Death of a general - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.
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Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Death of a general



By Ajai Shukla

Unsigned comment in Business Standard

9th December 2021

 

Military aviation is attended by even greater hazards than commercial flying but, even so, it is shocking for the defence services to be suddenly confronted with the deaths in a flying accident of their senior-most commander and key members of his personal staff. From what is known till going to press, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, was travelling from his headquarters in New Delhi to give a lecture to student officers attending the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington – a year-long course that marks out the brightest and best military officers who are destined for higher rank. In Sulur Air Force Base in Coimbatore, General Rawat and his entourage transferred from his Indian Air Force (IAF) Embraer Legacy business jet to an IAF Mil-17V-5 helicopter for the short hop to Wellington. At noon, the helicopter was just minutes short of its destination when it crashed, killing everyone except for the pilot.

 

One of several reasons could have led to the crash. Flying helicopters in mountain terrain poses unique dangers with the chopper forced to weave its way through valleys that cloud up suddenly. The helicopter unit at Sulur is manned by skilled pilots and technicians with extensive experience in operating in the most rugged Himalayan terrain. When flying the CDS’ party for an important lecture, care would have been taken at Sulur to ensure an airworthy helicopter. With inclement weather prevailing in the Nilgiris for the past few days, the IAF’s meteorologists would have left nothing to chance. Yet, such are the hazards of flying, that an accident took place nevertheless.

 

It remains unclear why it took six hours after this deadly crash for the government to confirm it and issue condolences. In the absence of details or official information, the media was speculating about the casualty and fatality count. Parliament is in session, but the government did not give the members even the simplest details of what has transpired. Only after 6 pm did Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweet about the deaths of 13 persons. Instead of this information vacuum, a statement made in Parliament by the defence minister would have prevented rumours and speculation and also accorded recognition and dignity to those who had lost their lives in the line of duty.

 

The death of General Rawat represents more than just the loss of a senior commander. As India’s first CDS, the government had entrusted him with implementing the key structures of a revised higher defence management. General Rawat had also been appointed to head the Department of Military Affairs (DMA), which sought to bring together civilian and military officials into an integrated ministry. General Rawat was also tasked with creating “joint theatre commands”, in which the army, navy and IAF operated in synergy, with the aim of offering greater combat power than the sum of their parts.

 

General Rawat was not without his critics, especially after being appointed the army chief in 2016, superseding his senior, Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi. He was further criticised as a “political general” when he was appointed the first CDS. Yet, a dispassionate assessment of his initiatives leaves the impression of a reformist, who tried hard to prune the military’s bloated manpower, tighten up an army headquarters that was too large for its own good and made formation headquarters more effective in combat. Perhaps most importantly, he brought in reform down to the level of combat units. It is to be hoped that his successor follows in his footsteps.


13 comments:

  1. A batch mate of mine, former DGP TN, who stays close to the place of occurrence in Coonor, about 2 KM away, has informed that the weather conditions are so bad, it was unwise for the pilot to agree to take off. He should have refused to fly. The destination was only a few miles by road obviating the need to fly.

    Secondly, the helicopter was overcrowded. Dr. KS Subramanian IPS retd.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. overcrowded ?? it can fly with 30+ passengers. flying condition can be debated, you may be right

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  2. @KS Subramanian - I agree with your observations on the weather.

    However, re - your remark on overloading - not true since DSSC helipad in Coonoor is at an elevation of only about 1700 m. The helicopter type - Mi-17 V5 has more than enough power and rotor thrust margins to carry the payload it was carrying on the flight.

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  3. Posting cake photos post death of a Military senior - CDS is very bad. Taking ill of a dead person shows low level of civilization.

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  6. what about the level of training of the pilots of such highly technically modern aircraft? Is it comparable to the advanced quality of aircraft such as the Russian one used in this case? who can certify the quality?

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  7. Are there not protocols for flying in heavy fog? Were they not followed? Very similar to the Kobe Bryant chopper crash in that they were likely flying when they should not have been.

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  8. Former DGP TN W.I. Davaram who stays close to the place of occurrence must be requested to comment on the local security scenario on the day of occurrence.
    Dr.KS Subramanian IPS Retd.

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  9. looks like a case of gross negligence to an informed intelligence officer, which should not have been allowed given the status of the CDS. Must be fully explained.
    Dr.KS Subramanian IPS Retd

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  10. I am told the CDS wanted to go back to Delhi the same day after the lecture and discussion. Not advisable. Who advised him to undertake the disastrous journey.

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  11. Indians are given to praising themselves even when they commit huge blunders. A senior army official did this when I met him yesterday.He could not see anything wrong the army did in the recent episode in South India.

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  12. You say: "Only after 6 pm did Defence Minister Rajnath Singh tweet about the deaths of 13 persons. Instead of this information vacuum, a statement made in Parliament by the defence minister would have prevented rumours and speculation and also accorded recognition and dignity to those who had lost their lives in the line of duty."

    As an experienced media person AND an ex-military one, to boot, you should know that the first responsibility of the government is to confirm details of fatalities and injuries and then make sure all the next of kin are informed and the injured are receiving all the attention they need. Its responsibility is not to the media. And it is an irresponsible media that speculates and feeds rumors! Feeding this media frenzy is not the responsibility of the government.

    You further say "It remains unclear why it took six hours after this deadly crash for the government to confirm it and issue condolences". Surely, you've had enough time to investigate this and provide the government's reasoning instead of subjecting us to your weird criticisms?

    ReplyDelete

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