Indian Air Force’s Jaguar fighter jets are flying without autopilots, a crucial flying aid, that is unrealised even after 20 years.
The flying aid capability was envisaged by the air force in 1997 for Jaguar aircraft however, it has remained unrealized even after two decades, the Comptroller and Auditor-General has said in a report presented in Parliament on July 28.
Meanwhile, the IAF had lost three Jaguar aircraft and one pilot since April 2008 due to pilot disorientation/human error whereas loss of another four Jaguar aircraft was under investigation as of October 2016, the CAG was quoted as saying by The Hindu Sunday.
An autopilot reduces the pilot’s workload, enhances safety of aircraft and cuts aircraft accidents. Jaguars acquired in the 1980s lack autopilot system.
In 1997, the IAF had projected a requirement of 108 autopilots for 108 aircraft but only 35 autopilots were contracted in August 1999 due to “resource crunch” at a cost of ₹37.42 crore which were delivered between 2006 and 2008. A repeat contract for 95 autopilots was concluded only by March 2014.
“Out of 35 autopilots procured earlier, only 18 could be integrated on the Jaguar aircraft as of March 2017. The integrated autopilots were also functioning sub-optimally due to malfunctioning of their vital component i.e. Auto Pilot Electronic Unit (APEU),” the report said.
In addition, 30 autopilots received through the repeat contract are yet to be integrated. Thus, as on October 2016, the IAF had a holding of 117 Jaguars, but only 18 could be upgraded with autopilot capability. Even these autopilots were working sub-optimally due to malfunctioning of their APEUs, the report added.
In addition to autopilots, the IAF is undertaking a major modernisation of the Jaguar fleet, which also carry nuclear weapons, with new avionics and sensors to keep them flying for another two decades. The Jaguars have an underpowered engine. However, efforts to equip them with a more powerful engine have been dragging on for several years.