Lead­ing from the front

The pos­i­tive re­sults of the solo flight on MiG-21 Type 96 by Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff, IAF, are im­mense and can­not be quan­ti­fied or mea­sured

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On the oc­ca­sion of New Year’s day this year, Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa took over as the 25th Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), In­dian Air Force (IAF), from Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha who pro­ceeded on re­tire­ment. Within two weeks af­ter tak­ing over as the CAS, Air Chief Mar­shal Dhanoa scripted his­tory of sorts when he, while on an of­fi­cial visit to Air Force Sta­tion, Utar­lai in Ra­jasthan, un­der­took a solo flight on the MiG-21 Type 96 com­bat air­craft of the IAF. This was the very first visit by the CAS to a for­ward op­er­a­tional base in the

Western sec­tor af­ter he took over his new ap­point­ment. The stated aim of the visit was “to as­sess op­er­a­tional readi­ness and re­view the morale of the per­son­nel sta­tioned there”.

The Air Chief Mar­shal flew a sor­tie last­ing for around 30 min­utes in the MiG-21 Type 96 sin­gleengine air­craft. The air­craft is also known as the MiG-21M. In his younger days, he had flown the same type of air­craft dur­ing the war in Kargil.

In the op­er­a­tions against the Pak­istani forces en­trenched in the icy heights of Kargil, he had car­ried out sev­eral night strike mis­sions in the moun­tain­ous ter­rain. It was for his role in and con­tri­bu­tion to the vic­tory in Kargil that he was hon­oured with the award of Yudh Seva Medal by the Pres­i­dent of In­dia.

The MiG-21 Type 96, one of the vari­ants in the MiG fam­ily of com­bat plat­forms, was in­ducted into the IAF in the mid-1970s and has now been in ser­vice for over four decades. Over­all, the MiG-21 fleet of the IAF has not en­joyed a good rep­u­ta­tion as it has had a trou­bled his­tory of ac­ci­dents at­trib­ut­able to tech­ni­cal fail­ure or mal­func­tion. The fleet has recorded 22 ma­jor ac­ci­dents in the pe­riod May 2007 to March 2015 as per a re­port of the Par­lia­men­tary Stand­ing Com­mit­tee on De­fence sub­mit­ted to the Par­lia­ment. In fact, the MiG-21 air­craft was dubbed as the “Fly­ing Cof­fin”, a so­bri­quet that would have been some­what dis­com­fort­ing for those fly­ing the air­craft and their fam­i­lies. For­tu­nately for the IAF, this fleet is on the way out and is sched­uled to be re­tired from ser­vice by the end of this decade.

This ac­tion by Air Chief Mar­shal Dhanoa is not with­out prece­dent. Ear­lier on, Air Chief Mar­shal Dil­bagh Singh who was the CAS from 1981 to 1984, and Air Chief Mar­shal A.Y. Tip­nis who held this ap­point­ment from 1998 to 2001, too flew solo mis­sions on the MiG se­ries while on vis­its to op­er­a­tional bases. Af­ter the solo flight, Air Chief Mar­shal Tip­nis had said that he flew the air­craft solo to send a mes­sage to all that the air­craft was safe to fly.

How­ever, fly­ing a solo sor­tie by a serv­ing CAS has im­pli­ca­tions and is not with­out po­ten­tial haz­ards. The reli­a­bil­ity of the MiG-21 be­ing some­what doubt­ful, a haz­ardous sit­u­a­tion could well de­velop if a tech­ni­cal fail­ure or mal­func­tion should take place dur­ing the mis­sion. How­ever, the CAS un­der­tak­ing a solo flight espe­cially on the MiG-21, would cer­tainly have a phe­nom­e­nal im­pact on con­fi­dence lev­els and the morale of per­son­nel of not only the squadron which op­er­ates the par­tic­u­lar air­craft, but on the en­tire air force fra­ter­nity.

Thus a solo flight by Air Chief Mar­shal Dhanoa though last­ing for a mere 30 min­utes would have helped re­store the con­fi­dence of pi­lots in the IAF who are de­puted to fly this air­craft as also the other vari­ants of this plat­form. Also, it would el­e­vate the spir­its of the tech­ni­cal per­son­nel who main­tain and ser­vice the fleet as a solo flight by the CAS on the air­craft would sym­bol­ise the trust and faith he re­poses in the ca­pa­bil­ity, com­pe­tence and ded­i­ca­tion of the tech­ni­cal team. This sym­bolic ac­tion by the CAS will also help strengthen the bonds be­tween of­fi­cers and air­men in the or­gan­i­sa­tion. The pos­i­tive re­sults of the solo flight by the CAS are im­mense and can­not be quan­ti­fied, mea­sured or as­sessed.

In the fi­nal anal­y­sis, Air Chief Mar­shal Dh­noa is clearly lead­ing from the front and has started his ten­ure as the CAS lit­er­ally with a bang!

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Mar­shal B.S. Dhanoa, who flew MiG-21 Type 96 solo, be­fore the flight

Air Chief Mar­shal Dhanoa in the cock­pit of MiG-21 Type 96 be­fore the flight

AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

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