What The FAQ: After chopper crash led to CDS Rawat's tragic demise, we take a look at the IAF's safety record

News of aircraft "accidents" killing IAF personnel has become monotonous in India, except when it claims the life of an influential person. Here's a look at what plagues India's defense in the skies
Pic: Edexlive
Pic: Edexlive

The Mi-17V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force which crashed in Tamil Nadu on December 8, killing 13 personnel on board, including India's first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, has once again thrown the spotlight on India's record of peacetime aircraft casualties and accidents. We take a look at how frequent such accidents are and what might be the reasons behind them.

1. How frequent have IAF crashes been in recent years?
Between July 2014 to 2019, 46 personnel were victims of IAF aircraft and chopper crashes. In the Lok Sabha during the winter session last week, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt said that seven IAF aircraft have crashed in the last two years, with five fatal crashes just this year, before the ill-fated Mi-17V5 which crash-landed on December 8, killing all 13 onboard. Between the years 2010-2021, IAF has reported 145 accidents involving military aircraft.
2. Which aircraft or chopper accounted for the most number of deaths?
The Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich-21 or MiG 21 Bison has gained the ignominious reputation of being the "flying coffin" of the "widow maker" in the IAF. This aircraft was India's first supersonic jet fighter aircraft was first inducted into service in 1963, has claimed the lives of more than 200 people and has been responsible for 482 accidents. According to a report in ThePrint, sources within the IAF have said that from inadequate training to the plane having been flown "beyond its utility", there are issues aplenty with India's longest-serving aircraft. BBC has also quoted sources from within the IAF claiming that Russia has been "tardy" in providing spare parts, and points to problems with its landing and design. Just this year, after a MiG 21 crash in Gwalior cost the life of yet another pilot, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said that the aircraft will be retired in a phased manner. Interestingly, the MiG 21 issue, and the government's apathy in addressing it was the catalyst in the plot of the 2006 film Rang de Basanti.

3. Has there been any probe into the crashes?
Probes have often been ordered into crashes of military aircraft, but such reports are usually classified. In 2003, however, the probe report of a court of inquiry into a MiG 21 trainer crash in Srinagar was made public, and Air Commodore PK Barbora, who chaired the court of inquiry said that it "does stand to reason" that accident would be fewer if the IAF had access to an advanced jet trainer. 

4. What solutions does the government propose for the crashes?
In Lok Sabha last week, the MoS, Defence, Ajay Bhatt said “The steps taken by the government to avoid such incidents in the future include invigoration of aerospace safety organisation, maintaining a database of accidents and incidents, improving training methodology and increased use of simulators.” It is to be noted that according to the database of accidents released by the IAF, there has been a slight decrease in accidents between 2000-2009's 203 to 2010-2021's 145 crashes.

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