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Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sukhoi crashes near Jaisalmer

NEW DELHI: First, it was the ageing MiGs which were falling from the skies with alarming regularity. Now, even the latest Sukhoi-30MKIs are going down, sparking widespread concern in IAF.

In the second Sukhoi mishap this year, one of these `air dominance' fighters, the most potent in the country's combat fleet, crashed at the Jetha Ki Dhani near Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan on Monday evening.

The two pilots, Wing Commander Srivastava and Flight Lieutenant Arora, fortunately, managed to eject safely. After taking off from the Jodhpur airbase at about 4.45 pm, the ill-fated Sukhoi was taking part in fire-power exercises at Pokhran when the accident took place around 5.30 pm.

This is the 13th aircraft crash in IAF this year, which makes it one of the worst years for the force in recent times, especially since around 25 people have also been killed in these mishaps.

Though the court of inquiry ordered into Monday's crash will ascertain the exact reason behind the mishap, sources say that IAF is contemplating the grounding of the entire Sukhoi fleet till technical checks can be carried out.

The two main reasons for crashes are attributed to "human errors'' and "technical defects''. In other words, "inadequate'' training to pilots, ageing machines and shoddy maintenance practices form a deadly mix for IAF.

What is especially worrying is that the Sukhois are the latest fighters to be inducted into the IAF. The first Sukhoi crash, in which one of the pilots was killed, took place on April 30. "It was due to a mix of human error, a design flaw and a system malfunction,'' said an officer.

IAF has inducted 105 of the 230 twin-seater Sukhois already contracted from Russia in three deals worth upwards of $8.5 billion. As first reported by TOI, with both China and Pakistan bolstering their air combat fleets, IAF has asked the government for another 50 Sukhois -- each of which would cost around $45 million -- to cater for any contingency on both the eastern and western fronts.

Of the initial 230 jets, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is supposed to manufacture 140 of them under transfer of technology by 2015. After Pune and Bareilly, IAF has already earmarked airbases like Tezpur and Chabua in Assam, Halwara (Punjab) and Jodhpur (Rajasthan) as the new airbases to house two Sukhoi squadrons each. Earlier this year, the first four Sukhois were deployed in Tezpur to kickstart the entire process.

The Sukhois, which have a cruising speed range of 3,200 km and can carry around eight tonnes of armaments, can strike targets deep inside China. This strategic capability gets a further boost with air-to-air refuelling by IL-78 tankers, enhancing their radius of operations to around 8,000 km.

India's "dissuasive deterrence'' military posture against China, after all, revolves around the Sukhois as well as the 3,500-km nuclear-capable Agni-III missile, which will be ready for operational deployment only by 2012, and the 5,000-km range Agni-V missile in the pipeline. 
 

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