The crash of a MiG-21 jet in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh on Monday has once again put the spotlight on the Indian Air Force’s aging fleet of Soviet-origin aircraft which have been involved in around 400 accidents since their first induction in the early 1960s.
Three people were killed after the MiG-21 fighter aircraft crashed into a house in Hanumangarh in Rajasthan shortly after it took off for a routine training sortie from the Air Force Station at Suratgarh. The MiG-21s used to be the mainstay of the IAF for a long period of time. After its induction in the early 1960s, the Indian Air Force procured over 870 MiG-21 fighters to boost its overall combat prowess.
However, the aircraft has a very poor safety record. According to official data, the MiG-21s were involved in 400 crashes in the last six decades.
At present, the IAF has three MiG-21 squadrons with a total of around 50 aircraft, according to officials. The IAF last year finalised a timeline of three years to phase out the remaining Mig-21 fighter squadrons.
The IAF also plans to start the phasing out of the three squadrons of Mig-29 fighter jets in the next five years, they said.
The plan to phase out the Soviet-origin aircraft fleet is part of the IAF’s modernisation drive.
“The MiG-21 phase-out plan is on track,” said a military official. The official said the phase-out plan is not linked to the recent accidents involving the platforms.
As part of the IAF’s modernisation plan, the defence ministry in February 2021, sealed a Rs 48,000 crore deal with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the procurement of 83 Tejas jets.
The IAF has already procured 36 Rafale jets to enhance its combat capabilities.
The IAF is also in the process of acquiring 114 Medium Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA).
In March last year, Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhat said in Rajya Sabha that 42 defence personnel were killed in accidents involving aircraft and helicopters of the three services in the last five years.
The total number of air accidents in the last five years was 45 out of which 29 involved IAF’s platforms, according to official data.
Two pilots of the IAF were killed in July last year when their twin-seater Mig-21 trainer aircraft crashed during a training sortie near Barmer in Rajasthan.
An ALH Dhruv crashed on Thursday following a “hard landing” in Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir.
In a rare accident in January, a Russian-designed Sukhoi-30MKI jet and a French Mirage-2000 had a mid-air collision.
In October last year, a weapon system integrated version of an Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) of the Indian Army crashed near Tuting in Arunachal Pradesh.
Another ALH-WSI had crashed into the massive Ranjit Sagar reservoir near Pathankot on August 3, 2021 in which two Army pilots were killed.
Between March 2017 to December 2021, 31 people lost their lives in accidents involving 15 military helicopters that included four ALH, four Cheetah, two ALH (WSI), three Mi-17V5, an Mi-17 and a Chetak, according to official details.
In December 2021, Gen Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, his wife Madhulika and 11 other armed forces personnel died when an Mi-17VH helicopter crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.