Prime Minister of India was scheduled to visit Ferozepur, Punjab. The purpose of visit was to inaugurate some projects like Delhi to Jammu Expressway and to later take part in a political rally. But a security lapse occurred wherein protestors were able to block the cavalcade of the Prime Minister. How this happened, who were the protestors, who tip them off, who is responsible, etc. All these questions are being asked by media and their are now at center and state level committees which will find it within a few days.
This is not our discussion. The question is what’s the root cause? Lets rewind and go back to a different topic. The topic of tragic demise of our beloved CDS General Bipin Rawat in the crash. Recent reports suggest that the reason of crash was human error during bad weather conditions. While the exact nature of error, be it of pilot or the flight planner? That has yet not been revealed so lets not speculate yet. What we do know is that the aircraft did crash while flying low near a cliff due to very low visibility and bad weather conditions, and then on crashing caught fire. Now was this avoidable? Lets remember that humans do make mistakes, but was there anything that the Mi17 could have done? Before answering lets come back to the recent scare to Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister was scheduled to visit Ferozepur from Bhatinda. But the cavalcade was stopped by tractors and trucks by the protestors. Prime Minister was stuck there for about 15 minutes after which the Special Protection Group (SPG) responsible for the security of Prime Minister decided to turn back and return to Bhatinda Airport. But why did this happened? Why not simply use the helicopter to travel from Bhatinda Airport to the site. Actually its the normal security protocol that the Prime Minister should use helicopter over long distance road travel. The answer is inclement weather condition.
Now after the VVIP scam saga all the VVIPs travel in modified Mi-17 V-5 helicopters of IAF. This is the common link between the death od CDS and the reason PM was forced to go via road on long distance against the given protocols. Mi-17 is a robust machine being used by IAF in large numbers for a variety of tasks. Its even used in VVIP role by come countries. But what is the difference between those and our Mi-17 in VVIP role?
Our VVIP fleet is a jugaad as of now. The Mi-17 V5 received sound suppression systems, comfortable seating, a bathroom, TV workspace, etc to make it comfortable for the VVIP travelling inside. That’s It. Nothing more has been done. Civilian or in Military helicopter aviation over 75% of accidents world wide happen due to human error, around 10% due to other mechanical issues in the helicopter and less than 7% due to engine problems. This means that the human error part is something we have to live with. But there are technologies which can help keep the numbers down. So the CDS Gen Bipin Rawat crash or PMs chopper unable to fly due to weather issues, the main problem is the lack of a proper VVIP transport helicopter in India.
Compare for example the cold war era SeaKing used by the president of USA. Those helicopters have Ground Proximity warning sensor, a radio altimeter and a Traffic Collision Avoidance system on-board. These systems allow the helicopter to fly low in bad visibility. The present Mi-17V5 lacks these. Have CDS been flying in any decent helicopter with these sensors, he would have been alive.
There is more, our newer HAL Dhruv MK3 has a couple of very useful safety features which the Mi17 lack. They are fire suppression system and crashworthy seats. These features saved the life of Army Commander Northern Command when his Dhruv crashed in 2019. These systems if were made available on the Mi17 VVIP fleet the people in the CDS chopper crash would have had a better survival chance.
Finally coming to one more feature, the AW101 had 3 engine and had the capability to fly even with 2. There is then the requirement of defense against missiles. RWR, MAWS, IR and Laser Warning systems with flares, etc and a EW proof communication system. These technologies are very important when transporting leaders of a Nuclear Power Nation.
AW101 platforms are rotting away at Hindon hangers. If not those then maybe others like H225M or S92 needs to be procured. Even second hand but fitted with these basic features. If not then the present Mi-17 needs to have these sub systems for the safety of its passengers in VVIP role. We cannot reverse what has already happened, but we own this to our beloved CDS that we rectify our mistakes. Remember the same Mi17 is used to transport the President, Vice President, Prime Minister and other VVIPs. We cannot let another Mi17 VVIP crash. This incident with the Prime Minister is a reminder for us to stop pushing these issues under the carpet and address them.