HomeIndian Air ForceHow are the MiG-21 fighter jets being phased out?

How are the MiG-21 fighter jets being phased out?

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How are the MiG-21 fighter jets being phased out?
How are the MiG-21 fighter jets being phased out? 7

By when will the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited supply the IAF with the 83 Light Combat Aircraft TEJAS?

The story so far: On October 31, 2023 MiG-21 fighter jets of the No. 4 squadron ‘OORIALS’ of the Indian Air Force (IAF) flew one last time over Uttarlai in Rajasthan. The squadron has been operating the MiG-21 since 1966 and is now being re-equipped with the Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft, said Colonel Amitabh Sharma, PRO Defence Rajasthan in a statement. The IAF is now at 31 fighter squadrons as against the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons.

What Role Did The MiG-21 Jets Play?

The MiG-21 was the first supersonic fighter in service of the IAF and was inducted in 1963 and has participated in all major conflicts since. More than 800 variants of the supersonic fighter have been inducted into service, and it remained the frontline fighter jet of the IAF for a long time. For instance, the No.4 squadron has served the country for approximately six decades and has significantly contributed to the war effort during Indo-Pak conflicts, Col. Sharma noted.

Last year, the No. 51 squadron ‘Swordarms’ based in Srinagar was phased out. It was the same squadron of which Group Captain (then Wing Commander) Abhinandan Varthamanam was part of and saw action in February 2019, a day after the Balakot air strike. The squadron was raised at Chandigarh on February 1, 1985 under the command of Wg Cdr V. K. Chawla and moved to Srinagar on May 1, 1986. It was initially equipped with MiG-21 Type 75 aircraft and later converted to the upgraded MiG-21 Bison in January 2004.

The IAF now has two MiG-21 squadrons in service comprising the upgraded Bison variants, the No. 3 squadron ‘Cobras’ at Bikaner and No. 23 squadron ‘Panthers’ at Suratgarh, which will be phased out by 2025, as stated by Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Vivek Ram Chaudhari. “We will stop flying the MiG-21 fighter aircraft by 2025 and we will replace the MiG-21 squadron with the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS MK-1A… The induction of the TEJAS MK-1A will fill the gap of these MiG-21s,” he had said. “The IAF operated 24 fighter squadrons and four training units equipped with the MiG-21. Throughout service in these 28 establishments, the average tenure of the MiG-21 aircraft was 33 years. The transition to the MiG-21 began with the No. 28 squadron in 1963, and the No. 20 squadron was the last (albeit briefly) in the late 1990s,” writes Anchit Gupta, an aviation historian on his blog iafhistory.in. “No. 4 squadron holds the distinction of serving the longest with the MiG-21 for nearly 58 years. If No. 3 squadron continues its service until 2025, it will be the second-longest-serving unit at 53 years.”

According to the IAF website, during the 1971 War of Bangladesh, the MiG-21s showed its true grit. Although Pakistan had initiated the war with pre-emptive air strikes against major forward air bases, the IAF “rapidly gained the initiative and had thereafter dominated the skies over both fronts…..Six squadrons of MiG-21FLs were part of the IAF’s order-of battle, participating in operations both in the Eastern and Western Sectors,” it says. On the 1999 Kargil conflict, the IAF says that night operations were carried out using ingenuity and imagination; at times, excellent results were achieved by the aircraft using little else but a stop watch and a GPS receiver. “These operations had a significant effect on the enemy’s resilience, stamina and very will to fight.”

In the course of six decades, the MiG-21 fleet saw over 400 accidents claiming the lives of around 200 pilots. The IAF was to phase out the MiG-21s much earlier but it was extended as newer inductions especially the TEJAS were delayed.

What About The MiG Replacement?

In the last few years, the IAF has inducted two squadrons of the TEJAS and two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets procured from France which pushed the squadron strength to over 30. In January 2021, the IAF signed a contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 83 TEJAS MK-1A which it will start receiving from early 2024 onwards. A larger TEJAS MK-2 as well as the fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) are under development. As they take time to be available in large numbers, it is the TEJAS MK-1A which will form the bulk of the force. Last month, ACM Chaudhari had said that they are looking to procure an additional 97 TEJAS MK-1A at an estimated cost of ₹67,000 lakh crore, making a total of 180 MK-1A variants.

The MiG-21 was the first supersonic fighter in service of the IAF and was inducted in 1963 and has participated in all major conflicts since. More than 800 variants of the supersonic fighter have been inducted into service, and it remained the frontline fighter jet of the IAF for a long time.

The IAF now has two MiG-21 squadrons in service comprising the upgraded Bison variants, the No. 3 squadron ‘Cobras’ at Bikaner and No. 23 squadron ‘Panthers’ at Suratgarh, which will be phased out by 2025, as stated by Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Vivek Ram Chaudhari.

In the last few years, the IAF has inducted two squadrons of the TEJAS and two squadrons of Rafale fighter jets procured from France which pushed the squadron strength to over 30. In January 2021, the IAF signed a contract with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for 83 TEJAS MK-1A which it will start receiving from early 2024 onwards.

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