Wars are unfortunate as it costs life for both the ‘victory’ and the ‘loss’. But do you know what is more unfortunate? The brave lives that aren’t scared of martyrdom in these wars losing their lives in accidents. It is the loss of lives of the IAF officers like Abhinav Chaudhary, whom we lost in a yet again MiG-21 crash at the open fields of Langeana village in the Moga district of Punjab on 20th May 2021.
The MiG-21 aircraft has been under controversy for decades now as it claimed the lives of many pilots. It has become infamous as the ‘flying coffin’ due to the same. In the year 2012, the then-Defence Minister Mr. AK Antony said that 482 out of the 872 MiG-21 have met accidents leading to the loss of lives of about 172 pilots, 39 civilians, and 8 service personnel since the 1970s. The number has gone up till this date. Though the Air Force constantly tries to upgrade the aircraft, thereby, upgrading MiG-21 to MiG-21 Bison, much result hasn’t been achieved. This is due to the obsolete frame and construct of the aircraft. This also makes finding the spare parts for the aircraft difficult. Nevertheless, whether it is the lack of budget or skewed priorities or loopholes in the governance that has made the Indian administration deprive the IAF of the latest upgrade aircraft compelling them to stick to the MiG is a matter that needs critical discussion.
These aircrafts were inducted into the Indian Air Force in the year 1963 under a transaction with the then Soviet Union. The aircraft played a decisive role in the 1965 war. It also became a game-changer in the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1972. However, around the 1980s the Soviet Union stopped the production of the MiG aircraft. Also, many countries around the world started phasing out and replacing the aircraft with other advanced technologies thus making India the only country with such a professional Indian Air Force that retained it. Since then, every few years and even months, the aircraft goes under a system failure resulting in unfortunate accidents.
Even though, these accidents due to MiG-21 being so frequent, it was in the year 2019, post-Balakot that the crash of the aircraft again came under the light. The Indian government recently has picked up with the pace of replacing the aircraft with others like the Sukhoi, Tejas, etc. Nevertheless, it is still not enough as this would leave us with less than the required 42 squadrons of aircraft which is the minimum requirement for India to prevent any hostile actions from the neighbourhood.
It is the defence system of any country that plays the most important role to enable a peaceful atmosphere within the territories. India losing its assets, that is, the men in uniform in these accidents is an abominable tragedy resulting from the negligence of governance for decades. Worse is the fact that these concerns, which must matter the most, get silenced amidst trivial political skirmishes that are leading the nation nowhere. However, giving the credit where it is due, the government must be appreciated for giving more financial powers to the three defence services to enhance their functioning. Also, the appointment of the Chief of Defence Staff would ensure systematic employment of resources where needed. These steps can reflect improvement in the future.
Coming to the present, innovative solutions and indigenous alternatives can be sought to reduce such tragedies. Times are tough as a lot is going around due to the pandemic. Nevertheless, valuing the lives of those who risk it for our peace and stability must not be compromised. It is time, the IAF and the government must look into this MiG issue and resolve it as soon as possible. The most appropriate condolence to the IAF officer Abhinav would be an assurance that no young and brave heart would lose his life again due to the inaction of the system in the future.