Hopefully by the time this edition reaches the reader some definite information will have been received on the fate of the Indian Air Force’s AN-32 transport aircraft with 13 persons on board that went “missing” when flying from Jorhat to Mechuka, an Advance Landing Ground in Arunachal Pradesh, on Monday afternoon.
What arouse serious concerns are reports ~ yet to be verified ~ that residents of an Arunachal village saw thick smoke from a local mountain.
The IAF has pressed a range of assets into service to locate possible wreckage ~ since planes do not remain missing in the sky for so many days.
Without trying to find fault with the rescue/retrieval operation, it must be asked if the powers that be in New Delhi have reacted appropriately to the possible loss of 13 lives.
Just because there appears to be no Pakistan angle to the mishap, is the incident being written off as just another hazard of military aviation: particularly when flying over difficult terrain?
Has any attempt been made to seek Chinese assistance since in bad weather the plane could have strayed across the un-demarcated frontier? It is hard not to contrast the apparent indifference with the huge reaction when fighter jets went down after enemy action, both earlier this year and during the Kargil hostilities two decades back?
Would the Chief of the Air Staff not have immediately cut short a foreign trip if it was a MiG that had gone missing? Would the bold headlines and TV-screaming have died down so quickly?
The lives of 13 air force personnel cannot be treated so casually, the transport operations of the IAF keep hundreds of people alive. Much noise is made over the depleting squadron strength of the combat fleet, does even half that level of concern find public expression over a limited, perhaps ageing transport fleet? What progress has been made on replacing the HS-48s?
A few months from now there will be a publicity blitz when the first Rafales arrive, did the induction of a dozen or so C-130J Hercules attract much attention?
It is true that all are not born equal, yet are the transport pilots/crew children of a lesser God?
Mr Rajnath Singh is still new to the job, but he would send out a powerful signal by ordering an immediate inspection of the 100-odd AN-32 “workhorses” still in harness ~ there are disturbing reports that the SOS locaters on many of those planes are obsolete: could that explain why no information has been transmitted by the AN-32 in question ~ the second such aircraft to disappear untraced?
Of course no defence minister is to blame: as was evident during the IAF “agitation” in the late 1990s the leadership of the force is top-heavy, skewed in favour of the fighter-boys.
This provides clear proof of the need for more professionalism in higher defence management. An “empowered NSA” is no solution.