Russia is India’s biggest arms supplier as evident from the fact that Russia accounts for 70% of the weapons used by the Indian Armed Forces. Though India has diversified its arms purchases to US and Europe, Russia remains at the top of the inventory list. Other than supplying frigates, helicopters and tanks, Russia is the chief supplier of fighter jets in India, the MiG variants and recently the Sukhoi fighters. The MiG -29, the most sophisticated of the MiG variants used by India rolled out of the Russian production line sometimes during the 1970s and officially joined the Soviet Air Force in 1983.
However, any person acquainted with the newspaper is aware of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jet crashes every now and then. And invariably the crashed fighter in question is some variant of a MiG. The high accident rates of the MiG variants have earned it the sobriquets like “flying coffin” and the “widow maker”. The first of the MiGs came to India in 1966. The IAF has been flying different variants of the MiG since then, and some of the operational MiG-21s are over 40 years old. MiGs had been a part of IAF since the last four decades. The MiG variants have been the most frequently flown jet fighters by the IAF which had somewhat “overstretched” the MiG Squadron as evident from the shocking report revealed by the Defense Minister A.K. Anthony in a parliamentary session. The minister disclosed that, “482 MiG aircraft accidents took place till April 19, 2012.” India originally had a combat fleet of 872 MiG variants in its MiG squadron, more than half of which has been destroyed in air crashes in the last forty years. These accidents also claimed the life of 171 pilots, 39 civilians and 8 other people from various services.
This appalling statistics naturally jolted the expert committee into action. Following a minute investigation, the expert committee has come to certain conclusions. Lack of expert jet fighter trainers are compelling IAF to expose rookie pilots to full on combat session training, thereby increasing the risk of air crashes. Secondly, Russia had shelved the MiG 21 in 1990 as a result of which no original spares are available. The chief manufacturer of aircraft parts in India is Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). So sorry is the plight of the IAF that it cannot afford the export quality platinum grade parts that HAL make for MiG-21s. They are mainly exported to other countries like Vietnam and Algeria under warranty where MiG -21s are still in use. IAF has to do with cheap reconditioned parts from Europe. So, poor maintenance is another reason for the high rate of crashes. Similar problems are plaguing the other MiG variants in use by the IAF.
The MiG variants are practically the backbone of the IAF, comprising 60% of the IAF combat fleet. However, after the recent array of crashes, IAF has been compelled to declare the MiG-21s as out of commission in batches, expected to be out of service by the end of this decade. The MiG-27s will be out of service next and the MiG-29s will be upgraded.
Even Pakistan, which is in a much worse condition than India financially, flies more sophisticated jet fighters than our country. What I fail to understand is India has developed its own Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), India has its own satellites, India can put a spacecraft on the moon, yet when it come to air defense, why India has to rely on Soviet-era antique flying machines? It’s a really scary thought that our airspace is being monitored by rusty flying buckets with more propensity to crash than perform in combat.