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Mid Air blues  (Hindustan times Editorial)

It is just as well that the Public Accounts Committee has finally called for phasing out of the aging MiG-21 fighters. Nobody questions the credentials of this doughty fighter from the stables of Mikoyan and Gurovich.

In fact, when the IAF acquired the MiG-21s in 1963, none knew just how valuable an asset they would prove to be. In the Indo-Pak conflicts of 1965 and 1971, these planes formed the backbone of the IAF. Later, the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) set up new plants at Nasik, Koraput and Hyderabad to manufacture these under licence. Even so, the most versatile of the series, the MiG-21 Bis fleet, perhaps held sway for a year too many.

Instead, their much-vaunted successor, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), adamantly refused to leave the drawing board. The IAF faced the Hobsonís choice of upgrading and continuing with its MiG-21 Bis fleet. The idea was to switch the MiG-21 from its primary role of an interceptor to that of a ground attack aircraft. But good intentions alone could not be enough. All the talk of technological upgradation never seemed to work as aircraft after aircraft crashed, and precious lives were lost. Russian technology is no longer what it used to be, and several of the engines promptly packed up and a horrified IAF was left with less than 20 per cent of the operational MiG-29s.

Although air force engineers zeroed in on a serious design flaw, the Russians refused to acknowledge it. The MoD lost much money and time before getting the engines repaired. But with the current crisis, the crashes have also a lot to do with the way rookie pilots, used to obsolete basic trainers, leapfrog technology to fly frontline fighter planes. Nowhere else in the world has the absence of an advanced jet trainer been so starkly demonstrated by an air force. So, besides hurrying off the MiG-21 into the sunset, the PAC should also have pulled up the powers that be and demanded the immediate acquisition of an AJT.
 

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