Hercules down!

The going down of the Hercules 130J turboprop transport aircraft on the MP-Rajasthan border is yet another instance of drastic attrition of military platforms owing to an accident. While the probable cause for the plane catching fire in flight needs to be investigated, the fact is this was a virtually new plane — one of the first six of this typo inducted into IAF to beef up the service’s medium lift and, because of its STOL characteristics, expeditionary capability and for use in Special Forces’ missions.This is a plane from the 1950s with such a durable design that, other than undergoing periodic technological upgrades in engine, propeller design, and avionics its basics have been retained intact and, over the years the plane has proven itself a sturdy and versatile old warhorse. The newness of the IAF C-130J, moreover, rules out deficit in maintenance and servicing, with the Lockheed aircraft possibly still in its warranty period. Assuming then that the four engines were in good working order, how to account for the fire on-board? Did the engines catch fire and how did that happen? An alternative explanation may be that the plane was transporting some combustible or inflammable material without adequate safeguards and protection and fell prey midflight to an act of carelessness of some sort by a crew member or by one of the army troopers on the aircraft?

Whatever the reason for this accident, coming on top of the series of accidents of submarines and ships in the navy attributable to deficient ship handling skills, it suggests that IAF pilots cleared to operate expensive platforms, such as the Hercules, have not undergone sufficiently hard training regimes to remove even vestiges of incompetence, including ensuring that safety norms are observed by militarymen being ferried. This is bad news. The country simply cannot afford losing extraordinarily costly military hardware in peace time in this way, which slashes the force, hurting their availability in case, God forbid, there’s war.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian Navy, Military Acquisitions, Special Forces, United States, Weapons. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Hercules down!

  1. Email received from a person who doesn’t want to be identified. His msg pasted below:

    “Can a MANPAD attack be discounted? In general, ECM systems regardless of the a/c (and this especially holds true for the “watered down” self-defense systems on the IAF C-130J’s) aren’t remotely capable of taking care of all threats and do not automatically engage/respond.”

    Somehow the combustible material on-board explanation doesn’t add up. A combustible cargo or an act of “in-flight carelessness” by one of the airmen/passengers would have first led to fire in the fuselage which then may have spread to the turboprops. By then aircraft would have been an inferno. Witness claims (if true) suggest the turboprop(s) on fire and not the fuselage. This could have some other explanations. The airmen will fly with what they have. If stones have to be hurled, then it is Anthony who should be at the receiving end. Only a proper inquiry will tell the truth, and one never knows if political/personal compulsions will inhibit a proper inquiry. Also, it is improper to immediately give the aircraft and its manufacturers a “clean bill of health”, and condemn the departed who aren’t there to defend themselves. Given the alarming rate of incidents, can you rule out sabotage? Can you rule out a MANPAD attack, overuse of the aircraft in various conditions,…….,?

    • Romeo says:

      It seems too hasty to blame crew carelessness or question the competence of the pilots The best chosen pilots have received training and were certified to fly. it seems as an attempt by the author to malign reputations and question commitment of the armed forces.

  2. rags74 says:

    It seems that the author is too hasty to condemn the armed forces and question their commitment. The very best pilots were trained and certified to fly the top end aircraft. Strange that every strategist wants to sensationalize the accidents but merely pay lip service when they are part of many government committees.Armed forces need support during the time of such unfortunate instances not unwarranted criticism.

    • In response to Romeo and Rags74 — the fact is the increased frequency of these accidents is worrisome resulting in actual elimination of force strength. Errors attributable to humans in the loop can happen, of course, but there seem to be some deficiencies in the training and upskilling of handlers in operating complex cost prohibitive military hardware, or why would such accidents happen with such disquieting regularity?

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