IAF Surya Kiran Crash and the Government’s Desperate Attempts to Keep the Forces Afloat

Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi was killed on Tuesday, 19th February after two aircrafts of the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team of the Indian Air Force crashed at the Yelahanka airbase in Bengaluru, during the rehearsal session for Aero India 2019 show. The tragedy occurred just a day before Asia’s premier air show was to commence .

A video emerged on social media which had been resurfaced by ANI. It can be seen in the video clip that the two hawk jets were performing a manoeuvre when one was flying inverted carrying a pilot and the other below it with two pilots, moments before they hit each other and spun out of control. The later half of the video is evidence to the crumbled aircraft which were set ablaze consequently releasing thick black fumes which emerged out of the residential landscape.

The heap of wreckage after the crash at Yelahanka airbase, Bengaluru

Quoting the Officials and the Witnesses

I’m aware of it (incident),” Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, but did not elaborate further when asked about the accident on the sidelines of an event here. Sitharaman is slated to inaugurate the five-day biennial event organised by the Ministry of Defense at the Yelahanka air base, north of Bengaluru.

Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister

There were three pilots, one has died, two are safe with injuries,” DGP Fire Services M N Reddi, who rushed to the site of mishap, said.

The incident occurred at around 1150 hrs while practicing for the air show, the Defense PRO office said in a statement. One of the three aircrew of the aircraft, Wing Commander V T Shelke and Squadron Leader T J Singh ejected. However, Wing Commander Sahil Gandhi sustained fatal injuries, it said. The two aircrew have been airlifted to air force command hospital, Bengaluru, it said.

A Court of Inquiry will investigate the cause of the accident, the statement sufficed.

Soon after the mishap, Bengaluru Commissioner of Police T Suneel Kumar said the crash occurred at the ISRO layout and that ‘minor damage‘ has been caused to a house nearby that had no inmates.”We were watching the manoeuvre. The aircraft took off and after some time, they brushed against each other while performing a manoeuvre and crashed. We heard a loud noise,” Chetan, an eyewitness, said.

He said soon after the crash, about 100-150 people rushed to the site and tried to help the injured pilots.

I held the hand of a pilot and tried to comfort him. He was calm. He was conscious and was responding,” Chetan said, adding, that the injured pilots were thereafter shifted to hospital by authorities.

‘Surya Kiran’

Aircraft of the ‘Surya Kiran’ aerobatics team of the Indian Air Force

Surya Kiran‘ (ray of the Sun), with its breathtaking manoeuvres and formations, is always a major attraction in Aero India shows.

The aerobatic team was formed in 1996 as part of the 52nd Squadron of the IAF. The team initially used Kiran Mark II (HJT-16) built by HAL before switching over to Hawks.

In October 2015, the Defense Ministry concluded negotiations between HAL and BAE Systems for the purchase of twenty BAE Systems Hawk Mk.132 aircraft for the Surya Kiran which will be dedicated to the aerobatics display role and fitted with smoke canisters.

Also known as “The Sharks“, the Surya Kiran team, which has performed in air shows across the world, is based at Bidar in north Karnataka.

The Recent Crash of Mirage-2000

This comes about three weeks after the crash of Mirage-2000 wherein
Squadron Leader Samir Abrol and Squadron Leader Siddhartha Negi, both from Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment, were killed in the crash at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited Airport in Bengaluru on the first of February, 2019.

While the court was hearing a PIL for setting up of a court-monitored committee to conduct a thorough inquiry into the Mirage crash
Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi, heading the bench, regrettably said, “When everyone else is using 5th and 6th generation aircrafts, we are using 3rd and 4th generation… what else do you expect? It was bound to crash.

Although the court declined to entertain this PIL and said the court cannot order a judicial inquiry into the incident as it was an accident.

Rampant Aircraft Crashes

The account of aircraft crashes due to mechanical failure and inconsistent upgrades has been rampant.

An Indian Air Force’s Jaguar fighter plane crashed in Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh on 28th of January, 2019.

A MiG 27 crashed near Jodhpur’s Banad area on September 4, 2018. 

On June 5, 2018, Air Commodore Sanjay Chauhan passed away after his Jaguar fighter plane went down in the Mundra taluk of the Kutch region in northwestern Gujarat. This was the second alarming incident in the month of June 2018 with an Indian Air Force Jaguar.

A Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter jet has crashed near Nashik in Maharashtra on June 27, 2018.

The Populist Budget and its Shortcomings

Piyush Goyal, after presenting the interim budget in the lower house of the Parliament

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been highly vocal about safeguarding the interests of the security forces but its budgetary provisions miraculously lack the finances to support the prime ministers large claims.

While union minister Piyush Goyal said the defence budget has crossed Rs 3 lakh crore for the first time, the allocation is still inadequate to meet the requirement of defence modernisation. Here’s how the numbers stack up.

Of the Rs 4.31 lakh crore allocated to the ministry in the interim budget 2019-20, Rs 1.12 lakh crore is earmarked for pensions. The net defence budget, therefore, stands at Rs 3.189 lakh crore. And out of this, Rs 1.08 crore is allocated for capital expenditure, which includes expenditure on modernisation. This is a marginal increase from last budget’s allocation of Rs 99.536.86 crore for capital expenditure. The amount is inadequate to cater to existing liabilities let alone purchase new equipment.

To add to this, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has approved projects worth Rs 1 lakh crore in the last one year, and the payment for the Rafale jets will start in 2019-2020. Unless the capital budget increases, these projects will get delayed by years. The Air Force has committed to paying Rs 47,413 crore this year, but has been allocated Rs 39,347 crore.

The loss of lives at the cost of qualitative loopholes have a far fetched history in the Asian subcontinent. The MiG jet in particular has become known as the “flying coffin” or the “widow maker“. In 2012, India’s then defence minister told an astonished parliament that more than half the 872 MiGs it had purchased from Russia had been lost in accidents, at a cost of over 200 lives.

Although we require state of the art technology to redefine the way our equipment function, the budget out-rightly demonstrates the desperate attempts by the government that are being made, to keep the forces afloat.

Sources- ThePrint, Scroll.in, News18

Image Credits- IndiaToday, Jaagran, currentriggers, Amar Ujala

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