The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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More fighters go up in flames

New Delhi, Sept. 9: Two MiG-21 aircraft of the air force crashed today, weeks after the fighters were upgraded during an overhaul of the ageing fleet. The pilots bailed out safely, official sources said.

Flight Lieutenant Rajat Tyagi, based in Jodhpur, and Squadron leader R. Nangia, from Ambala, took off for sorties on the MiG-21 Bis variant known as “Type-75”. These aircraft have the “R-25” engines.

Two such aircraft with similar engines had crashed in April and May this year near Jodhpur and in Jalandhar. Another went missing during a training sortie over Assam.

Air Force Chief S. Krishnaswamy had grounded all MiG-21 Bis with R-25 engines in training squadrons for about a fortnight after the Jalandhar crash, during which they were checked by Indian and Russian engineers. The aircraft were later cleared for operational use.

At least one of the MiG-21s that crashed today was to be part of the first squadron of upgraded aircraft. The squadron would be based in Ambala.

A formal announcement of the squadron’s formation was to be timed to coincide with Air Force Day celebrations in October.

A routine court of inquiry has been ordered into today’s crashes. The MiG-21 Bis Type-75s were grounded in May after recurring reports of “engine flameouts”. The R-25 engine is made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited at its Koraput facility.

A total of 125 MiG-21 aircraft are in the process of being upgraded at HAL’s Nashik facility in Maharashtra under a 1997 agreement with Russia.

The MiG-21s are indispensable to the air force — which has about 20 squadrons of the aircraft — till Air Headquarters is convinced it has procured and made operational a new generation of planes.

A spokesman for the Russian trading agency, Rosoboronexport, alleged in Moscow last month that the frequent MiG accidents were caused by the poor quality of spares procured by India from former CIS countries. Air force sources claimed that the accident rate had shown a decline this year.

Moreover, spares for IAF aircraft of Russian origin were procured directly from countries that were the original manufacturers.

Today’s crash means that the delay in procuring advanced trainers continues to take a heavy toll on the air force. Defence minister George Fernandes said earlier this week that the ministry had decided to settle for the British Hawk advanced jet trainer.

The defence ministry is understood to have forwarded a note to the Cabinet last month on which the Cabinet Committee on Security would take a decision at its next meeting, sources said.

The MiG-21s were originally of 1960s vintage and the Bis variant belonged to the mid-70s. A Parliamentary Standing Committee has recommended scrapping of the entire fleet of MiG-21s.

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