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MiG crash amounts to three squadrons in past few years

The plane crash at Lohegaon airbase, near Pune, on Tuesday evening, which snuffed out the life of one of India's ace fighter pilots, Air Commodore C D Chandrashekhar, was the second crash involving a MiG-29 since the induction of the top-of-the-line Russian multirole fighter jets into the Indian air force in 1986.

According to defence sources in New Delhi, the fighter warplane, which crashed while landing at the airbase, is not of an old vintage and some of its peers were inducted into the IAF recently as in 1993. They form the frontline aircraft of the air arm of the country's armed forces.

The first crash involving a MiG-29 jet took place in 1993.

Air Commodore Chandrashekhar, who had 5,600 hours of accident-free flying to his credit, had taken over as Air Officer Commanding (AOC) of the Lohegaon airbase in May 1995 and was on a routine sortie. A court of inquiry has been ordered into the cause of the accident.

This is the second accident involving an IAF aircraft in just a month. Recently an IAF Avro had crashed near Nellore in Andhra Pradesh, killing all 22 people, including the crew, on board.

Air Commodore Chandrashekhar was an alumni of the National Defence Academy (NDA) at Khadakvasla and had joined the IAF in 1964.

He had also been awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) for distinguished service of a very high order and decorated with the Vayu Sena Medal for gallantry.

Air Commodore Chandrashekhar (50) leaves behind his wife and a son.

Going by its vintage, the crashed fighter aircraft would be costing around Rs 400 million.

Air Commodore Chandrashekhar had the experience of flying a variety of aircraft in the inventory of the IAF and had held important command and staff appointments.

The highly-decorated officer had commanded a MiG squadron at a flying station before taking charge of the airbase at Lohegaon near Pune.

He was also mentioned in despatches in the Indo-Pak wars.

There has been a lot of concern in the country with regard to the accident rate in the IAF.

In its first report to the eleventh Lok Sabha, the Standing Committee on Defence has expressed its ''deep concern'' about the frequent occurrences of accidents involving IAF aircraft resulting in largescale losses.

The committee advised the defence ministry to thoroughly look into the causes of all accidents which took place in the recent past and take remedial measures on an urgent basis, with a view to saving precious human lives and valuable aircraft.

In this connection, the committee desired to be apprised of the present position regarding implementation of the recommendations of the La Fontaine Committee on Flight Safety.

During evidence, the standing committee drew attention of the ministry of defence to the increase in the number of accidents taking place involving the IAF aircraft.

The defence secretary had told the committee at that time that over the last five months, eight aircraft had been lost.

The reasons attributed for the same were technical failure, human error, bird hits, and inadequate training of pilots at Stage 111.

The IAF is said to have lost about three squadrons in the past couple of years and the loss in terms of money is estimated to be in the region of Rs 5 billion.

It may be noted that for Stage 111 training of pilots, an advanced jet trainer (AJT) is required, which the IAF does not have though its acquisition has been on the agenda for the past decade.

Defence sources, however, categorically stated that Tuesday's mishap had nothing whatsoever to do with Stage 111 training of IAF pilots or the acquisition of an AJT for the force.

However, on its part the standing committee has expressed its regret to note that the proposal mooted as far back as in 1984 for the acquisition of an AJT was yet to materialise, causing adverse impact on the country's defence preparedness.

The committee had desired that the government should accord high priority to finalising an aircraft after considering all the options available and make provisions for adequate funding for its acquisition.

Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda recently said that the government had as yet not taken a final decision as to which AJT had to be purchased for the IAF. The IAF had short-listed the British Hawk and the French Alpha jet. But of the late, the still under-production Russian AJT, the MiG-AT, had also jumped into the fray.

Defence sources have said that the purchase of the much-needed AJT for the IAF would not be shot down in the wake of the Rs 63 billion Sukhoi-30 MK1 deal and negotiations with the shortlisted countries were being pursued earnestly. However, firming up the contract was likely to take some time.

Even Prime Minister H D Deve Gowda had indicated that getting the AJT for the IAF may take some time.

The AJT deal is likely to be in the range of Rs 20 billion and the IAF is likely to go in for 66 planes (about three squadrons).

The Russian MiG-AT, fitted with a French engine and avionics, was still not ready.

But by the time a final decision to go in for a deal is concretised, the MiG-AT could be very much in the race.

The defence ministry has been giving serious consideration to MiG-AT as it felt that the aircraft was sound and much of the IAF inventory was of Russian origin.



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