SOURCE: DEEPAK HILORI/ FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
In three months of 2021, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has lost two fighter jets in crashes and both have been aging Mig-21Bis that has resulted in the death of Group Captain Ashish Gupta, a high ranking pilot of the ill-fated jet that has sent shockwaves not only in IAF but also in Ministry of Defence (MoD). Since 2000, IAF has lost 81 Mig-21 fighter jets in crashes, which is the highest among all fleet types and has lost around 400 in crashes since its induction in the ’60s.
IAF has retired all the older variants of the Mig-21 in recent times and operates around 4 Squadrons of the upgraded Mig-21Bis that were manufactured last in mid ’80s locally by HAL. IAF Chief has often flown in Mig-21 and has claimed that the aircraft is safe and notorious accident records of the type is due to high flying hours one aircraft type generates in a year since 60’s nearly 800+, Mig-21s were inducted.
It has become routine for an IAF Chief to fly a Mig-21Bis often to show that it is still airworthy but a 40 min sortie is not enough to judge the risks each week a Squadron level pilot of the Mig-21s have to endure due to the complex nature of the jet and obsolete engine technology on it. Retired Mig-21 pilots from IAF have high praise for the aircraft but the same can’t be said for the nearly 100+ pilots who lost their lives in the crashes.
Aircraft is not only aging fast but also needs to be flown by experienced pilots to keep newbie pilots out of the risks of flying such complex and aging machines due to which IAF have to bear the conscious when a senior high ranking pilot dies in a Mig-21 crash. Mig-21 is an unforgivable aircraft that requires uttermost concentration and command from the pilot who is flying it and Mig-21 still has a landing speed above 300 km/h, the fastest for any military jet anywhere in the world in service today, that makes it more prone to high human error probability in crashes.
IAF keeping it in service for 4-5 years more is not only a risky act but also endangers the lives of its man who are required to fly them since it is still deployed at the forward airbases around the country, ready to Intercept any intruding aerial threats in our air space. IAF should fast track moving Tejas Mk1 to forward bases, where Mig-21s are deployed and keep them, has secondary launch aircraft till more Tejas Mk1A jets up in numbers and replaces the entire units in coming years.