Morale: Indian Pilots Fear Their Russian Aircraft

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December 26, 2011: The commander of the Indian Air Force recently took an hour-long flight in one of India's Russian made Su-30MKI jet fighters. This was to reassure Indian pilots that the Su-30MKI was safe. One had crashed recently and there were widely publicized reliability problems with the engines used in the Su-30MKI, and many of the other Russian designed and built components of the aircraft.

Indian pilots are understandably nervous about the safety of the many Russian warplanes they fly. The MiG fighters are the most dangerous but the more recent Su-30 models were believed to be a lot safer. Recent problems indicate this may not be the case, thus the recent flight by the head of the air force.

But the MiGs are still crashing. India recently lost another MiG-21 fighter, the fifth MiG to have crashed this year. That's over 71 percent of Indian warplanes lost this year. Over the last half century, India has bought 976 MiG-21s and over half are gone, mostly because of accidents. While India was something of an extreme case in this area (other users don't fly their MiG-21s as much), it's been typical of MiG aircraft. All this is part of the decline of the once feared, and admired, MiG reputation. Starting in World War II (the MiG-1 entered service in 1940), through the Korean War (the MiG-15 jet fighter) and the Cold War (the MiG-17/19/21/23/27/29), MiGs comprised the bulk of the jet fighters in communist, and Indian, air forces. But after the Cold War ended in 1991 the flaws of the MiG aircraft (poor quality control and reliability, difficult to fly) caught up with users, in a big way. In the last few years, most of the bad news about military aircraft reliability, accidents, and crashes has involved MiG products.

For example, last year, all Indian MiG-27s were grounded for four months because of suspected common mechanical problems. Within a month of the MiG-27s being allowed to fly again another one crashed. The four month grounding was caused by fears that all the Russian made engines in these aircraft might have a common problem. These fears are not new. The MiG-27 and Cold War era Russian warplanes in general, do not age well. India only has about a hundred MiG-27s still operational and all of them were grounded for over a year (2005-6) when serious problems were discovered with the MiG-27's Russian designed engines.

 


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