Army, IAF ground 280 choppers for safety check
The Army and the IAF have grounded over 280 Cheetah and Chetak helicopters for safety checks after the Cheetah helicopter crash in West Bengal. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited will now conduct a safety audit of all the choppers before they are given the go-ahead to fly again. The navy also operates 40 such choppers but they have bot been grounded yet.
For decades the Indian Air Force (IAF) relied on Soviet-era MiG fighter aircraft but with time older planes have been retired. In 2014, the then Defence Minister disclosed half of 870 MiGs from Russia had been lost in accidents. Despite approval for 45 combat-aircraft squadrons, the IAF effectively has only 30 squadrons (approx. 600 aircraft): most of which comprise of 30 year old MiG-21s.
Difficulties to procure spare parts for Russian planes have made it much harder for IAF to keep up maintenance and training. Defence contracts take so long to finalize that prices increase immensely; instead of originally sanctioned 120 Rafael jets, India would now only buy 36. India's defence offset clauses also impose stringent obligations on foreign defence manufacturers and hold up deals for long.
Two weeks ago, an Antonov AN-32 cargo flight carrying 29 people went missing over the Bay of Bengal. This 35 year old aircraft had reported technical snags thrice in July alone. After weeks of intensive search-ops, it was reported that there was no underwater emergency beacon on the AN-32 and locating it was impossible. There are 80 AN-32 operational in the Indian Air Force.
Minutes after taking off from the Kalaikunda Air Force base in West Bengal, the aircraft developed a "technical snag" and crashed within the boundary of the base. The pilots, however, ejected safely. In June last year another Advanced Hawk Trainer had crashed at the same air force base while taking off. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to look into this incident.
The Hawk advanced jet trainer is a British-made single engine plane that trainee fighter pilots undergo their stage-III training on for a one year period.
The sharply dropping number of the IAF fleet set off alarm bells; India is now determined to add 400 warplanes to the IAF's current strength by the year 2030. India has finalized a deal with France for 36 Rafael jets; an order for 72 Sukhoi-30 jets has been placed. The IAF will also induct 120 Tejas light combat aircraft; first delivery was in July.
On 30 November, a Cheetah helicopter of the Indian army crashed at the Sukna Military camp in West Bengal killing three officers on board and injuring a Junior Commissioned Officer.