India has attributed two crashes involving Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft to technical faults, with the fleet remaining grounded as a precautionary measure.
"[During the current financial year] two Mirage 2000 aircraft have crashed," says defence minister A K Antony in response to a parliamentary question. "Technical defects were the cause of both accidents."
He did not elaborate on the exact nature of the defects. The crashes occurred within weeks of each other, on 24 February and 5 March this year. The crews of both aircraft ejected safely.
"Every Indian air force aircraft accident is thoroughly investigated by a court of inquiry to ascertain the cause of accident and remedial measures are taken accordingly to check their recurrence in future," adds Antony.
© Greg Waldron/Flightglobal
In 2011 India approved a long-delayed upgrade of its 51 Mirage 2000H fleet (the 2012 crashes have reduced this to 49) to the Mirage 2000-9 standard. Indian media has consistently pegged the value of the upgrade at $2.2 billion, or roughly $43 million per aircraft.
Industry observers have said that even without the upgrade the Mirage 2000 is probably the most effective type in Indian air force service.
Antony's statement made no mention of whether pilot training may have played a role in the crashes. It is well known in the industry that the Indian air force faces enormous challenges training new pilots owing to a severe shortfall of modern training aircraft.
On 20 March, Antony told parliament that the Indian air force had suffered 33 fighter crashes during the last three years, resulting in 31 fatalities. The aircraft most prone to crashes was the MiG-21 with 16 crashes. It also lost three Sukhoi Su-30s, one Sepecat Jaguar, and other types.