Plumetting planes -- By The Pioneer Edit Desk Back   Home  

India has lost more fighter pilots in peace time than while at war. Early last week, two of them died in different accidents. In the past decade, More than 100 brave, young pilots have clashed to their death. They were all good pilots.

The fault lay either in the outdated machines that they flew or in the training that has not changed for years. More will die for another reason-a complete lack of concern for the men who fly these machines in the defence of the nation. No doubt, many of the fighter aircraft in the Indian Air Force should have long been mothballed or sent to museums. A substantial segment of the MiG series of fighters have outlived their operational life. MiGs were the best in the world when inducted, but that was almost three decades ago. MiGs, especially the 21bis series, have been developing fatal flaws in their engines resulting in flame-outs. Pilots in such cases had the only choice of bailing out before the plane exploded in flames on the ground. Many did not exercise that choice because they were, while hurtling to a sure death, trying to crash-land the aircraft on safer ground, away from human habitation. These men were no less heroes than those who fought and died in battle.

There is another and more serious problem. Young pilots are made to fly sophisticated fighter aircraft without actually training on one. India, after five decades of independence and five wars, cannot provide an advanced jet trainer for its pilots. While billions of dollars have been spent on buying new aircraft and accessories, no one really bothered enough to buy Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) so that young pilots could be trained to handle state-of-art fighter machines before they actually flew one. For more than 17 years, successive governments and Defence Ministers have been pushing files on the subject while men and machines have been, with monotonous regularity, falling from the skies. In financial terms, the loss would amount to a few billion dollars. In terms of men lost, no such assessments can ever be attempted. India has lost some of the best pilots in accidents caused by the lack of AJTs.

There is an ironical twist to this tale of callous indifference that the Establishment displays so effectively when it comes to a soldier. Former Defence Minister George Fernandes was one of those who understood the note of urgency in the IAF's plea. Cutting through the maze of red tape, he was about to conclude a contract with a British firm when the Tehelka Tapes, felled him with unsubstantiated allegations. Like other critical contracts that India was in the process of signing, the one for the AJT too was shelved. No one in the bureaucracy or political establishment was willing to stick his or her neck out. Even a full-fledged war would not have damaged the armed forces to such an extent as the Tehelka Tapes have done. The Air Force has been hit the hardest. It is heartening to note that despite Tehelka, the government has begun re-negotiating with three firms. It should now ensure that no further delay should stall the proposal that was first mooted in 1984. It would save the lives of many a young IAF pilot.

This article was published in I too is very disturbed with the news of fighter planes crashing causing loss of valuable pilots and lot of money spent on them. Hope things will improve.