Home > Article, India, Report, South Asia, World > The India Air Force has the worst crash record in the world

The India Air Force has the worst crash record in the world

According to statistical data available from multiple sources the Indian Air Force (IAF) has the dubious distinction of having the highest crash rate in the world. No other Air Foce comes close.Bharat has a tender bid open to purchase 126 brand spanking new Aircrafts from some of the best plane manufacturers in the world. Delhi has been able to maintain the ignominious distinction of having the worst track record in the word. If the current crash rates continue, it can crash all of its new hardware in 5 to 10 years.

An anonymous American analyst said the following “This is really unacceptable. Some heads should roll over this, and frankly this insane crash rate is making the IAF the laughing stock of airforces around the world.

Some salient facts about the crashes with references.

  • India, using mostly Russian aircraft, has an accident rate of 6-7 per 100,000 hours flown (compared to 4-5 for all NATO air forces.)
  • The Indian rate had been over ten for many years, and it is still that high, and often higher, with other nations (including Russia and China), that use Russian aircraft designs.
  • F-15s and F-16s have an accident rate of 3-4 per 100,000 flight hours.
  • World Record: 500th Flying coffin crashes
  • 1970-2005: IAF has recorded around 700 crashes since 1970, with around 180 pilots and scores of civilians on the ground losing their lives Publication: The Times of India, Date: Monday, September 4 2006
  • 1970-2005: f the 793 MiG-21s progressively inducted inIAF since 1963, 330 have been lost in accidents. The Times of India, Date: Monday, September 4 2006′

Most of the crashes have been attributed to pilot incompetence and a lack of training. Another major factor pointed out by the Russians is the fact that Bhrat insisted on using poorly manufactured local parts. After several hundredMigs had crashed, the IAF blamed the manufacturer of a faulty fuel pump. According to the IAF the breakdown in 2005 is as follows. 40%; human error (servicing) 2%; technical defects 41%; bird hits 9%; unresolved 6%; and others 2%.

Bangalore: Three Indian Air Force (IAF) test pilots died on Friday when the prototype aircraft Saras of the state-run National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) crashed near Bidadi, about 30 km from Bangalore, IAF sources said. Sify News. 2009-03-06 18:01:36, Last Updated: 2009-03-06 18:04:26

Bharati Sukhoi SU 30Recentlythe IAFpilots managed to crash one of the most advanced fighters, the pride and joy of a Resurgent Russia, theSukhoi 30. Chinese pilots using the same aircraft have hundred of fighters but their track record is a lot better than that of theIAF.

An Indian Air Force pilot was killed and another injured in the first crash of an Su-30 MKI near Pokharan today, prompting the IAF to temporarily ground its most advanced fighter. Indian Express. Manu Pubby, Posted: Friday , May 01, 2009 at 0250 hrs ISTl

An internal investigation of the SU-30 crash will “discover” the following again. Everything will be blamed on “Pilot Error” and the file will be closed, ’till the next crash.

The IAF’s track record in the past decade is dismal by any standards: In the ’90s, according to its own submissions in Parliament, it lost 80 pilots and 185 aircraft. Which makes it almost a squadron a year or a fourth of its entire fleet in the past decade alone. And the estimated loss: Rs 6,800 crore.Sify News. 2009-03-06 18:01:36, Last Updated: 2009-03-06 18:04:26

For the second time in a month, a U.S. Air Force F-22 suffered a “Class A” accident (one causing over a million dollars of loss). This one was the result of an F-22 colliding with a Canadian CF-18 while taxiing at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. This is the fifth F-22 Class A accident in the last six years. The last one was a crash, in which the pilot was killed. The only other crash did not result in the loss of the pilot.

ItÂ’s easier to have a Class A accident for an F-22, as the construction cost of the aircraft is over $140 million. The damage to the F-22 in the most recent accident was described as minor, but costing just over a million dollars to fix. The damage to the CF-18 will cost much less to repair.

So far, the air force has received 136 F-22s, and the aircraft entered service two years ago. With the recent crash, the F-22 an accident rate is about 7 per 100,000 hours. F-15s and F-16s have an accident rate of 3-4 per 100,000 flight hours. India, using mostly Russian aircraft, has an accident rate of 6-7 per 100,000 hours flown (compared to 4-5 for all NATO air forces.) The Indian rate had been over ten for many years, and it is still that high, and often higher, with other nations (including Russia and China), that use Russian aircraft designs.

The B-52 has the lowest accident rate of (less than 1.5 per 100,000 flying hours) of all American heavy bombers. The B-1s rate is 3.48. Compared to the supersonic B-1 and high-tech B-2, the B-52 is a flying truck. Thus the B-52, despite its age, was the cheapest, safest and most reliable way to deliver smart bombs.

New aircraft always have higher accident rates, which is how many hidden (from the design engineers and test pilots) flaws and technical problems. The F-22 is expected to eventually have an accident rate of 2-3 per 100,000 flight hours. The higher initial accident rate is part of a trend typical of new aircraft. The most recent accident, at Tyndall, appears to be human error or, at most, the failure of one of the less complex systems on the aircraft (like the ground steering or brakes.)

Much of the problem relates to the ageing MiG-21 which accounts for 62 per cent of the crashes. The aircraft, which this year completes 39 years with the IAF and still remains its backbone, is beset with problems. All the 22 MiG-21 squadrons are at least two-decades old. A third of the fleet is believed to be grounded for the lack of confidence in their ability to keep airborne without a glitch. The IAF loses one MiG fighter every 2,500 flight hours, making it one of the most vulnerable machines in service with any force in the world.

Most MiG-21s crash because of engine burnouts immediately after take-off and stress fractures to the airframe. The burnouts are often a result of poor engine maintenance and inadequate supply of spare parts especially of the critical blades of the engine that provide the thrust. But as a senior officer commanding MiG-21 squadrons points out, “Since nearly 22 of the IAF’s 35 squadrons comprise of the MiG-21s, it is bound to reflect in the accident rate as well. Do not forget that as many as 17 Jaguars have crashed and we have only four Jaguar squadrons in the air force.”

Part of the blame for the high rate of crashes lies with the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the IAF. They did not act fast enough to induct the planned MiG-21 upgrade which was expected to enter service after a comprehensive refit in 1999. The refit has now been delayed by at least three years — first, because the government could not decide the contract between Israel and Russia; and secondly, owing to lethargy on the part of the Russians. Instead of upgrading the entire MiG-21 Bis fleet, all that has been achieved so far is flight-testing of two MiG-21s in Russia.

Ageing MiGs are only one aspect of the problem. “There are two reasons for the IAF’s poor air safety record,” says Air Commodore (retdJasjit Singh, director IDSA. “The first is a 16-year delay in procurement of the Advance Jet Trainer (AJT). The second is the consistently poor quality of spare parts that are needed to keep the fighter planes airworthy.” With the AJT absent, Indian fighter pilots do not get sufficient training to equip them to move from basic aircraft, such as the Kiran Mark II, to the most advanced ones like the Mirage 2000.

The IAF depends on the oldest version of the MiG-21 — the MiG-21 FL — for training but found the craft unsuitable because it is essentially a fighter-interceptor and does not incorporate any features of a trainer jet. Analysts say that bad training results in fatal errors of judgement at high speeds and these often lead to crashes. Says former air chief S.K.Kaul, “The government’s lack of action on the AJT is nothing short of crass disregard for the force’s vital needs.” Even the present chief, Air Chief Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, at a commanders’ conference in June 1999 blamed poor training for the high number of air crashes.

A decision on the AJT though may at last be on hand. A French team visited Delhi last week and an English one is expected over the next two weeks to hammer out a deal. Even when the AJT is acquired indications are that India may go in for only 60 such aircraft. Air forces with comparable force structures, such as the UK and France, have opted for 150 aircraft, including about one squadron in reserve. So the problem of lack of training may persist.

Another major cause for the alarmingly high rate of IAFaccidents is the lack of spare parts. In the mid ’90s, a committee appointed to look into the air crashes pointed out this problem and pinned part of the blame on the spares madeby the public-sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. As for the spares from Russia, sources say that though they are now supplied on time, the costs since 1991 have skyrocketed, in some instances by as much as 400 per cent. Given the fact that 70 per cent of Indian fighters are of Russian origin this has a negative impact on procurement of crucial components.

Each of the major reasons for the increasing number of crashes – poor training, ageing fleet, pilot error, defective spare parts – are problems that can be addressed if the IAFand the mod get down to brasstacks quickly. Otherwise, most of the fighters would have to be nicknamed “widow makers”.Courtesy: India Today [7 February 2000]. IAF: The Widow Makers. By Ninad D. Sheth

  1. September 5, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    But India has the economy, so they can buy more than 1, whereas our (Pakistani) economy is very bad and that’s the main issue with us.

    Indian haughtiness,proud on their ECONOMY how can v improve our ECONOMY? Due to bad economy INDIA bluff at us, they know Pakistan has no money to fight a war with an economic giant INDIA Economy brings money and money buys tongue & the world hears from those who have tongue. Money give u power to buy defense and money give u power to make defense. Economy is the key which INDIA holds and not Pakistan. 1 bullet of an ordinary gun = 16 rupees. If v make our economy strong then nobody going to bluff at us, nobody going to intimidate us. For this v have too have good LAW and ORDER situation. How do u think v can make our economy strong? That’s is the question every Pakistani need to answer & work on madly.
    In 1991, India’s GDP per capita was $328, Pakistan’s was $458. In 1991, India was 28 per cent behind Pakistan. In 17 years, India has gone 30 per cent ahead. How did this happen?

    • J
      June 29, 2011 at 12:06 am

      Choose the path of peace. If pak stops fighting with other countries and internally, they won’t have to waste 2 billion dollars on their useless army and they will have the money to build industry and commerce.

  2. ravi
    October 28, 2009 at 2:28 am

    The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) flight safety record has come in for much criticism lately. The press have called into question the IAF’s ability to adequately carry out tasks assigned to it in light of a recent spate of accidents. “Experts” both in India and abroad have gone so far as to claim that the rate at which the IAF was flying itself into the ground, Pakistan would simply have to wait for the IAF to crash its entire fleet before obtaining air superiority. However, these “expert” opinions on IAF attrition in the 1990s are problematic in that they view IAF flight safety in isolation, both temporally and with respect to its principal adversary. Briefly, IAF attrition rates in the 1990s are half of they were in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet in neither of those decades was the IAF’s operational capabilities compromised. More importantly, no one seems to have bothered to situate the IAF’s attrition rate (and operational capabilities) in a comparative perspective. More precisely, if the IAF is flying itself into the ground what is happening with the Pakistan Air Force (PAF)?

    In one sense this unbalanced perception aptly exemplifies the paradox in the kinds of information available on South Asia’s two major Air Arms. Furthermore, it highlights the differing political constraints under which the armed forces in India and Pakistan operate. Since the 1960s the PAF has published three official histories and has vigorously promoted a positive uncritical image of itself, often exaggerating its achievements and capabilities vis-à-vis the IAF. The IAF has, until recently, been shy of any publicity and has yet to publish an official history. Yet keen students of both air forces find that there is a greater volume of detailed meaningful open source literature available on the IAF than on its adversary. This is in great part due to the fact that the IAF is subject to both legislative and administrative oversight. The Joint Parliamentary Committee on Defence and the Office of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India provide detailed (and often unflattering) audits of the IAF’s operations which cover everything from attrition to procurement decisions. More importantly, the auditors’ reports are unclassified and available to anyone interested. The PAF, however, is not subject to public audit.

    The publication of a recent article on PAF attrition by the semi-official Pakistan Institute of Air Defence Studies (PIADS) is therefore heaven sent. The article Air Accidents Inspite of High Efficiency by Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmad Khan (PAF) allows one a rare glimpse into the flight safety record of the Pakistan Air Force, and more importantly it helps to put the IAF’s attrition rate in perspective. Although Air Forces Monthly’s page on attrition does a fairly good job of covering accidents in the subcontinent, given the lack of oversight in Pakistan, usually only accidents that occur in built up areas or near population centers are reported. A snapshot of attrition rates for the two airforces covering the 1990s demonstrates that the myth of the PAF’s superior safety record is just that: a myth.

    The following figures are given by Air Marshal (Retd.) Ayaz Ahmad Khan in the PIADS article.

    Annual Attrition Rates – Pakistan Air Force (expressed per 10,000 hours)









    Attrition Rate








    Unfortunately, Air Marshal Khan doesn’t provide a breakdown of the actual number of accidents and flying hours for each of these years. Since we have no information with which to assign weights to the annual averages in order to come up with a figure for the period 1991-1997, we are forced to use a simple average. This works out to an attrition rate of 1.37 per 10,000 hours over the entire period.

    In the case of the IAF we can draw on figures for annual flying hours from the CAG reports between 1992 and 1998, and the 1998 Report of the Kalam Committee on Air Safety to arrive at a clear picture of IAF attrition over the period 1991/92-1996/97. The figures for 1997/98 amd 1998/99 are based on the Minister of Defence’s written replies to Parliment in August 1999.

    Annual Flying hours: IAF









    Flying Hours








    Total Flying Hours 1991/92-1997/98: 1,836,875

    During this period the IAF suffered a total of 194 accidents. Of these 154 aircraft were declared “beyond economical repair”. If one uses the higher former figure to calculate IAF attrition, it works out to 1.07 per 10,000 hours. If one only includes write-offs, attrition falls off to 0.83 per 10,000 hours. Both figures for the IAF are lower than the lowest possible attrition rate for the PAF during the entire period based on a weighted average of their annual attrition rates.

    Furthermore Air Marshal Khan writes that in a 19 month period from January 1997 (i.e. up to 31 July 1998) the PAF flew 110,000 hours and suffered 11 major accidents. An attrition rate of 1 per 10,000 hours.

    While we do not know the exact number of flying hours for the IAF in that 19 month period we can use flying hours from the years 1997-1998 to 1998-1999 to come up a with a reasonable estimate. In 1997/98 the IAF logged 306,190 hours and in 1998/99 it logged 311,412 hours. For the sake of argument we can extrapolate that the IAF logged 181,657 hours during the first 7 months of 1998. Hence for the 19 month period beginning Jan 1997 the IAF logged a total 487,847 hours. During this period the IAF suffered 16 major accidents (7 in 1997 + 9 in first seven months of 1998). This translates into a loss rate of 0.32 per 10,000 hours. Thus as IAF, as a service, suffered an attrition rate that is less than a third of the Pakistan Air Force’s during 1997-1998.

    However, the figures do not adequately capture the attrition rates for fighters during the same period. Given the IAF’s almost transcontinental responsibilities, the IAF flies large numbers of helicopters and transport aircraft. For this reason attrition rates for the service as a whole don’t adequately reflect flight safety in the combat (fighter/fighter-trainer) elements of the two air arms.

    The Pakistan Air Force has traditionally had a large fighter component. For most of the 1990s the ratio of the fighters/fighter-trainers to transports/helicopters in the PAF has been approximately 85:15. Unfortunately, Air Marshal Khan provides no breakdown of flying hours by type for the PAF. Let us, therefore, over-estimate the number of hours that that PAF fighters put in during the 19 month period from January 1997 (and thereby introduce a bias that favors the PAF), so that they are allotted 90% of the flying hours. This works out to 99,000 hours. Furthermore, Air Marshal Khan says:

    “The PAF accident rate for 1997 till August 98 was 1 aircraft per 10,000 flying hours, and is a tribute to the high expertise and dedication of technicians, engineers and professional excellence of PAF fighter pilots. ”

    This would indicate that the 11 losses (all write-offs) were indeed all fighters. However, since this is not conclusive let us use a lower figure. We know with certainty that the PAF lost 7 fighters (4 F-7s, 1 Mirage III, 1 A-5, 1 F-6) during this period. Based on this figure the PAF’s fighter attrition rate for the 19 month period works out to 0.70. If we use an attrition rate which represents attrition in the same ratio as hours flown by fighters (i.e. 9 fighter losses), the figure is a corresponding 0.90 per 10,000 hours.

    Now let us turn to the IAF. The IAF’s fleet breakdown (fighters vs. others) is approximately 60:40. However, we know that 50% of the IAF flying hours in 1997/98, or 153,000 hours, were contributed by fighters. Based on this, it is not unreasonable to assume that 50% of the hours, or 90,708 hours, during the first 7 months of 1998 would have been put in by fighters. This means that the fighters logged up about 243,708 flying hours during this 19 month period. Over this period the IAF lost 3 fighters in 1997 (2 MiG-21, 1 MiG-27) and 8 fighters (6 MiG-21, 1 MiG-23, 1 MiG-29) during the first seven months of 1998. This means that the loss rate for Indian fighters was 0.45 per 10,000 hours.

    Regardless of what figure we use to calculate the PAF’s losses, it seems that that IAF fighters suffered from lower levels of attrition. Of course the IAF’s high attrition rate remains a matter of concern. The MiG-21 fleet (esp. the FL, M, U, UM and US variants) is the main source of this problem. Given that these aircraft are well past their (manufacturer recommended) airframe lives and that the IAF pushes them to their limits, until new Advanced Jet Trainers are procured these aircraft will continue to be a source of grief for the IAF. Nevertheless, in the future, students of South Asian air arms would do well to remember that if the IAF is ‘falling out of the sky’, it is doing so less rapidly than its main adversary.

  3. October 28, 2009 at 11:05 am

    @ravi: You did not prove a thing from international authentic sources, what the whole world knows is that “Indian Air Force” has the worst crash record in the whole world. Even Bollywood accepted that fact in “Rang De Basanti” movie, now its upto you to face the fact or remain in denial.

  4. agaahipk
    October 28, 2009 at 11:13 am


  5. Kalai
    December 23, 2009 at 5:46 pm

    Accepted.Indian Mig series has the worst crash record till now.But we have the confident that by 2020 all the problems will be rectified as by 2011 we are starting to replace Mig 21 with Tejas and also various projects are underway like MRCA and FGFA(Russia n India).
    On ur before post,Sorry to say this terrorism is been the biggest threat to ur economy and also after mid 90’s Indian economy boomed because of IT development.
    I hope we were brothers once and will never again have conflicts in the future as v had before.Lets built a peaceful wprld.

  6. BAGGY
    July 5, 2011 at 8:33 pm




  7. July 31, 2011 at 6:07 pm

    true… not sure who said this, but it still rings true: Corruption never has been compulsory.

  8. August 5, 2011 at 10:49 pm


  1. February 15, 2010 at 12:32 pm
  2. February 15, 2010 at 4:39 pm
  3. February 23, 2010 at 1:00 pm
  4. April 20, 2010 at 11:28 am
  5. December 30, 2012 at 6:52 pm

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