Support: November 11, 2002


Last week, an Indian Jaguar fighter-bomber crashed during a training flight. The British made warplane has a better safety record than India's many Russian made aircraft, and the air force has been trying to improve it's safety record by allowing pilots to spend more time flying. But this is dangerous in some of the older Russian aircraft. India still has about 250 MiG-21s. This aircraft is a 1950s design that was always tricky to fly, even by an experienced pilot. Between 1991 and 2000, India lost 221 MiG-21s (and nearly 100 pilots) to accidents. MiG-21s are good for about 3,000 flight hours (U.S. aircraft from the same period were good for over twice that). Most of India's remaining MiG-21s only have about 1,700 hours on them. These aircraft have been in service for over ten years and if you do the math you realize that they, and their pilots, don't fly much. A good pilot needs to fly 150-200 hours a year to remain proficient. Doing that on MiG-21s will wear out the aircraft quickly, and get a lot of pilots killed. Indian pilots call the MiG-21 "coffins" and "widow makers."

India's 200 MiG-23/27 aircraft (a 1960s design) are somewhat safer, but more expensive to maintain. Currently India is trying to replace it's older Russian warplanes with more modern MiG-29s and Su-30s. The modern aircraft require more expensive maintenance equipment and more skilled personnel to do the work. Russian aviation experts point out that India's higher MiG-21 loss rate can be attributed to poor maintenance and the lack of a good jet trainer (and willingness to spend the money to allow pilots to use the trainers more.) Whatever the solution, it will cost a lot money that the Indian government has been reluctant to spend on it's air force.




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