Warplanes: The Indian Air Force Gets Some Respect


January3, 2007: The Indian Air Force has not lost a single MiG-21 in an accident in the last twelve months. This is a surprise, given that Indian Air Force MiG-21s have had a very high rate of accidents in the past. The current lack of losses is no fluke, though. India has reduced its accident rate by 75 percent over the last 30 years. How is this possible? The answer lies partially in the evolution of the Indian Air Force into one of the premier air fleets in the world today.

One of the biggest signs of this evolution is how the Indian Air Force has gone from a force largely consisting of low-end planes, like locally-manufactured Ajeet, Marut, and license-built Folland Gnats, along with imported planes like the Hawker Hunter, to a modern, cutting-edge air force. India's MiG-21 force first entered service in 1963, and eventually, India turned to Russia for more modern planes, and eventually began manufacturing the MiG-27 and Su-30 under license.

In recent years, a rash of crashes had left the continued viability of India's MiG-21s in question. India's Air Force has 64 upgraded MiG-21s in front line service, with 81 more in second-line service and in training units. But these planes are still pretty old, and 43 years of service included a lot of flight time. India's air force trains like Western air forces, largely due to the influence of the RAF. Russian planes are designed to be flown on a lot less, for training, than Western designs.

However, the MiG-21 problems were overcome in 2006. One of the causes of many crashes that had occurred in the recent years was finally traced to bad fuel pumps. By fixing the fuel pumps, MiG-21s will continue serving for a number of years. And this is perhaps the biggest step in the Indian Air Force's evolution into a top air force.

Having planes and pilots are nice, but they need to be backed up by a sufficient maintenance/logistics base. In this case, India has become more capable in this regard. By manufacturing aircraft locally, they have been able to fix problems with the aircraft in service. As this capability has advanced, India's Air Force is able to stay in the air and carry out the many missions it has. - Harold C. Hutchison


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