Two Indian military jets crash, one pilot confirmed killed, two others injured (update)

People gather around the debris of a crashed aircraft in Bharatpur, Rajasthan, India, on Saturday, January 28, 2023 in this screen grab obtained from a handout video. - Reuters

NEW DELHI, Jan 28, 2023 (AFP): Two Indian Air Force fighter jets crashed Saturday, killing one pilot and injuring two others, in an apparent mid-air collision while on exercises south of the capital New Delhi.

The crash is the latest in a string of military aircraft accidents at a time when the government is trying to modernise its armed forces and meet India's complex security challenges.

It involved a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30, carrying two pilots, and a French-built Mirage 2000, operated by a third, and was reported by witnesses to police at around 10:00 am (0430 GMT).

Both aircraft took off from the Gwalior air base, around 50 kilometres (30 miles) east of where they came down.

"The aircraft were on routine operational flying training mission," the country's air force said in a statement, adding that one of the three pilots was fatally injured.

An investigation was underway to determine the cause of the crash, it added.

The first plane hit the ground in the forests of Pahadgarh in central Madhya Pradesh state, around 300 kilometres south of New Delhi.

"Two pilots were found near the crash site, who were later evacuated in an IAF chopper for treatment," Morena district police superintendent Ashutosh Bagri told AFP.

"Both of them are out of danger," he added.

The second jet crashed some distance away in Rajasthan state, and images from local rescue authorities showed military officials inspecting mechanical wreckage strewn across the ground.

- Military overhaul -

India has suffered a spate of military aviation accidents in recent months.

Five army soldiers were killed last October when their helicopter crashed in Arunachal Pradesh state, near the country's militarised and disputed border with China.

It was the second military chopper crash in the state that month, coming weeks after a Cheetah helicopter came down near the town of Tawang, killing its pilot.

India's defence chief, General Bipin Rawat, was among 13 people killed when his Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter crashed while transporting him to an air force base in December 2021.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government is grappling with the urgent task of overhauling India's outdated armed forces.

Its military establishment is fretting over a growing assertiveness by China along its vast Himalayan frontier, which in 2019 sparked a lingering diplomatic freeze after a deadly high-altitude confrontation between troops of both countries.

India unveiled its first locally built aircraft carrier last year as part of government efforts to build an indigenous defence industry and reduce reliance on Russia, historically its most important arms supplier.

An effort to reform military recruitment to trim India's bloated defence payroll stalled last year after a backlash from aspiring soldiers, who burned train carriages and clashed with police in fierce protests. - AFP

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