IAF crashes lose one fighter squadron every 2 yrs - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Wednesday 20 March 2013

IAF crashes lose one fighter squadron every 2 yrs

Over the last five financial years a total of 50 IAF aircraft have crashed, including 37 fighters and 13 helicopters

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Mar 13

According to figures released by the defence ministry (MoD) in parliament today, the Indian Air Force (IAF) loses the equivalent of one fighter squadron (16-18 fighters) in crashes every two years. With the IAF repeatedly expressing concern over the declining number of squadrons - now down to 32-33 squadrons against a minimum operational requirement of 42 squadrons - even the induction of new aircraft like the Rafale fighter will not make up the numbers.

Over the last five financial years, including the current year that ends on March 31, a total of 50 IAF aircraft have crashed, including 37 fighters and 13 helicopters. Breaking this down year-wise, the MoD says 8 fighters and 2 helicopters crashed in 2008-09; 10 fighters and 2 helicopters crashed in 2009-10; 6 fighters and 6 helicopters crashed in 2010-11; 9 fighters and 1 helicopter crashed in 2011-12; and 4 fighters and 2 helicopters have crashed in the current year.

“In the above accidents, a total of 17 pilots and 18 Service personnel were killed. Also, 6 civilians were killed and 25 injured,” the MoD statement says.

With no insurance covering military aircraft, the financial loss can be assessed only in terms of replacement cost. With each Sukhoi-30, the cheapest aircraft being currently inducted, costing close to Rs 350 crore, the loss of eight fighters per year to crashes amounts to an annual loss of over Rs 2,800 crore. The Rafale, going by current indications, could cost Rs 450-500 crore per aircraft, which is also the anticipated price of the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft that will only be operational at the end of this decade.

For the IAF, crashes are a serious issue. On November 05, 2012, Defence Minister A K Antony had spoken to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for Defence about the high number of crashes. Antony said the IAF was focusing on “the training standards of young fighter aircrew,” by “strengthening of training procedures.”

This innocuous statement is shorthand for one of the IAF's most critical problems today: the compromise in basic training after the grounding of the entire basic trainer fleet of HPT-32 aircraft in 2009 in response to a series of accidents involving this aircraft. While a new basic trainer was being selected and the contract finalised, rookie IAF pilots underwent makeshift training, learning basic flying on the relatively advanced Kiran trainer.

Currently, the first batch of Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II basic trainers, bought from Switzerland, are being inducted and the first batch of pilots will begin training in July. This, say senior IAF officers, is expected to bring down accident rates significantly.

In the second half of the last decade, the induction of the Hawk advanced jet trainer, bought from BAE Systems of the UK, had significantly reduced the IAF's accident rate.

Also in the development pipeline is the Intermediate Jet Trainer, which Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is developing as a Stage-2 trainer. Rookie pilots who have completed Stage-1 training on the Pilatus, would do Stage-2 training on the IJT before graduating to the Hawk AJT for Stage-3 training.

“Only after undergoing these three stages of training can a pilot get into the cockpit of a frontline combat fighter. Any shortcuts would lead to high accident rates during operational flying,” says Pushpinder Singh, the publisher of Vayu magazine and an expert on combat aviation.

“A decade or so back, the IAF was losing almost a squadron of fighters every year to crashes. The current rate is actually good by comparison. As the IAF fleet becomes more modern and the old MiG-21s and MiG-27s retire, we will see a further decline in accidents,” says Air Marshal Pranab K Barbora, a former IAF vice chief.

To reduce helicopter accident rates, Antony told parliament that "an unusually high number of accidents and incidents on helicopters occur, when they are operating away from their parent base", and so all helicopter units had undergone a special inspection. Some "shortcomings" had been found and they were being rectified.


  1. if only GoI finance... by just giving a dedicated... account heads for 2800 cr... loss of one year... to sitara & saras... next year... fighter/transport... blossom...

  2. Time to revisit the Arjun Tank Shuklaji.

  3. Fighter flying ,like motor cycling, is an inherently dangerous job. Training is a hygiene- it will certainly improve things but to expect drastic improvements is unrealistic.
    I once did some study on the MiG 21 accidents. It turned out that over half the accidents involved senior pilots at the level of Flt. Lts and above. Coming into land at 300 kmph or flying at 900 kmph 50 mts above the ground leaves very little margins for anything non routine.
    In the West they talk of 1 accident per 10,000 hrs as "acceptable". In our very much tougher flying conditions- dust ,haze, high air temperatures, heavy birds, denser population I would think anything better than 1 accident per 7500 -8000 hrs as equivalent and commendable.

  4. The claim that IJT are needed to achieve low accident rates seems rather dubious. AFAIK, numerous air forces do not include a discrete IJT within their training regimen, yet have superb safety records. I'm sure it doesn't hurt, but deploying the same funds to simply more training, simulator, and flight hours could have the same or better "bang for the buck". ("bang" seems wrong when discussing safety, but oh well)

  5. Cost of Rafale more than cost of Su30 ?

  6. It is just not pilots also maintenance I guess. US, isreal, france manage to keep their machines flying hard for a very long period of time. Must be a lot of discipline , much more than us

  7. Col. still mum on the AW scam ?


  8. Have you heard of the SUBSAFE initiative of US Navy. Indians never learn lessons..

  9. Antony confirms bribes were paid ...


    And this journalist chooses to keep his silence !

  10. Dear Ajayji,
    Would like your comment on the "build in sub-standard quality on Tejas". Why would the builders do it? Is is another anti Tejas campaign by the vested elements?

  11. U r very slow with your stories these days...like lca and arjun...come on, move fast a nd post more frequently...get out of vacation mode.

  12. with LCA delayed due to all lame cheap hopeless excuses, india should have acquired all planned 272 sukhois latest by 2014 to keep a very credible deterrent posture on both pak and china fronts. when india inked 2000 contract for 140 licensed production of sukhois, india was planning to have 20 lca from 2006 onwards but since that project is so hopelessly late, india could have expedited sukhoi deliveries from 2006 onwards to make up for zero induction of LCAs. after all india has been allocating funds for 25-30 combat aircraft per year since at least 1997 and we have just 160 or so sukhoi til now. if india could give additional orders for 40 sukhois in 2007 and other 40 in 2013, why was the induction of sukhois so hopelessly stretched to 2018-2019 given the fact that LCA is not going to come before 2014-2015 whatever year and we have always allocated enough funds for at least 25 combat ac since at least 2001???? even no awacs, transports, trainers were bought from at least 1991 and they too started coming after 2009.


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