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Indian Air Force Group Captain Ashish Gupta Dies In MiG-21 Crash At Gwalior

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Indian Air Force Group Captain Ashish Gupta Dies In MiG-21 Crash At Gwalior
Wreckage of the IAF MiG-21 Bison fighter jet lies in a Gwalior field.

The pilot, identified as Group Captain Ashish Gupta, was taking off from an airbase in central India for a combat training mission when the accident occurred. 

A senior fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force died on Wednesday after a MiG-21 Bison fighter jet crashed while taking off at Gwalior.

Group Captain Ashish Gupta was posted with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment where fighter pilots are given operational training,

The Air Force said in a statement on Twitter: “A MiG-21 Bison aircraft of IAF was involved in a fatal accident this morning, while taking off for a combat training mission at an airbase in central India. The IAF lost Group Captain Ashish Gupta in the tragic accident. IAF expresses deep condolences and stands firmly with the family members. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause of the accident.”

The accident happened at the airfield, sources said.

The aircraft, inducted into the Air Force in early 1960s, are often called the “flying coffins” due to their poor safety record. According to official data, more than 20 MiG 21s have been involved in accidents since 2010, according to data shared by the Defence Ministry with the Parliament at different times. Between 2003 and 2013, 38 MiG 21 aircraft crashed. Official data also shows that more than 170 pilots have lost their lives in MiG 21 accidents.

People aware of the details mentioned that the Air Force still has four squadrons of MiG 21, and even though their phasing out was supposed to begin by 2022, the current depleted squadron strength may have delayed that slightly. However, all the four squadrons of the MiG 21 Bisons are likely to be phased out over the next five to six years.

Aviation expert Angad Singh, project coordinator with the Observer Research Foundation think tank, mentioned that the Air Force received the first upgraded MiG 21 Bison aircraft from Russia in September 2001, and the last of these over 120 fighter jets was received in 2008.

The indigenously designed and manufactured Light Combat Aircraft Tejas were to replace the ageing fleet of the MiG 21, even after the upgrades had extended their lives. However, the delay in the Tejas programme has affected the timeline for the MiG 21s being phased out.

The depleting squadron strength has been buffered by the two squadrons of the Rafale fighter jets that were bought from France in 2016 and the 40 LCA Tejas aircraft that are to be delivered to the Air Force soon. However, even with these inductions, the Air Force will have only 29 squadrons, against the sanctioned strength of 42, by 2023.

Minister of State for Defence Shripad Naik informed the Parliament in response to a question on February 3 that “deficiencies in number of fighter squadrons arise from time to time due to obsolescence and phasing out of equipment” and that they are “made good by planned induction, which is a continuous process”.
Naik mentioned that the government has “approved induction of four squadrons of indigenously designed, developed and manufactured Tejas Mk-IA aircraft” and a total of 83 of them are planned to be manufactured by HAL and inducted into the Air Force.

The Indian Hawk
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