- As you are aware, the Indian armed forces are heavily dependent on overseas players for their defense preparedness vis-à-vis arms, ammunition, and military hardware. We also know how we were reliant on the former Soviet Union and now Russia for the majority of our military hardware. Particularly the Indian Air Force, whose fighter inventory is dominated by Russians. Needless to say, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict has highlighted our shortcomings in terms of the timely delivery of critical spares and other related paraphernalia. Keep in mind that Indian borders in both the western and eastern regions are critical to the nation’s sovereignty. China and Pakistan, you see, would love to cause us even more trouble.
- The BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did push for the Make in India initiative for locally producing defense equipment, but the endeavor has failed to yield the desired results on the expected lines. The aging MiG-21 aircraft have become flying coffins, killing pilots by the dozens over the last few years. Worryingly, the MiG series of fighters still forms the backbone of the IAF. The latest MiG-21 crash has killed three civilians and injured three more. Wreckage from the burning aircraft fell on a village home in Rajasthan. The inglorious history of MiG-21 crashes in this country is beginning to look both like a tragedy and a farce. The Russian aircraft, of 1960s vintage, should have been phased out decades ago. But replacements have been few and far between.
- The fact that three squadrons of the MiG-21 continue to be in service is a huge indictment of defense planning and modernization efforts. Shockingly, 55 military personnel have lost their lives in more than 50 aircraft and helicopter accidents in just over five years. The MiG-21 as well as the Cheetah/Chetak helicopters have been major culprits. Far from ensuring India’s military capabilities, these flying coffins have de facto become weapons against the armed forces themselves. The MiG-21s are supposed to be replaced by the indigenous Tejas fighters. But the latter’s low rate of production and induction has meant that less than 40 are in service against an order of 123. This is why the MiGs continue to fly despite the lack of modern avionics and spares.
- The prevalent situation also raises serious questions about the country’s defense preparedness at a time when it is locked at both frontiers. Note that the number of fighter squadrons is down to 31 against a sanctioned strength of 42.5. Add to this serviceability issue, and the actual number of fighters at our disposal at any given time is even fewer. The induction of 36 Rafale fighters has indeed boosted airpower in aircraft terms. But absolute numbers do indeed matter since India must always prepare for a two-front war across a vast northern border and massive coastline. The Union Government must diversify the procurement program, speed up indigenous production, and phase out the remaining MiG-21s well before the 2025 deadline. Do it on a war footing, please.