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.