After a series of ‘difficult to locate’ air crashes that kept search and rescue teams scrambling for clues for days at a stretch, the Air Force is planning to procure new generation search and rescue systems that will accurately point out the location of a downed aircraft and its crew.
The new search and rescue systems that are being purchased for fighter and transport aircraft will not only be fitted on board the aircraft but will also be part of the crew’s personal equipment that will help rescue teams and aircraft to locate them in case of an accident.
The Air Force plans to procure 7,000 units of the new system with officers saying it will be shared with the Army and Navy to be fitted on board their aircraft to ensure the armed forces can pool resources. A global tender is likely to be floated soon.
The new acquisition, which will essentially be a beacon system that will be able to transmit its location at a distance of over 200 km, has been prompted by several recent accidents in which rescue teams took several days to locate and reach the wrecks of downed aircraft.
The Air Force mounted one of its largest rescue operations last year when a MiG 29 went down in Himachal Pradesh.
The remains of the pilot were discovered 19 days after the aircraft crashed into a snow covered peak in the Lahaul region. Given the terrain, it took search and rescue parties more than two weeks to locate the wreckage of the fighter.
While the new system will be fitted on board military aircraft as well as the VVIP squadron of the Air Force, it is not yet clear whether civilian aircraft tasked on VIP duties — such as helicopters of planes operated by state governments — will also be equipped with it.
The Air Force was tasked in May last year to locate the missing helicopter of Arunachal Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu that lost contact near the high altitude Sela pass. However, the absence of search and rescue system on board the helicopter kept the crash a mystery for five days, during which the IAF employed fighters and rescue helicopters into service. Similarly, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YSR Reddy’s helicopter remained missing for over 24 hours after it went down in a thickly forested area.