The latest mishap in Rajasthan, where three people died after an Indian Air Force MiG-21 crashed, casts serious doubts over its operational capability. Inducted into the IAF in 1963, the MiG series aircraft has been questioned over its poor track record. Over 205 accidents involving MiG aircraft have been reported since their induction. The IAF continued to depend on the MiG, even though the Soviet Air Force removed it from service in 1985. Though the IAF has laid out a three-year timeline to phase out the MiG-21 fighter squadrons, the planned replacement is not going according to plan. The indigenously-developed Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) ‘Dhruv’ too has failed to inspire confidence as it was involved in four accidents in the last six months. The armed forces have suffered a series of fatal incidents, largely due to technical glitches. The old MiG-21 jets as well as the Cheetah/Chetak helicopters, both of which should have been retired a couple of decades ago, have an alarming crash record. Around 55 military personnel have lost their lives in over 50 aircraft and helicopter accidents in just over five years.
The unfailing regularity of IAF aircraft crashes has become an embarrassing reality. The frequent accidents highlight the problems in defence modernisation. Even though the IAF has been replacing the MiG-21 with the more capable Sukhoi Su-30 and the indigenously made Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, it has been hampered by the slow pace of induction of the Tejas that faced numerous delays in development. A plethora of problems, including ageing aircraft, tardy progress on indigenous production and slow pace of induction of foreign imports, is plaguing the IAF. Modernising the military has been an unkept promise of successive governments. Greater private sector participation is needed to increase indigenous production.