Bad Days for IAF: Who Should Take Responsibility?

When it rains, it pours. For the Indian Air Force (IAF), it’s been pouring misery for three months.

In yet another loss, a MiG-27 UPG ex-AFS Uttarlai near Barmer, Rajasthan crashed on 31st Mar 2019. This is the 9th loss of an aircraft this year that has already claimed nine air warriors. Of these, a MiG-21 Bison & a Mi-17 V5 were lost during the Indo-Pak air skirmish on 27th Feb 19. Rest are peacetime losses.

Every Service Has Its Downturns

Sometimes, a spate of accidents with no apparent correlation may occur in quick succession. There would be temptation to jump out of our chairs and scream blue murder. But that’s not how it works. Safety analysts pour through tons of database to arrive at important metrics such as accident rate per number of hours flown, cause classification, contributory factors etc before drawing conclusions. Such data may well lie outside the ambit of an average netizen today.

Not surprisingly, there are alarmist reactions on social media in the immediate aftermath of every accident today. The latest MiG-27 crash ignited another round of hysteria that media and Twitterati feasted on for a few hours. Then it was business as usual. This is election season and the pilot had bailed out safely. There must be stories with bigger news peg. What chance does a downed MiG-27 stand?

Is the Present Trend Really Something to Worry About?

In the absence of accident statistics in public media, only those who are ‘inside’ & ‘privy’ will know the real facts. I am not one of them anymore. One hopes that the situation doesn’t fall into a ‘those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind’ description.

The website theidioms.com describes “when it rains, it pours” to mean one of the following:

  • to have a good or bad news enlarged by circumstances
  • something good or bad occurring multiple times within a short span of time
  • it is used when several issues come together

Let us examine recent crashes in that light.

Good or Bad News Enlarged by Circumstances?

There was a time when such crashes occupied a small corner in some tabloid or newspaper. Most read like an obituary. Even fatal crashes hardly drew public attention, unless it was some high-visibility event or claimed a large number of lives.

Today, there is social media and instant outrage. Sometimes, the story breaks on Twitter before it reaches an ‘Ops Room’. That sets off immediate, often hyperbolic debate, mud-slinging and trading of charges before even the fire trucks have pulled out. This has immense potential for magnifying minutiae irrelevant to the accident. It also has the power to (briefly) overwhelm giants or set off witch hunts. Often, such misdirected energy leads nowhere.

Remember, the 1st Feb 2019 crash of Sid & Sam’s Mirage 2000 at Bengaluru’s HAL Airport? Inept handling of public communication by HAL and IAF fuelled much speculation and spewed vitriol into public space. This was quickly milked by political opportunists.

Soon, it will fade from public memory. In due course, some report will be tabled, ‘giants’ who are guilty will escape while minions will get punished. The lid will be put back on the can of worms. That’s been the pattern for years.

What Should Change & At What Cost?

Can public outrage be taken as  a ‘term of reference’ for accident investigation or corrective action? A purist would say no. Thankfully, so far that hasn’t been the case, at least in the services. But we all know the depravity of Nirbhaya case that sparked a nationwide movement which led to Justice Verma Commission and crucial reforms. To quote a report from The Quint, “the Committee’s huge 644-page report, which was published within a month, for once didn’t just end up gathering dust at the Law Ministry, but instead formed the basis of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act of 2013, after first being implemented as an ordinance.”

In Aviation, Band Aid Fixes Don’t Work

Sadly, in aviation, knee-jerk reactions or ‘band-aid’ fixes don’t work. Recall Lion Air Flight 610 of 29th Oct 2018? It took Ethiopian Flight 302 and another 157 lives lost in Mar 2019 for bringing a global giant to heel? The worldwide outrage ultimately grounded the entire 737 MAX fleet, albeit at a huge cost of lives.

But can enduring solutions be rustled up under popping flashbulbs, a frothing media and people baying for blood? In evolving aviation ecosystems like ours, the temptation for such drama & resultant fixes can be overwhelming.

“Something good or bad occurring multiple times within a short span of time”

In aviation, something good is happening all the time. There’s a reason flying is the safest mode of transportation today. There are numerous systems and ‘system of systems’ ensuring every takeoff is followed by a safe landing. If all MiGs were ‘obsolete’, ‘outdated’ or ‘flying coffins’, it would be raining MiG debris instead of space debris from ASAT weapons. That’s hardly the case, though we may soon get there if policy paralysis prevails over modernisation.

Yet, safety is not the absence of accidents. Neither should it dull us into believing ‘all is well’ or ‘we know it all’. Remember the ‘Winged Stallions’ horrific midair collision of two naval IL-38s in Oct 2002. A flypast to celebrate 25 years of accident/incident free flying ended in a huge smouldering wreck outside INS Hansa, killing all aboard and few on ground.

Is There Room For Complacency?

When something bad occurs multiple times within a short span of time, there could be cause for concern. I think the IAF may be at that juncture today. Nine accidents with as many lives lost within three months calls for an operational pause. I sounded this caution soon after the Surya Kiran midair that killed Wg Cdr Sahil Gandhi. Three crashes have taken place since then. Basking in national limelight, goaded by a government hardening its stand, modernization still a far cry, is it possible that we have become complacent and cavalier in our approach?

Normalization of Deviance

Diane Vaughan, an American sociologist who spent her career studying organisations where deviations from rules and practices become the norm coined the term ‘Normalisation of Deviance’. An article in Flight Safety Australia quotes her definition of this syndrome as ‘the gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become acceptable. As the deviant behaviour is repeated without catastrophic results, it becomes the social norm for the organisation’. I quoted these lines after a MiG-29K crash at Goa. It’s deja vu again.

We as a nation may have taken this a step further. Through repeated catastrophic events, we seem to have developed an appetite for unacceptable practices & standards. Recall with what seriousness the IAF & MoD treated the 27th Feb 2019 crash of a Mi-17 V5 that now appears to be a case of fratricide? Led by pied pipers from media, misplaced nationalistic fervour and struggling PR mechanism of IAF, we walked up the garden path chanting ‘Abhinandan’ while six devastated families watched in horror.

Even now, there is a serious risk of drawing unequal comparisons and diluting the gross failure at various levels this accident points to. Comparison with US forces or Pakistan is sheer idiocy. The US has been fighting real battles all over the world 365/24/7. Pakistan is below par for any such comparison. We skirmish for two days, lose two aircraft, six crew, against a low-order adversary and still come out smelling of roses? What if it was China?

‘Normalization of deviance’ should not be developed into a fine art of ignoring glaring shortfalls, glossing over disasters of our own making, & then proceeding to join the public charade on streets.

For starters, how about releasing at least a preliminary statement about what happened to the Mi-17V5 on 27th Feb 2019? Why is ‘ziplip’ still in force? Is this ‘moral code of conduct’ for the fallen? Why are we still basking in glory from a MiG21 Bison-vs-F16 dogfight?

Several Issues Have Come Together

I believe, true to the idiom, several issues have conspired in recent years to land calamitous outcomes at the doorstep of our armed forces. Without belabouring the bureaucracy and civil-military faultlines, let’s look at some in-house issues.

First and foremost is the utter opacity of flight safety statistics of all three services to public scrutiny. Gigabytes of videos, photos, court of inquiry reports and such other evidence from air accidents lie buried in files and hard disks at service headquarters. Much of this data may implicate ‘giants’ – PSUs like HAL, DRDO, OFB etc. Even as aircrew die or get court martialled every year, can you recall even one case which saw one official from any other agency implicated, tried and charged with culpable homicide?

Maybe there’s reason for this. The service is full of ‘ayaram gayarams‘ (Johnny come latelys) while well-entrenched babus & managers inhabit corridors of power & PSUs. What’s worse, we have become so subservient and spineless that well-entrenched lobbies almost always outpace & outlast us. Politics & pseudo-nationalism have seized upper hand. Today, to speak a word against such agencies immediately ignites an ‘us versus them’ debate that obfuscates real issues with no prospects of long-term enhancement. In the resultant smokescreen, real culprits elude us. So does real change.

Get Serious Already. Own Up

Safety of aviation is rooted as much in honesty and integrity as it is in pure sciences. Eternal vigilance is the price of safety. Beware the temptation to fall for rhetoric and scream from rooftops. That achieves nothing except an election ticket. Also beware of shooting messengers & minions.

Please declassify and put in open domain all possible air accident reports. Shed the cloak & dagger approach.

Make our accident/incident statistics available for public scrutiny. I am afraid, there’s blood on everyone’s hands. Some are so deep into the red that even prison sentences may not suffice.

If secrecy or national security makes that impractical, at least have an impartial, bipartisan agency audit our accident statistics from time to time. These days, even CAG audits are not free from political manipulation. Even if they are above board, normalization of deviance & unabashed denial should not become the norm.

If any agency is found culpable, go the whole hog and press charges, just like you would on hapless crew in uniform. Heads must roll, even if that head sits in a Chairman / CEO office or in North or South Block.

After a series of accidents and safety lapses, Naval Chief Adm DK Joshi resigned in 2014. Though poignant, it changed nothing. Recently, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa quoted Bob Dylan’s epic ‘blowin’ in the wind‘. Well, the same song also has a line “how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”

Who should take accountability for the mess IAF finds itself in today? Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa? Or higher ups?

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©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2019. All rights reserved. I can be reached at kipsake1@gmail.com. Views are personal. Cover photo courtesy Birdiethebird99 via his Instagram account.

 

 

23 thoughts on “Bad Days for IAF: Who Should Take Responsibility?

  1. Beautifully illustrated the philosophy behind the bad days in aviation. Thought talked about Air Force in particular it applies to civil aviation too.

    Few basic factors which ultimately govern the advent of good bad and ugly in aviation are :

    1. Flying by man is an unnatural act and hence it will always be prone to disasters as it always happens when we tweak nature.

    2. Having taken to skies we have decided to take the risk…the only option left is to minimise the chances of disasters.

    3. The Basics of flying remain the centre figure irrespective of advancement and automation we make. Whenever we deviate from basics, disaster strikes. Recent example…though not an accident, British aircraft goes and lands at Edinburgh when it was to land in Germany. So heavily dependent was the system that the Pilot who should have known where is he flying his plane to (The basic and foremost data) and where is the plane heading for. And the whole operations was sleeping while flight following.

    4. Civil Flying is there to stay and it also has to earn to fly and remain in the air. Commercial aspect can not be burried under carpet. However there is very thin space between Commercial profit line and Safety. Whenever the commercial factor breaches that line disaster strikes.
    With increasing competition and cheaper air travel there is huge pressure resulting in commercial line closing the gap with safety and causing disasters…The Boeing episode is latest example. In order to match the Airbus they are literally dusted and out due commercial pressure.

    5. Lastly there is too much eagerness to replace the man behind the machine…that too with inadequate training (to handle failures) and redundency. Need to be careful here…..Man behind the machine whether in air or ground has to be in command, both…before and after the failure of the system which sadly is not the case.

    6. We need advancement but with man behind machine always in command with adequate training and preparedness.

    1. Some pertinent points about equipment and procurement, but little else.

      You make a point about malpractices creeping in and becoming norms in organizations. But how is that relevant? What has happened or what do you know as to even suggest that it may have happened?

      So perhaps there was fratricide on 27thFebruary. The saddest of all losses. ‘Friendly fire’. But to insinuate that the MoD/ IAF treated the loss with a lack of seriousness, is being completely judgemental. How on earth did you arrive at that conclusion? What makes you think a serious investigation is not underway? And what would you have the MoD/ IAF do when they are effectively in the middle of an air battle?

      Stop everything else and talk about the crash? To immediately announce that ‘Sorry guys! We shot our own.’?

      And you belittle the situation they were in. I do not know if you have ever been in the situation. But no matter what your background, second guessing what the situation was like at Srinagar on a day and at a time when a large force had actually dropped bombs, and an air battle had taken place, sitting in your armchair, wherever it may be, is simply not correct.

      I think, one should trust some institutions to be able to investigate fairly and take corrective action.

      But is it realistic for a military force to put all its investigations out in the open? Why? To what end? Only to lay itself open to our enemy across the border? And so a lot of retired officers can offer advice?

      You yourself said that there are no quick fix solutions for the situation the IAF finds itself in. Procurement delays go beyond the services. And that Admiral Joshi’s resignation was ‘poignant but useless’. Then why even suggest the resignation of ACM Dhanoa?

      That last bit really robbed the article of whatever gravitas it had and reduced it to one written to show off own knowledge really.

      Disappointed. Expected much better from someone who I feel has so much knowledge.

      1. Treating the subject as immediate response to recent air accidents is possibly misaligned. Considering primary objective of investigation for taking ‘lessons learnt’ from an event is a possible ‘take back home’ point.

        There have been serious accidents in history of Indian armed forces like anywhere else. However, interestingly, in our case, I don’t recall fingers pointed to anyone other than maintenance/aircrew in uniform. Unusual data, isn’t it? I know a case when an IAF pilot refused to accept ‘pilot’s error’ poem of investigative body leading to a call for assessment by foreign OEM’s representative (Kudos to those supporting his conviction in Air HQs). Guess what, an incorrect procedure in assembly line was established !. But again, no heads rolled for a messed up procedure, near loss of an IAF’s pilot and loss of tax payers money.

        Solace of secrecy for not making investigations public is relevant to a time period (even JFK’s assasination report was released after a recommended time line – https://www.archives.gov/research/jfk/warren-commission-report/letter.html) ). No piece of information should veil a confidential/secret/top secret status forever.

        But, let’s say it does, is there an established procedure/organisation that undertakes independent investigation for aviation accidents related to armed forces without taking it to public domain, and ensures actions on established shortfalls. I am happy to be educated if this exists.

        Finally, I’ll align with the statement, “I think, one should trust some institutions to be able to investigate fairly and take corrective action”, if it isn’t proposing blind faith.

        Thanks

      2. Let me illustrate the ‘malpractices becoming norms’ with a couple of incidents on an aircraft that is now history. Nearly 3 decades ago, a fellow pilot and I reached Kochi to accept an aircraft after its fourth-line servicing for our squadron based in the emerald isles. When we reached the depot, we found 79 defects during the walkaround ALONE. It was very evident that they hadn’t even touched the aircraft, a venerable old lady in much need of TLC.

        The leader of the acceptance team wanted to inform the squadron boss the state of the aircraft; the station CO wouldn’t approve the signal drafted by the team leader, wouldn’t let him near the fax machine. When this conscientious guy sent a fax with his own money from a local STD booth, all hell broke loose, with ‘national security’ being amongst ‘transgressions’ being invoked.

        We eventually got the aircraft into some sort of flying order, but when it failed the third check flight (or air test, for the IAF folks), the Air boss of the station took it upon himself to PERSONALLY carry out the check flight and declare the aircraft serviceable. The next day, when we got airborne for our return, we can back half an hour later with an unserviceability.

        A day later, we eventually left Kochi, 3 weeks into a 1-week duty, and eventually reached our destination, the final leg of which included a 5.5-hour flight across the Bay of Bengal. Two days later, the aircraft engine came down in a problem, which eventually resulted in an engine-change that had to be done in the remote islands, far removed from good equipment and expertise.

        What if that engine had failed in the middle of the Bay of Bengal? If the aircraft, and our bodies, had not been recovered? (the bay is 4 kilometers deep at that point). Would anyone have pointed out in the BOI that 2 young lieutenants were literally bullied by a Commodore, a Captain and any number of commanders into accepting an aircraft that was patently unfit to fly? I guess not; the findings would probably have been ‘pilot error’.

        The second incident: A couple of years later, I was flying the same aircraft out of Vizag; summer temperatures had hit 45∘C and pilots were complaining that the aircraft performance was very sluggish. I hit the books, and was mortified to discover that the aircraft wasn’t supposed to fly in temperatures exceeding 38∘C. A performance presentation that I made to the big kahunas fell on deaf ears, and we were told to continue flying the aircraft ‘keeping operational considerations in mind’.

        In all the while I was in the navy, safety practices were routinely discarded for ‘operational reasons’, all with approvals from the higher-ups who were typically not aviators, or if they were, they hadn’t flown in a while or on the aircraft type. Operator (read: pilots & observers) recommendations were routinely sidelined.

        I could point out a hundred other examples that we heard of happening in other squadrons, but enough said. Yes, ‘malpractices becoming norms’ was the ugly truth that the pilots were powerless to change.

  2. Very bold article sir. You highlighted the important issues which are burried by various organization for their personal gain.
    Raturi

  3. The Congress party should be blamed for this. They we’re busy making money,involved in scandal,never bothered to augment our defence forces, in their tenure,not a single state of the art fighter was procured,they backed out from Rafales deal saying country has no money but,they made money from the country. Rogue party.

  4. Its a fact in our country that politicians and buraecacy are never responsible for any defence related fiasco. We may continue loosing trained manpower and expensive assets with no accoubtability. Blame it on rio.

  5. An articulate article which ends up leaving the mind messier than before.
    What does it really want to convey?

    On one hand it blames the unaccountability of the bureaucracy as was highlighted by no action even after DK Joshi resigned….on the other hand,it sermonises on ethics and morals.

    While almost all Courts of Inquiry are accessible by RTI, the article does not refer to this mode. As an elaborate yet comprehensive exercise, these courts take at least 6 months to complete. However, like in a autocracy, this article demands immediacy over depth.

    Aviation is an unnatural activity and thus a demanding profession. As the author himself is an aviator, it confounds the reader to traverse the roller coaster of the author’s thoughts as they smash into every canyon and abruptly rise into every peak.
    There needs to be a common thread and if timely accountability is what is being demanded, I am sure that the author being a naval aviator can rightfully wait till he sails past the roaring forties (the initial 60 days) towards the equator (120-180 days) for calm seas and fair winds !

    1. Allow me to bust the RTI myth: when I was JD Flight Safety for the IN, we received an RTI asking for Harrier accidents over the years, with causes for each as determined by the COI. My well-tabulated reply horrified my boss; he watered it down till the content was meaningless. When he took it up the ladder, HIS boss took the decision that the release of such information was ‘not in the national security interest’ and the petitioner never received the information.

      Forget outsiders; since the COIs/BOIs are classified “confidential”. I was unable to publish them in the Naval Flight Safety Journal, even in a watered down state. All pleas to declassify the BOIs fell on deaf ears. Some old BOIs were declassified, but by then the aircraft for which the BOIs were declassified had been withdrawn from service and the lessons learnt were so limited that publishing their reports in the Meatball were exercises in futility.

      The ICAO requires that initial reports on accidents should be published within 30 days; this was indeed the case in the previous 2 accidents that occurred on the B737 MAX. Why then should a IAF/IN enquiry take 6-8 months or longer? And – more to the point – why then should it be spirited away in an obscure corner of a cupboard, only to see the light of day 30 years later?

      There was another case in which I wrote an impassioned 3-page file noting pointing out the (obvious) factors in a Kamov accident – a slice of the Swiss Cheese that the BOI had not covered. That noting was eventually expunged from the file and the cause listed as ‘pilot error’.

      I have seen this at close quarters – senior officers, at the HQ level, in a position to actually do something, pulling wool over their own eyes, all the while ignoring disquieting information coming up from the frontlines.

      I’m with Kaypius on this one.

  6. Responding to Gaurav & Anant.

    Firstly, thanks for corroborating that ‘perhaps’ there was fratricide. I was awaiting confirmation from MoD. Gullible as we are, we always spill the beans on WhatsApp groups & official reports follow weeks later. Mull over this.

    Secondly, where’s the question of ‘belittling’? You want to join a derailed national discourse full of election propaganda? Is it a crime to ask for data? Twitter is awash with ‘expert’ explanations while those ‘serving’ are still writing file notings & accounting for losses. What can be more belittling than falsified data?

    If you want me to seek recourse to RTI for accident stats and accountability, good luck to those still in uniform. I am sure the ‘giants’ who always escape culpability must be smiling at your comment.

    This is not about ‘naval aviator versus air warrior’, IAF vs Navy, etc. Please read deeper. My article has many links where I have been equally unsparing of my criticism of all things wrong – blue, white or OG.

    Anant says aviation is an ‘unnatural activity’. Well, the same was said of homosexuality before Supreme Court stepped in. Don’t hide in closets. Come out. No service or what they do is beyond question; not in a mature democracy as we purport to be.

    To sail through the ‘roaring forties’ one needs balls of steel, a strong hull and deft helm, all of which seem to be missing from your argument. A force dealing with agression from a supposedly weaker adversary can do much better than seek concessions for ‘fog of war’.

    For the record, I am not seeking ACM Dhanoa’s scalp. I have the greatest regard for air warriors. My best years were spent with you. The question I raised in the end was directed towards higher ups who watch in glee while we spar with each other & commit ‘fratricide’ willingly

  7. In 2003 I presented a paper at Silver Jubilee of RCMA Helicopters where they wanted me to speak on a benign subject like helicopters in naval use. I chose to speak on Continued Airworthiness and how such concepts must apply to HAL etc. The audience included many from HAL and they vigorously argued that HAL is a ‘design approved’ firm and thus such independent scrutiny isn’t essential. My paper had doses of examples that pointed to why such independent scrutiny of procedures and processes is essential. I suspect in 2019 too a concept like Continued Airworthiness must be eluding our systems. A quote that I have been using every now and then reads .. ‘Safety requires more than good engineering. It takes independent regulation, and a meticulous, self-critical safety culture that endlessly searches for risks it might have missed.
    ‘the dream that failed’ (after the Fukushima disaster)
    The economist mar 10a, 12’

  8. A good time to take a hard look inside. Past the rhetoric and the chest thumping. The author summarises the need of the hour in his unique articulate manner.

    Pillai Sir points towards a recurring common thread, which somehow the collective misses in the run up to achieve year end targets, all for what? A wife missing a husband or children never to see their father again?

    A couple of comments here completely missed the wood for the trees. It’s not about armchair bashing, Gents. The author begs a national communion on the subject of adopting a culture of safety. Owning responsibility requires balls of steel, so don’t shoot the messenger.

    Sadly, this seems to be the one recurring theme amongst many others plaguing the system. When there’s calamity in the heart, destruction is inevitable. HFACS was introduced a long while back, but how many times has anyone aligned the Swiss Cheese holes?

  9. The article trivializes a large number of accidents to propagate a faulty hypothesis. Since beginning of 2019, IAF has lost 7 aircraft of which 2 were lost in operations. Further, 13 losses in the entire financial year of 2018-19, which includes 2 in operations and 2 Hawks in the same mid-air collision accident. Not counting the operational loss of Mi-17, IAF has had 3 fatal accidents. Effectively, IAF has suffered 10 Cat-I accidents in 2018-19, which is not different form rate suffered over the years. 3 of the 10 accidents involve MiG-27, which are being phased out this year. In addition, 1 MiG-21 Bison squadron will also be phased out this year. The Mirage 2000 accident was of a HAL aircraft not with IAF at that time. Operations are still on in Srinagar, notwithstanding a Court of Inquiry is already in progress to identify the cause of Mi-17 accident. While it may be easy for some to casually mention about fratricide but IAF needs to ascertain if it was indeed a fratricide and if so then why. The entire AD weapons deployment and the identification process has to be analysed, which cannot be openly discussed to satisfy few people as it will be a gift to the adversary. It is not right to discuss operational situations without actually being in it or having experienced it. Downing a F-16 in a MiG-21 in a live combat is a historic and heroic achievement, which cannot be ignored in any circumstances. In fact the entire world fighter fraternity is discussing it. Every IAF accident has been reported in the media and no attempt has been made to hide any information. Courts of Inquiry into aircraft accidents cannot be put into public domain as it will not contribute beyond creating a frenzied debate on the social media. Once an accident is reported, any expert or witness can volunteer to contribute in the investigations by writing to Aerospace Safety Directorate in Air HQ. Let’s not unnecessarily pull down the IAF, specally when it’s is engaged in live operations and the accident rate of the year is not alarming as compared to earlier years

    1. Most respectfully disagree, Air Marshal. By partitioning the accidents into different baskets (including attributing M2000 to HAL) and window dressing the statistics, aren’t you trivializing the issue? Like I said before, this is not about IAF versus Navy or blue versus green. It’s about our denial mode which is on abundant display here. And that cuts across services. Thank you for reading and sharing your views. Regards, KPS

    2. Please permit me to differ a bit from your views. I did not get the impression that the intention of the blogger was to pull down the IAF, or ask Tony to retire!!!! It highlights some systemic flaws in our organisation, which do exist. Having worked in military and civil aviation, and also from within the aerospace industry of the country, I believe that systemic flaws do exist. Military aviation deficiencies can still be controlled, civil aviation norms, regulatory systems and accident/incident investigations have to be seen to be believed. Our politico-industry-military combo have indeed normalised some deviances.

      We all understand the constraints of the economy and politics of acquisitions, but having been part of the organisation that is at the wrong end of the deals, let us allow someone to put forward his views, without doubting his intentions.

      The F16 kill is indeed praiseworthy, but it will not happen regularly. Better equipment is not a luxury…..it is an inescapable necessity of deterrence.

  10. A good wake up call KPS. But any wake up call is treated with hatred like the alarm clock. Along with the article the comments make it interesting. I feel the article touched a raw nerve because of its inability to openly put a finger on the fault line. In my experience all the accidents in the IAF are thoroughly investigated. But the scope of the terms of reference limits itself to the immediate cause. The hapless aircrew / technician or controllers are the fall guys. The larger causes like the HAL, MoD and political indifference/ greed go scot free. Ambitious senior officers can also be put in this category in some cases. The article hints at this but falls short in arriving at a conclusion. The end is left open ended. Probably it was not possible to reach a conclusion in varying cases. But a few common fault lines could have been brought out.
    This article has been circulated in various WhatsApp groups. The comments there are more forthcoming. I do not see the same here. Like you said, accepting a problem is 75% of the solution. But we should not expect the COIs to probe every problem from its genesis. The CoIs are only reactions. It is not that we do not have the ability to identify a problem beforehand. What we do lack is the ability to speak up. And it has nothing to do with blue, white or og.

  11. Hi Kaypius,

    Every write up or blog should have a central theme. A good article should have a central thesis and then give arguments supporting the thesis. Unlike your previous blogs, this one lacks this singular aspect. You meander from number of accidents (without analysing their reasons), give credence to a ‘fratricide’ theory, talk about holding DRDO and HAL responsible, and then talk about holding the CAS responsible for the accidents without any proof. I couldn’t find a thread that connected any of these things together in your article. You shoot from the hip without any defined target hoping to hit something and grab eyeballs.

    I will now analyse your article by highlighting the headings from it prove the disjointness of your arguments. Let’s examine your headings one by one :

    A) “Every service has its downturns”. You post a catchy headline but runaway from explaining it at all. In fact, you end up dissing your headline itself by trying to support the services by saying that “there would a temptation to jump out of the chairs and scream blue murder. But this is not how it works.” Further you added that ,”the latest MiG27 crash led to hysteria from the twitterati and the media”. Well, nothing of that sort happened. I am sure people who are responsible to analyse the data will be doing so and taking suitable steps as you would have done in their place. But to call this as a downturn without supporting data is doing grave injustice. For the record, the IAF has lost 10 ac this year including 2 operational losses. 3 MiG 27 aircraft and 1 MiG21 Bison aircraft were lost this financial year. That means 40% of the accidents were on the aircraft that are being phased out this year because of their age. The yearly service accident rate for the last year isn’t anything alarming or different as compared to other years. Only thing that has happened is that most of these accidents have got bunched up in the last three months. Should we change our SOPs for this? Sorry to say, while decrying alarmists on raising an issue, you have unwittingly become one. In fact, you do say that you don’t know the facts, but then start the para with a headline that every service goes through a downturn. This is poor writing and very poor editing. So either change your heading or the matter that follows underneath. But one thing is sure, the IAF is not passing through a downturn, and I don’t think there is a need to review anything apart from analysing the records which is part of normal SOP.
    B) “Is there room for complacency?” Again a catchy headline with an obvious answer. But you haven’t established complacency in the first place. Are 7 accidents in three months because of complacency? Was the Mig21 loss while shooting down an F-16 because of complacency? Was losing three MiG27’s, an old fighter that will be retired by the end of this year because of complacency? Was the M-2000 crash in HAL Bengaluru because of IAF complacency. Are any of the accidents related to poor IAF staff work or strategic planning which could be because of the current higher echelons. The answer is an obvious NO. So how did you come up to your italicised conclusion in your blog that “IAF may be at this critical juncture today?” Please don’t mix politics and election time with services in your blog. What has the accidents got to do with the elections. How many times in your service in the Navy did you alter your flight safety practices because of state or national elections. The answer probably is a big and fat ZERO. Why do you think the present lot would do anything different? Sorry, but catchy headlines without any evidence is rumour mongering and not appreciated.
    C) “Normalisation of Deviance?” If there is any deviance, that is about an ageing MiG21 shooting down a fancied F-16, the best Pakis have against us. Everybody knows that this couldn’t have been achieved without impeccable training routines, radar and fighter crew coordination, and bravery on part of the pilot. Why should we not bask in glory about the MiG21 shooting a F-16? Has it ever been done before anywhere in the world? How can you comment on the Mi-17 accident without the official enquiry being complete. Don’t comment on Whatsapp forwards as the app itself is facing worldwide condemnation for being a platform for rumour mongering. How do you know that things are being swept under the carpet? You think that people occupying the chairs in the Air HQ are not bothered about each and every accident? You think that corrective actions wouldn’t be taken if there was any issue with the accident that requires the services to take up the matter at a suitable time and level. Please don’t be gullible enough to want an immediate response like a political party and reduce the debate to plebian levels. Even the enquiry hasn’t been completed. With the forces on continous alert everyday, you want to focus on the Mi-17 crash? And you want the media to sensitively handle these issues during election time? Wake up and smell the coffee. Get out from the self imposed stupor. There are well meaning and good people in all the services who will do the job that needs to be done at the right time. Any other insinuation needs to be treated with the contempt it deserves and lowers your own standing as a writer and thinker.
    D) “Several Issues have come together” This para is full of multiple themes and innuendos namely, release flight safety data to catch the inefficiency of HAL/ DRDO, services are full of “aayaram/ gayaraams” ( very poor taste, I must say ), pseudo nationalism etc. What are you trying to say? Your argument about making the flight safety data public to nail the PSU’s and DRDO is seriously flawed. One really has to be naïve to think that a public discourse on flight safety statistics will improve the working of HAL/DRDO. It is also unimaginable that real change will come through Arnab hosting a one hour debate on flight safety statistics of Air Force or the Navy. As a bystander and a small contributor in the pressure that is being applied on HAL since 2010 by IAF, several changes are already visible. But a nuanced debate is impossible in the media. Don’t be like many arm chair theorists who want instant change. That is impossible.
    E) Get Serious Already. Own Up. Own up to what? Which country makes the report on every accident of its armed forces public and holds its manufacturing agencies agencies responsible publicly? You yourself retract the suggestion in the following para itself knowing its absurdity. You suggest a independent body and then trash the suggestion by indicating the even CAG is not apolitical anymore. So what makes you think that any new institution made to discuss these things will be apolitical or better than the constant pressure being applied by the Air Force. I have worked in Air Force and on deputation to HAL and seen serious pressure being applied on HAL. While we all would like a magic wand to change everything in HAL, it is impossible. But change is happening. HAL is under pressure. It is making new aircraft without Air Force or Navy money like the i-Hawk or the HTT-40. This is radical departure from the past. You make an argument of asking for a solution to the ‘mess up’ the IAF finds itself in (Again, a statement without any evidence). What mess up are you talking about? The IAF has carried out the first cross border strike in more than three decades with deadly precision in dark night. Pakistan despite its loud denials is yet to take journalists to the site of the strike after more than a month. The IAF has brought down a F-16 with an ageing MiG-21. In fact, in my opinion and if you listen to the majority of the country’s population, IAF is on top of the world today. Its training practices and valour of its pilots’ has led to loss of face for Pakistan and Lockheed Martin has got caught in the crossfire. It has changed the name of its aircraft to F-21 for India because they know that mere version number change wouldn’t work after its aircraft was shot down by a MiG-21. So you want ACM Dhanoa to resign because of the exceptional training standards are visible to the world or IAF’s ability to carry out a strike inside Pakistan and destroying a terrorist camp? I think the answer is a resounding NO. In fact, I am amazed and must question the intentions.

    Kaypius, one needs to write with clarity. Please don’t sensationalize your blogs. Every statement made in your article must have a body of evidence to support it. However, it is shockingly missing. Loose statements and disjointed comments without a unifying thought is not acceptable. Asking for the ACM’s resignation in a moment of glory for the IAF is utterly reprehensible. As you yourself mentioned, these are election times. You need to be careful with your words.

    Hope you will take my statements with a positive spirit. Let’s not trash our institutions and our leaders without a shred of evidence.

    Jai Hind.

    1. Thanks for writing a critique longer than the original article! This is exactly the kind of response expected from people who are in deep denial. Normalisation of deviance is very much alive & kicking as we can all see from your comprehensive coverage. Your point about supporting with more data & facts is well taken. Unfortunately, for this one, there aren’t many sources of information. I am hopeful you are speaking from facts

  12. Hi,

    Every write up or blog should have a central theme. A good article should have a central thesis and then give arguments supporting the thesis. Unlike your previous blogs, this one lacks this singular aspect. You meander from number of accidents (without analysing their reasons), give credence to a ‘fratricide’ theory, talk about holding DRDO and HAL responsible, and then talk about holding the CAS responsible for the accidents without any proof. I couldn’t find a thread that connected any of these things together in your article. You shoot from the hip without any defined target hoping to hit something and grab eyeballs.

    I will now analyse your article after highlighting the headings and what is written below in the same para. Let’s examine your headings one by one :

    A) “Every service has its downturns”. You post a catchy headline but runaway from explaining it at all. In fact, you end up dissing your headline itself by trying to support the services by saying that “there would a temptation to jump out of the chairs and scream blue murder. But this is not how it works.” Further you added that ,”the latest MiG27 crash led to hysteria from the twitterati and the media”. Well, nothing of that sort happened. I am sure people who are responsible to analyse the data will be doing so and taking suitable steps as you would have done in their place. But to call this as a downturn without supporting data is doing grave injustice. For the record, the IAF has lost 10 ac this year including 2 operational losses. 3 MiG 27 aircraft and 1 MiG21 Bison aircraft were lost this financial year. That means 40% of the accidents were on the aircraft that are being phased out this year because of their age. The yearly service accident rate for the last year isn’t anything alarming or different as compared to other years. Only thing that has happened is that most of these accidents have got bunched up in the last three months. Should we change our SOPs for this? Sorry to say, while decrying alarmists on raising an issue, you have unwittingly become one. In fact, you do say that you don’t know the facts, but then start the para with a headline that every service goes through a downturn. This is poor writing and very poor editing. So either change your heading or the matter that follows underneath. But one thing is sure, the IAF is not passing through a downturn, and I don’t think there is a need to review anything apart from analysing the records which is part of normal SOP.
    B) “Is there room for complacency?” Again a catchy headline with an obvious answer. But you haven’t established complacency in the first place. Are 7 accidents in three months because of complacency? Was the Mig21 loss while shooting down an F-16 because of complacency? Was losing three MiG27’s, an old fighter that will be retired by the end of this year because of complacency? Was the M-2000 crash in HAL Bengaluru because of IAF complacency. Are any of the accidents related to poor IAF staff work or strategic planning which could be because of the current higher echelons. The answer is an obvious NO. So how did you come up to your italicised conclusion that “IAF may be at this critical juncture today?” Please don’t mix politics and election time in your blog. What has the accidents got to do with the elections. How many times in your service in the Navy did you alter your flight safety practices because of state or national elections. The answer probably is a big and fat ZERO. Why do you think the present lot would do anything different? Sorry, but catchy headlines without any evidence is rumour mongering and not appreciated.
    C) “Normalisation of Deviance?” If there is any deviance, that is about an ageing MiG21 shooting down a fancied F-16, the best Pakis have against us. Everybody knows that this couldn’t have been achieved without impeccable training routines, radar and fighter crew coordination, and bravery on part of the pilot. Why should we not bask in glory about the MiG21 shooting a F-16? Has it ever been done before? How can you comment on the Mi-17 accident without the official enquiry being complete. Don’t comment on Whatsapp forwards as the app itself is facing worldwide condemnation for being a platform for rumour mongering. How do you know that things are being swept under the carpet? You think that people occupying the chairs in the Air HQ are not bothered about each and every accident? You think that corrective actions wouldn’t be taken if there was any issue with the accident that requires the services to take up the matter at a suitable time and level. Please don’t be gullible enough to want an immediate response like a political party and reduce the debate to plebian levels. Even the enquiry hasn’t been completed. With the forces on continous alert everyday, you want to focus on the Mi-17 crash? And you want the media to sensitively handle these issues during election time? Wake up and smell the coffee. Get out from the self imposed stupor. There are well meaning and good people in all the services who will do the job that needs to be done at the right time. Any other insinuation needs to be treated with the contempt it deserves and lowers your own standing as a writer and thinker.
    D) “Several Issues have come together” This para is full of multiple themes and innuendos namely, release flight safety data to catch the inefficiency of HAL/ DRDO, services are full of “aayaram/ gayaraams” ( very poor taste, I must say ), pseudo nationalism etc. What are you trying to say? Your argument about making the flight safety data public is to nail the PSU’s and DRDO is seriously flawed. One really has to be naïve to think that a public discourse on flight safety statistics will improve the working of HAL/DRDO. It is also unimaginable that real change will come through Arnab hosting a one hour debate on flight safety statistics of Air Force or the Navy. As a bystander and a small contributor in the pressure that is being applied on HAL since 2010 by IAF, several changes are already visible. But a nuanced debate is impossible in the media. Don’t be like many arm chair theorists who want instant change. That is impossible.
    E) Get Serious Already. Own Up. Own up to what? Which country makes the report on every accident of its armed forces public and holds its manufacturing agencies agencies responsible publicly? You yourself retract the suggestion in the following para itself knowing its absurdity. You suggest a independent body and then trash the suggestion by indicating the even CAG is not apolitical anymore. So what makes you think that any new institution made to discuss these things will be apolitical or better than the constant pressure being applied by the Air Force. I have worked in Air Force and on deputation to HAL and seen serious pressure being applied on HAL. While we all would like a magic wand to change everything in HAL, it is impossible. But change is happening. HAL is under pressure. It is making new aircraft without Air Force or Navy money like the i-Hawk or the HTT-40. This is radical departure from the past. You make an argument of asking for a solution to the ‘mess up’ the IAF finds itself in (Again, a statement without any evidence). What mess up are you talking about? The IAF has carried out the first cross border strike in more than three decades with deadly precision in dark night. Pakistan despite its loud denials is yet to take journalists to the site of the strike after more than three months. The IAF has brought down a F-16 with an ageing MiG-21. In fact, in my opinion and if you listen to the majority of the country’s population, IAF is on top of the world today. Its training practices and valour of its pilots’ has led to loss of face for Pakistan and Lockheed Martin. F-16 manufacturer has changed the name of its aircraft to F-21 for India because they know that mere version number change wouldn’t work after its aircraft was shot down by a MiG-21. So you want ACM Dhanoa to resign because of the exceptional training standards or IAF’s ability to do the best under these circumstances? I think the answer is a resounding NO. In fact, I am amazed at your question and must question the intentions.

    Kaypius, one needs to write with clarity. Please don’t sensationalize your blogs. Every statement made in your article must have a body of evidence that is shockingly missing. Loose statements and disjointed comments without a unifying thought is not acceptable. Asking for the ACM’s resignation in a moment of glory for the IAF is utterly reprehensible. As you yourself mentioned, these are election times. You need to be careful with your words.

    Hope you will take my statements with a positive spirit. Let’s not trash our institutions and our leaders without a shred of evidence.

    Jai Hind.

    1. I thought we had settled this few hours ago…or is this friendly fire reloaded?
      Thanks anyways! Belabouring a point repeatedly doesn’t make it true in my world. So let’s just agree to disagree and move on in the true spirit of jointmanship…what say?

    2. Hello Anant,

      Well, although they ‘lost’ the aerial duel, at least Lockheed can take solace in the fact that they have hired top drawer harbingers to predict the future!

      The F-21 was offered to us prior Balakot during Aero India and not after the strikes! 🙂

      Well written comment. Kind Regards.

  13. My two bits – Casualties( life/ property) anywhere need to be investigated by professionals and the right lessons learnt. The lessons then need to be disseminated to all stakeholders, based on the shortcomings, in order that such incidents are not repeated and systems are improved. There is an inherent human tendency to hide stuff especially when loss of lives or public property is involved. Sometimes, there are witchhunts too , to suit a particular narrative. This happens worldwide. Some countries are better than others , have balls of steel, probably and so have better systems. It is a question of probity and accountability, we (as a nation), may have a deficit account on that one. Unfortunately, don’t know for sure whether casualty investigation reports / lessons learned, are disseminated to all sstakeholders in the military itself. Military casualty reports would be difficult to obtain for obvious reasons, but we may be hard pressed to locate reports of casualties in the Merchant Air/ Marine world. However, have seen a report of the US Navy on a recent marine collision. Transparency helps allay unfounded suspicions.
    Instead of asking for heads to roll, we need to ask heads to work as one, to ensure that sad accidents are not repeated. That requires professionalism I and an almost maniac obsession with safety. Ithink the article asks for that – and that should not be too much to ask for, whatever the paucity of data in the article itself !!

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