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An aircraft we’ll never miss
It’s unbelievable how many deaths it took for our government to wake up

Official figures reveal that since the introduction of 793 MiG 21s into the Indian Air Force in 1963, 350 have crashed, which led to the killing of 170 pilots! From 1993 to 2002, 50 pilots have died from MiG 21s accidents alone! These ‘flying coffins’ tell a sordid tale of India’s desultory procurements of outdated and defunct fighter jets amongst a plethora of better options. Since the disintegration of USSR, the scarcity of spare parts and slapdash servicing for these planes resulted in many technical snags, which ultimately led to fatal air crashes.

MiG21, without a slightest iota of doubt, is way beyond the fag end of its productivity, but its prudent replacement by the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft and Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) – has been deferred indefinitely without any rationale or reason! A huge $11 billion worth of MRCA acquisitions were in process in 2001. But the process is still mired in bureaucracy and red tape!

Its abysmal safety records have led to concerns being expressed in Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, which recommended the phasing out of the aircraft in March 2002! However, nothing materialised mainly due to the intervention of the then Chief of Air Staff, S. Krishnaswamy and Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, who found nothing wrong with the fleet of MiG 21s and dubbed them “fit to fly!” Another former Air Force chief N.C. Suri drove home the point of the urgent need to replace MiG 21s thus, “This is not an aviator country and civilians don’t understand the air force’s needs!” Even Russia, which manufactures this aircraft, withdrew it from its fleet in 1998. It has been decided by tyhe IAF to finally phase them out by 2017 and only allow experienced pilots to fly them from next year. Definitely, these ‘landmark’ decisions aren’t coming a moment too soon!

By:- Sayan Ghosh

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