NEW DELHI: The entire fleet of the French-built Mirage- 2000 fighter jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) remains grounded for over a month now as the reason for the two crashes of the aircraft in quick succession in March is yet to be ascertained.
IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne said on Tuesday that it would take another 20 days before the fighter jets get airborne again.
The 49 remaining aircraft of the three squadrons of Mirage are undergoing thorough inspection.
“Checks are on and after that the fleet is expected to start flying again by this month-end,” Browne said on the sidelines of the Annual Commanders’ Conference.
Incidentally, Mirage manufacturer Dassault has emerged the top contender for the big-ticket deal for 126 fighter jets for the IAF at a whopping Rs 42,000 crore. Its Rafale fighter jet has been declared the lowest bidder for the coveted deal.
The Mirage fleet of the IAF boasted of an enviable flight safety record with only six crashes in its 25 years of service with the force. But the consecutive crashes due to flameout in the single-engine aircraft shocked both the force and Dassault as this was the first engine failure reported in the Mirage fighter jets anywhere in the world.
The IAF soon constituted a court of inquiry to look into the crashes on March 5.
Technicians from the Dassault Aviation also reached Gwalior to assist the investigations.
The IAF is suspecting “material failure” behind the crashes.
To ascertain the reason beyond doubt, the Original Equipment Manufacturer of the engines, Snecma, has taken the engines of the crashed fighter jets to France.
The first of the crashes due to engine failure occurred on February 24, when a Mirage- 2000 aircraft crashed in Madhya Pradesh during a sortie, conducted as part of the celebrations to mark its 25 year of induction into the force. Top IAF officer Air Marshal Anil Chopra had a narrow escape in the incident.
On March 5, another Mirage- 2000 crashed possibly due to engine failure, prompting the grounding of the entire fleet of the aircraft.
Both the pilots of the jet bailed out in time.
IAF is going through one of the worst years in terms of fighter jet crashes as even frontline jets known for their safety record such as Sukhoi and the Soviet-vintage MiG series crashed in 2011-12.
IAF has recently inked a $2.4 billion deal with Dassault for upgrading 51 fighter jets in its inventory. But now, it is left with only 49. Two of the aircraft has already reached France and the rest would be refurbished in India over a period of 10 years. IAF had inducted first of the Mirage fighter jets in 1987. It was renamed ‘Vajra’, meaning ‘Thunder’ in Sanskrit.