Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Replacing the flying coffin - another funding source

There are around 30 million people of Indian origin around the world. Assuming that even if a third of these are first or second generation "NRIs" with an active interest in what goes on back
"home", there's a population of 10 million people that is resource and knowledge rich and can be tapped for a cause!

In fact after the 2001 Gujarat earthquake when President Clinton asked Prime Minister Vajpayee how he could help, the PM asked the President to mobilize the Indian-American population. Clinton then helped launch the American India Foundation(AIF). This organization later raised millions of dollars for the earthquake victims.

If the government is balking at the very idea of the Mig-21 replacement program because of financing issues, there is no reason why this population can not be tapped through a bond issue. It does not have to be charity, it could be a cess on resident Indian's tax bills, or it could be a bond for NRIs.

Assuming a reasonable coupon rate of 8-10%, and further assuming a face value of USD 1000, the NRIs of the world can help finance the entire purchase of 126 generation four fighter aircraft! The government can then repaay the money with the increasing tax revenues from a booming economy.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Mig-21: The unforgiving plane.

It is not clear how many times the IAF has released the results of a court of inquiry into its crashes. Researching the publicly available material it does not seem to be a frequent event. The crashes are numerous. Publicly known "Official" causes are rare. Some of the secrecy is understandable. If there're issues with your equipment or in your training standards you would not want your enemies to have that information readily available. And yet in order to clear the "misunderstandings among some, and the public", the IAF did make public the result of one investigation as reported here by rediff:


The readers can draw their own conclusions based on the report. The IAF blames the crash on a "slight error in judgement". Perhaps. Only the IAF's experts can judge the "error in judgement". But the same report states that:

" the pilots tried to eject from the aircraft, but the ejection mechanism failed."

No reason specified as to why the ejection system failed. No reason specified as to whose error in judgement led to that failure! Just blame it on the dead guy. Simple.

Here's another article that sites the same crash along with two others:


But here the problem is not an error in judgement. This site states that:

"In all three cases the aircraft suffered loss of power during overshoot because of the malfunctioning of the nozzle. In all the instances, the aircraft were piloted by experienced flyers."

Some fighter. It does not have enough engine power to forgive a "slight error in judgement" and pull up in the skies above Srinagar/Jodhpur/Kalaikonda. It reacts differently than any other airplane in the world (when loosing altitude, open up the throttle and pull up, but wait, on the Mig-21, open up the throttle and wait a few seconds before pulling up.), and yet there is nothing "wrong" with the Mig-21. It's a great fighting machine that won us the 1971 war.

Babur's artillery is great too. There is nothing wrong with it. It was very effective once. Looks pretty menacing even now but belongs in a museaum, and rightly so. So does this aircraft. Let's give our pilots there due. A wannabe super power can afford decent fighters, let's get them some!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Rang De Basanti - Colour my shirt saffron.........

During India's independence struggle from the British, the Indian revolutionaries belonged to two distinct camps. There are many controversies among historians regarding the philosophies and the goals of these two groups. What is non-controversial though is their core beliefs. One camp believed in Mahatma Gandhi's non-violent quest for truth and freedom, thinking that the basic fundamentals of liberty and democracy were true anywhere. The other camp on the other hand believed in an armed struggle against the empire, noting that western especially British history was riddled with violence, and that was the only language the enemy understood.

A pan-Indian group belonging to the second camp was called the Hindustan Republican Association. One of the most famous act of this group was the Kakori conspiracy, where in the revolutionaries looted the British treasury's money bags from a train near Kakori station (in modern U.P, on the New Delhi-Moradabad-Lucknow rail line). The idea of the robbery was hatched primarily by two revolutionaries, Mr. Ram Prasad Bismil and Mr. Asfaqullah Khan. Despite their obvious differences (one was devout Arya Samaji Hindu, the other a Muslim who could quote the Quran!), the two were the best of friends who believed that "their motherland" could only be liberated by armed revolution!

Mr. Bismil and Mr. Khan were eventually both hanged on the same date in different jails for their roles in the case.

Apart from being a revolutionary Mr. Bismil was a poet as well. He once wrote a song, Rang de basanti chola, that is still played across the length and breadth of India on Independence and Republic day holidays. The song calls for Mr. Bismil's mother to colour his shirt "Basanti". The colour Basanti, depending on the context, refers to the yellow colour of mustard blooms that flower all over northern India's agricultural fields come spring, OR it refers to "kesariya" (saffron), the Indian colour of sacrifice and valour. It is for this reason the top most stripe on modern independent India’s tricolour.

For the song both meanings are valid. Bismil would ask for saffron, because he wants to sacrifice everything for his beloved nation. He would also ask for the mustard yellow because it denotes the coming prosperity.

In the year 2001, 54 years after India’s hard won freedom, a young pilot, Flt. Lt. Abhijit Gadgil was leading a two plane sortie in a mock fight in the western Indian state of Rajasthan. A technical failure lead to what the IAF later described as "pilot disorientation", and his Mig-21 crashed within a minute of take off. Initially the IAF attributed the error to "pilot error" and the fact that the pilot "lacked sufficient flying skills".

Why a pilot lacking sufficient flying skills was leading another in mock combat, while being on "watch" duty after the traumatic incidents of 9/11, is a question the IAF never answered. The brave pilot's parents especially his mother were however not ready to accept the IAF's initial version of what took place and kept pressing for the "facts" to be released. The IAF retracted, via a letter from the Air Chief Marshal of India, and did finally acknowledge that the "Court of Inquiry had brought out the most probable cause (and not the conclusively established cause) of the accident was spatial disorientation at night, which may have been triggered by a trim malfunction (technical)." The letter went on to state that "accidents such as this do take place and at times may be beyond the control of any human being."

It is interesting to note that the "black box" of the airplane was not working at the time of the crash. In absence of the flight data recorder, a vital component of the "black box", the IAF COULD NOT have arrived at a conclusively established cause.

Readers should also note that most modern fighters are equipped with electronically displayed "artificial horizons”, terrain proximity warning systems, and other systems that might aid in preventing "spatial disorientation".

Mrs. Gadgil's efforts eventually did lead to her meeting with the President and Defence Minister of India and the retraction from the IAF.

Flt. Lt. Gadgil's tragic story eventually led to the production of a successful "Bollywood" movie called "Rang De Basanti". Although this movie was a box office success, it is interesting to note that it had to be "cleared" by the Indian air force, and does not contain any reference to the pilot or his parents! It also advocates violence in a way that Mrs. Gadgil does not condone herself!

In a very simplistic way, the movie typical of its escapist message, lays the blame on one individual and advocates eliminating that one individual. The fact that the movie did this is in itself not surprising. The Indian film industry banks on such plots (and then wonders why the international world of serious cinema does not take them "seriously"). Without any apologies whatsoever to the filmmakers and actors that profited from this movie, sensationalizing serious issues likes Flt. Lt. Gadgil's death amounts to trivializing them. It does not help their cause.

I suspect, Mr. Bismil and his friend Mr. Khan will not be very pleased with this commercial exploitation of the issue. Especially because it gives the audience a "false closure" by eliminating the bad guy.

We do not yet know what caused Swapnil’s plane to crash. We have heard that his parachute did not deploy.

WE (I, and YOU the reader) need to demand that the IAF publish the results of the CoI. We need to demand that the results of his autopsy be publicly released. And then take it from there……national issues need to be debated nationally. If our brave pilots need a better plane than the venerable but outdated “Vikram” (Mig-21) then so be it. At least the “Gun”(people) should know what is going on in the defence of the “Guntantra” (rule of the people-Hindi for Republic).


Sunday, March 11, 2007

The ejection system.

On March 1st, Swapnil took off with three other Migs for his sortie. ATC at Bagdogra lost contact with him 5 minutes before the plane crashed. By the time Swapnil tried to eject, the aircraft was too low and his parachute did not deploy.

As per the times of india, Swapnil was flying a very old variant (type 77) aka Mig-21FL aka "Fishbed D".


Apparently this variant was not originally equipped with the zero/zero ejection system. The zero/zero system allows a pilot to eject when the airplane is at the ground level and has zero velocity. Most modern figthers are equipped with exactly such a system. In fact the later variants of even the Mig-21 are equipped with this system. The Mig-21 Bis has it.

Soure: http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/IAF/Aircraft/Specs/MiG-21.html

"At about 1966 a new variant was put in service named MiG-21PFM “Fishbed F” which included all the major and minor changes of earlier PF-1/PF-2 models in one (including the SPS & third fin chord increase) and also some new equipment as redesigned cockpit canopy hinging to starboard with conventional windscreen. Problems with older ejection seats led to introduction of
KM-1 zero/zero ejection seats which was to save life of many pilots in future and ongoing conflicts "

Source: http://www.acig.org/artman/publish/article_291.shtml

Did the IAF retrofit this system on type 77 aircraft? If yes, why didn't it work in Swapnil's case? If not, why not? Were there technical difficuties in retrofitting the system? Were there financial considerations? I'm trying to find out. If the reader has any insight at all and would like to share it please leave a comment. If you do not wish to leave a public comment and would like to contact me directly, please send me an email at retirethecoffin@hotmail.com. This id is not linked to the blog in any way.

Friday, March 9, 2007

It's falling from the sky!

Found these statistics:

Number of Mig-21 crashes between April 1992 and March 2002 --- 102
Number of Mig-21 crashes between Oct 1963 and August 2003 --- 315

Source: http://www.warbirdsofindia.com/Crashes/index.html

So we lost 315 of these aircraft in 40 years? Thats an average of around 8 aircraft per year! Lately the average has accelerated to 10 per year! Made me wonder how many were in service to begin with. As per this site:


the total number is 910. The crash rate is there fore 35% of all aircraft that served in the IAF. Of these only 1, exactly 1 was lost in combat(as per the same site).

It isn't as if the term "flying coffin" was invented over night. Even in the parliament questions have been raised around these crashes:

"MIG accidents
Will the Minister of DEFENCE be
pleased to state:
(a) how many MIG-21 aircrafts have
met with accidents during the last three
(b) what were the causes of these
(c) whether any inquiry committee was
appointed to find out the various reasons
therefor; and
(d) if so, the details thereof?"

List of Questions for WRITTEN ANSWERS
to be asked at a sitting of the Rajya Sabha to be held on
Wednesday, the December 14, 2005/Agrahayana 23, 1927 (Saka)


I was not able to find the defence minister's answer to this question on the web.

The options

While the LCA has been delayed, recently two foreign aircraft have emerged as strong contenders to replace the Mig-21. The F18 and the Mig-35. They are both very different, and the exact evaluation can only be conducted by the IAF based on its need.

For the first time in history however, the US is offering India one of its premier strike aircraft. Actually it is offering more than that. The whole gamut of the offers represents a radical shift in the US policy towards India.

“Its goal is to help India become a major world power in the 21st century … We understand fully the implications, including military implications, of that statement.”

Senior US official commenting on the 2005 agreement between the US and India
Source: http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/819

"In the F-18, we have arguably the most advanced fighter in the world. If we win the contract, we offer the opportunity of entering into a joint production arrangement with an Indian defense contractor,"

Chris Chadwik, Boeing Vice President and General Manager, Global Strike Systems

"Should the deal come through, India will be the first country outside the U.S. where the F-18 is produced."

Source: http://www.iacfpa.org/p_news/nit/iacpa-archieve/2007/02/23/Topic_Of_The_Week083605.shtml

The company we keep......

Wikipedia's entry on the Mig-21 is pretty comprehensive:


It praises the aircraft for what it once was. A formidable fighting machine of the late1960s-early 1970s. In fact it was one of the factors in India's decisive victory over Pakistan in 1971. But it has since outlived it's usefulness.

This fact is highlighted on the map in the wikipedia entry of current and former users of the plane.

The current users include countries in Africa, Cuba, Mongolia, Iran and of course India! For a nation where politicians routinely talk about becoming a super power....the stark truth is highlighted by the company we keep.