On December 8, an Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17V5 helicopter with the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 12 defence personnel, including the crew, crashed in Coonoor ghat in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. The cause of the chopper crash, in which there was only one survivor who is battling for his life, is being investigated.
Mi-17V5 of Russian Helicopters is considered one of the most advanced choppers of its class globally. It has incorporated the best engineering solutions of previous generations, according to Rostec State Corporation of Russia. Each Indian Mi-17V-5 has a complex navigation and electronic display KNEI-8. The numerous indicators for various information in the earlier series of Mi helicopters have been replaced with four multi-function displays which unloads dashboards and greatly facilitates the work of the crew. The complex also significantly simplifies pre-flight check of the helicopter with information from all sensors of conjugate systems on a single monitor screen, according to the manufacturer.
In addition, the helicopters are equipped with modern powerful engines, which significantly extends the capabilities for the transport of heavy and bulky loads, especially suited for mountainous and high altitude regions of India. Mi-17 V5 is a twin engine helicopter designed with full glass cockpit, advanced avionics, weather radar and powerful aero engines for high altitude operations, according to the Defence Ministry.
“The helicopter is being exploited for various civil and military operations such as transportation, paratrooper induction, search and rescue, medical evacuation and fire fighting in all weather conditions,” the Defence Ministry had stated earlier.
India is one of the largest operators of Russian helicopters and the Mi series have been in the IAF’s inventory for decades. According to Rostec, over the decades, Russian Helicopters and its earlier companies have delivered 110 units of the Mi-4, 128 units of the Mi-8 and about 160 units of the Mi-17 to India. In fact, Mi-4 helicopters, supplied by the Soviet Union, played a seminal role during the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh. On December 9, 1971, IAF Mi-4s were used to ferry Indian troops across river Meghna, which proved decisive in their advance to Dhaka.
The Mi-17 fleet — Mi-17, Mi-17 1V, Mi-17 V5 — has been the workhorse of the IAF, observed Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (Retd), a former helicopter pilot. The safety record of a fleet is worked on accidents/incidents per 10,000 hours of flying — and the stats for the Mi-17 show that its record is good, AVM Bahdaur stated. “It is rugged, reliable and ideal for field operations. Pilots swear by its dependability.”
In 2008, India had signed a contract with Rosoboronexport for 80 Mi-17V-5, which was completed in 2011-13. In 2012-13 three additional supplies have been signed for a total of 71 Mi-17V-5 for the IAF, the Home Ministry and also to be used for VVIP transport. In February 2016, Rostec handed over the final batch of three helicopters of the contract for 151 Mi-17V-5 helicopters.
The Mi series in general and the Mi-17 in particular have a good safety record in the IAF fleet. There have been at least five accidents with the Mi-17V5s since induction, including the one shot by own air defence system in February 2019 during the aerial dual with Pakistan, a day after the Balakot air strike.
According to a recent report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, the number of air accidents in the IAF has reduced from an average of 13 accidents per year in 11th plan (April 1, 2007 to March 31, 2012) to an average of 7.6 per year in 12th plan (April 1, 2012 to March 31, 2017).
In the last two decades, the IAF had flown approximately 2.5 lakh hours per year, with the available inventory of aircraft, according to the report. Comparing safety records from 1990 in a block of five years, as submitted by the IAF to the Standing Committee, the average number of accidents has gone down at each level. Between 1990-95, there were an average of 27 accidents a years, which is an accident rate of 1.07, and the average has come down for each five-year block and from 2015-18, there were an average of 7.33 accidents a year, an accident rate of 0.28.