In another tragic Indian Air Force accident, a Mirage 2000 trainer aircraft crashed on Friday after taking off from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited airport in Bangalore, killing two IAF officers – Squadron Leaders Siddartha Negi and Samir Abrol. The aircraft crashed soon after taking off, suggesting a possible problem with landing gear. The accident adds to a growing list of IAF aircraft crashes in recent years. The Bangalore mishap comes days after a Jaguar fighter crashed in UP’s Kushinagar. All of this is indicative of a deeper problem with aircraft inventory and maintenance.

It’s well known that IAF has a severe shortage of aircraft. It’s down to 30 fighter squadrons, which in another few years will be whittled further to 26. In contrast, much smaller Pakistan will have 25 fighter squadrons by 2021. IAF’s woes are due to a combination of ageing aircraft, tardy progress on indigenous production, and slow pace of induction of foreign imports. This has created a situation where decades-old aircraft like the Mirage 2000 have to be upgraded to extend their operational lifespan. The aircraft that crashed in Bangalore was one such upgrade.

This ‘Jugaad’ approach simply cannot continue. It undermines our defence preparedness and puts our servicemen at risk. We need to ramp up indigenous production and create an American-style military-industrial complex. This requires greater participation of the private sector. Defence PSUs have a terrible track record as exemplified by the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas project, which has taken more than three decades to reach the induction phase. Of course, only experienced private players should get big-ticket contracts for defence production and maintenance. Controversies like Rafale are avoidable. Nonetheless, Indian PSUs’ bureaucratic work culture is notorious and relying exclusively on them will mean, essentially, a Third World defence production and maintenance setup.