Monday, March 12, 2012

IAF loses two Mirage 2000 jets in 11 days

IAF loses two Mirage 2000 jets in 11 days
Grounds Fleet for Mandatory Checks
By Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd)

New Delhi. The Indian Air Force (IAF) lost its second Mirage 2000 in 11 days, both in routine sorties and both twin-seat trainers.

Fortunately, in both the cases, the four pilots on board these two aircraft bailed out to safety.
IAF has grounded the Mirage fleet as part of the established procedure for checks, and ordered the mandatory Courts of Inquiry (CoI).

The first crash took place Feb 24 off Gwalior, and the second March 5 in Rajasthan where the aircraft had come from Gwalior for a bombing mission to the Mahajan range as part of training. In both the cases, engine problem was reported, after noticing which the pilots decided to eject to safety. They took care to steer the aircraft away from populated areas.

IAF acquired 40 aircraft initially, then 9 more, and then another batch of 10 a few years back to make up for the Maintenance Reserve and Strike Off Wastage (MRSOW) for its two Gwalior-based Squadrons, Number 1 (The Tigers) and Number 7 (The Battle Axes).
Of the total fleet of 59 aircraft, 10 have been lost to date due to pilot error (disorientation included) or technical trouble.

Overall, the Mirage 2000 fleet has had a good safety record and IAF recently signed an agreement with the aircraft makers, French Dassault and Thales, to upgrade them to Mirage 2000-5 standards and extend their lives by another 25 years. An agreement with European missile maker MBDA to equip the upgraded aircraft with MICA air-to-air missiles was also signed separately.

A total of 59 aircraft were acquired from the French Dassault, after India decided to go in for them following Pakistan’s acquisition of F 16s from the US in 1982.

Thirteen of these Mirage 2000s were two-seat versions for training, and three of these have been lost, lost, two of them in Feb-Mar 2012.

Notably, the agreement with Dassault and Thales includes upgradation of 51 aircraft, inclusive of 13 trainers, three of which have been lost over the years. Now the number of aircraft to be upgraded will be 39 single seaters and 10 trainers.

The costs would appropriately come down but the lower number should possibly prompt the IAF to acquire more of Rafale aircraft, which has already been selected for its Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) requirement. Negotiations between the Indian Ministry of Defence, its French counterpart an Dasault are on in this regard. The MMRCA tender, floated in 2007, had sought 126 aircraft with an option for 63 more.

As for the Mirage 2000, the capability and load carrying capacity of both the single-seat and twin-seat aircraft are basically the same. But to compensate for the second pilot in the twin-seat version, the fuel load and thereby the range, gets reduced slightly.

Both the Mirage 2000 and the upgraded Mirage 2000-5 version, are capable of executing nuclear strike missions. The upgraded version, with more powerful Snecma engines, would also be capable of heavier loads, meaning bigger missiles.
Meanwhile, what exactly went wrong with the two ill-fated aircraft this year would be established after the Courts of Inquiry have submitted their reports. The black box of the aircraft that crashed Feb 24 has already been recovered, and once the black box of the second trainer aircraft is also recovered – it was being searched for at the time of writing this article – both would be sent for forensic examination, possibly abroad. (The black box, actually red in colour, is an aircraft’s flight data recorder, which records electronically all the commands given to the aircraft’s systems and as well as any voices and conversations in the cockpit).

The aircraft that crashed Feb 24 was piloted by Air Marshal Anil Chopra, an experienced and distinguished Mirage 2000 pilot who is also the Commodore Commandant of the Number 1 Squadron. His co-pilot was Wing Commander Ram Kumar.

Senior officers do fly aircraft although as an unwritten rule, they do not themselves go over hostile territory for offensive sorties. That is the practice with most air forces worldwide.

The Mirage 2000 that crashed Mar 5 was piloted by Squadron Leader Raj and Flight Lieutenant Kanav. Thankfully, all the four pilots are safe.

It may be noted that it takes nearly five years to train a pilot to enable him to be on his own. So the pilots are very precious to the Indian Air Force as well as the country.

The training cost for a combat pilot, from the ab initio stage to practice flying and operational status, is roughly estimated at any thing from Rs 2 to 4 crores (from nearly $ half a million to a million approximately) during this period.

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