospace industries. HAL is up for a major revamp at the same time the IAF has to receive a free hand in the maintenance issues. Just inducting newer aircraft to the fleet will not serve the purpose, IAF and the Indian government has to stress on maintaining these muscular beasts in the best of the possible forms.

Editor - Karthik Kakoor

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