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.