Lens on HAL as 2 IAF pilots killed in Mirage crash

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New Delhi, Feb 1 (IANS) The crash of an Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage 2000 jet in Bengaluru has again brought Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under the lens as the aircraft was on an acceptance sortie after being upgraded at the state-run aircraft production facility.

Squadron leaders Samir Abrol and Siddharth Negi who died in the crash were test pilots from the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE). They were to test the recently upgraded aircraft before its induction into IAF.

This is the second crash of HAL-handled aircraft after a Jaguar came down near Khushinagar in Uttar Pradesh four days ago. Luckily, there was no casualty in the earlier incident.

The crash comes a day after Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said at a conference in New Delhi that the Indian Air Force’s support to HAL had affected its combat capabilities. While denying reports that the IAF made changes to the parameters for Tajas and contributed to its delay, he said, “We have made concessions for HAL, but will the enemy make any concession for us when we face them in battle?”

The air chief also said that additional production of Su-30 had been delayed by over two years and LCA production commitment had been delayed by over six years.

This is not the first time that an IAF fighter jet has crashed while being tested at a HAL facility. In July 2018, an Su-30 had crashed in Nashik where the Russian-made aircraft is produced by HAL for the IAF.

Air vice marshal (retd.) Manmohan Bahadur told IANS that it is premature to conjecture about the Mirage crash. “As it happened on the acceptance sortie, the court of inquiry will look into the HAL processes and quality control,” he said.

The Mirage fleet of the IAF comprising 51 aircraft is being upgraded to Mirage 2000-5 version under a $2.1 billion deal with French aircraft maker Dassault and other partners.

The HAL is integrating the India specific enhancements on the aircraft. The first of these aircraft was upgraded by HAL in July 2016. The initial operational configuration is designed by the Dassault and Thales of France.

The IAF has been unhappy about the work ethics of the HAL as there have been delays in supplying of the aircraft. The HAL is also at the centre of controversy over Rafale fighter jet contract with France. There have been delays in the supplies of Su-30s, Jaguars, Mirage-2000s and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The quality issues have also been raised by the IAF on number of occasions.

Dassault Aviation has picked private Indian entities as partners for Rafale contract leading to major political controversy with the opposition Congress slamming the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for overlooking HAL.

Between 2012-13 and 2016-17, the IAF lost 29 fighter jets including five Sukhoi-30.

— IANS

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