Military history: India

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2010-15: Helicopter crashes

The Times of India, Dec 03 2015

Crashes of helicopters and fighter aircraft since 1970, India; Graphic courtesy: The Times of India, Dec 03 2015


Rajat Pandit  Aging Fleets, Inadequate Training, Bad Maintenance Big Worries

30 military copter crashes since 2010 have killed 50


India's horrific crash rate of fighters may grab all the eyeballs, but aging helicopter fleets are an equally big worry . As many as 30 military helicopters have crashed since 2010, claiming well over 50 lives. And these are just the Category-I crashes, with pilots continuing to grapple with technical problems in their old helicopters almost on a daily basis. Aging machines, inadequate pilot training, shoddy maintenance and spares support have all come together to lead to a high crash rate of fighters and helicopters over the years in India. Stating that the main reasons for the accidents were “technical defects“ and “human errors“ in a written reply in Rajya Sabha, defence minister minister Manohar Parrikar put the tally of helicopter crashes at 28 since 2010.

Two Russian-origin Mi-17 helicopters had also crashed during relief operations and aid to civil agencies in 20112012 and 2013-14, which are generally not included in the statistics maintained for aircraft accidents in the forces.The IAF, in fact, has lost at least five of its heavy-duty Mi-17 choppers since 2011.

But it's the obsolete, singleengine CheetahChetak helicopter fleets, which are even used to service forward areas like the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region, that have been popping up regularly on the radar crash screens for long.

In fact, a group of wives of Army officers in March had petitioned Parrikar to retire these “outdated and aging“ light-utility helicopters -which do not have modern avionics as they are based on 1960s technology -to avoid casualties. “There have been at least 40 CheetahChetak crashes just in the Army in the last two decades,“ said an officer.

But the long-pending ac quisition of 197 such light helicopters from abroad has been scrapped thrice over the last decade due to corruption allegations and technical de viations, the last time in Au gust 2014 by the then newly elected NDA government.

Then, in May 2015, the defence acquisitions council gave initial approval for Russia to jointly produce 200 twin-engine Kamov-226T helicopters under the `Make in India' policy . But India and Russia are yet to finalise the inter-governmental agreement, with discussions taking place between the two once again on Tuesday .

“At the earliest, the final commercial contract will be possible only by the next fisca 2016-17). Actual deliveries, wi th the first 40 helicopters com ng in a flyaway condition and the rest being manufactured in India, will begin at a much lat er stage,“ said a source.

The slow decision-making process of successive gov ernments and general politi co-bureaucratic apathy has also meant, for instance, tha Indian warships are now vir tually bereft of multi-role helicopters that can detec and destroy enemy subma rines. The armed forces, inci dentally , have a projected re quirement of over 1,200 helicopters of different types over the next 10-15 years, as was earlier reported.

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