Saturday, May 4, 2002, Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

IAF grounds MiG-21 fleet
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 3
With two of the country’s frontline fighter aircraft MiG-21 BIS having suffered the same fate in the past one month, the Indian Air Force (IAF) today announced the grounding of a majority of its fleet for a complete check-up for the possible cause of crashes.

The Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy, took an unprecedented step today of not only grounding the MiG-21 BIS fleet but also going to the media on the issue. The apparent reason behind the second move being to instil confidence not only in the public at large but more importantly among his very own men who have been flying these machines.

He admitted that repeated crashes did affect the morale of the men and it was important to instil confidence in them.

While ordering a court of inquiry into this morning’s crash in Jalandhar, the Air Chief Marshal offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the crash.

There have been a number of controversies over the IAF’s persistence with the MiG fighter aircraft variants and the Chief of Air Staff, while grounding about half a dozen of the MiG-21 BIS squadrons, attempted to allay all fears in regard to the aircraft. He stressed that type-75 aircarft of the MiG-21 BIS series which had the R-25 type engine would be allowed for routine sorties and training purposes only after a detailed report on the engines was received by Air Headquarters.

He clarified that the report on the state of the engines would be submitted to Air Headquarters within 10 days and only if it gave the go ahead would the aircraft be allowed to take to air. He said with the two aircraft going down due to the same reason (engine flame-out) in the past one month, it was his responsibility to “analyse the cause” and “examine the issue in totality”.

He however made it clear that in grounding of the aircraft, the country’s battle preparedness would not be lowered at any cost and those aircraft, including the one from the same series of MiG-21 BIS, deployed operationally would not be grounded.

“We are in a high state of readiness. There is no way we can relax our operational readiness,” the Air Chief said.

He said the black box and the flight data recorder (FDR) of the aircraft which crashed this morning had been recovered and sent for analysis.

Ruling out any phase-out of the MiG series from the IAF, Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy said, “every machine has mechanical problems. We have no reasons to believe their proneness to failure.”

Asked if frequent crashes involving the MiG fleet had only accentuated the need for early acquisition of advanced jet trainers (AJTs) for the IAF, he said, “I am confident we will get AJTs soon. There are processes and procedures which we must respect. We have completed price negotiations.”

The fighter aircraft grounded are all equipped with Russian R-25 engines, which also powers the upgraded MiG-21-93 which have just entered service. The Air Chief said similar checks would be undertaken on the modernised MiGs.

He said even though the IAF was equipped with the knowhow to check on the engines, yet if there was need, the Russian manufacturers of the aircraft would be called in to check on the defects.

Quoting preliminary report of the pilot, Flt Lt S.K. Nayak, who bailed out safely, the Air Chief said the aircraft suffered engine failure within five minutes of take-off from the Adampur airbase.

On the upgradation of the MiG-21 BIS series, he said the first squadron had almost been formed. “We have got 8 to 10 BIS aircraft upgraded.”

According to figures made available by the government in Parliament, 84 jets of the MiG series have crashed during the past five years.

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