THREE SPYKAR armoured vehicles, large stock of reactive armour, precision-controlled missiles, BGM-71 anti-tank guided missile launchers, helicopter ancillaries, M-242 chain gun ammunition and several aircraft spare parts were among the ‘onboard list’ of an AN-124 heavy transport aircraft, which was forced to land at Mumbai International Airport last weekend, escorted by IAF aircrafts. Believe it or not, there were no weapons!
The Ukraine-made plane was operated by Volga-Dnepr Airlines of Russia and has been flying over the Arabian Sea regularly. It had often been over the Indian flight region under the ‘call sign’ VDA 4466, usually used by civilian flights. The plane took off from Diego Garcia military base of the US to Kandahar in Afghanistan. It must be obvious to even a novice that it flew supplies for Operation Enduring Freedom, the ongoing ‘war on terror’ fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan. Such supplies are supposed to receive emergency passage as “Rush Urgent” – like ambulances on roads – unless a regime wants to deliberately disrupt the operation.
According to The Hindu, one of the very few Indian newspapers with a reputation for authenticity in news, Indian Air Force (IAF) spokesperson Tarun Kumar Singha said that inspection of the cargo showed that the aircraft “was carrying three armoured recovery vehicles and medical equipment. There were no weapons on board!” The ‘revelation’ of no weapons onboard was obviously an attempt to save face after a shaming goof up caused by stifling bureaucratic attitudes plaguing India.
The wet-leased aircraft was had a total of 18 passengers including the crew and pilots. It is not known if some of them were paratroopers to be dropped in the field. It became a victim of clumsiness due to bureaucratic arrogance rampant in India’s callous officialdom. The cargo and personnel intended for the Front were held up for 24 hours. Babus of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and IAF were messing up its schedule, finding fault with each other’s paperwork.
Airlines are required to submit flight plans to the various Air Traffic Controllers whose services the aircraft will use and to the defence authorities of the countries whose airspace it will fly. This cannot obviously be done days or even several hours before takeoff and can be finalized only a couple of hours earlier. In India, DGCA issues a ‘YA’ number to the plane. The Military Liaison Unit (MLU) issues an ‘ADC’ number for the identification of the plane when it is to use defence airspace. The MEA needs to issue this Air Operations Routing (AOR) authority to fly over Indian airspace for the MLU to process the plan. According to archaic and clumsy paperwork prescribed for military aircraft, the request has to be routed through MEA, Intelligence Bureau (IB) and then to IAF. The aircraft would have to disclose details of the cargo being carried. According to a pen-pushing babu, “We would have to decide whether to allow the flight into our airspace!” even if it is not to land in India. Such nonsensical and dreary procedures involving paperwork shunting between several tables can take days.
This type of delay kills the very purpose of airlifting at great expense for the sake of swift movement. Why the Russian operator obtained a civilian call sign, avoiding an AOR must be clear to any highway user in India. Such bureaucratic systems in place in India’s road network forces transport operators to fatten pockets of appropriate officials to avoid their trucks getting detained for hours and days. It is due to the failure to curtail archaic paperwork and what is dubbed as ‘babugiri’ that the reforms process loses its pace in India making it one of the most corrupt nations.