The oldest MiG-21s of the Indian Air Force are flying into the sunset, bringing down the curtains on a fleet that had its share of stardom and tragedy in the skies for almost half a century.
The IAF has decided to retire this ageing fleet of over 150 ground attack fighters over the next two years in a phased manner. The IAF would, however, continue to fly the MiG-21 Bison, an upgraded variant of the Soviet-produced fighter, till 2017-18.
“The aircraft (older MiG-21s) are flying but some of the systems have become very old. While they are no longer viable fighting machines, the aircraft is good for training with serviceability of over 80 per cent,” said a senior IAF official, on the condition of anonymity.
The phasing out would take down the number of IAF’s fighter squadrons from the current 35 to around 28, blunting its conventional edge over Pakistan.
Of the over 700 MiG-21s progressively inducted in the air force since the 1962 Chinese aggression, almost half have been lost in accidents.
There has been, however, a significant improvement in the safety record of the MiG-21s over the last decade with the accident rate of the fighter declining from 2.89 (per 10,000 flying hours) to 0.6 in 2005-06.
The IAF had brought down the overall accident rate to an all-time low of 0.27 accidents per 10,000 hours in recent years from a high of 1.84 accidents per 10,000 hours in 1972-73.
More crashes have involved the MiG-21s as these jets at one stage comprised almost 50 per cent of the fighter aircraft in the IAF’s inventory.
Also half of the total flying hours of the air force were accomplished on the MiG-21 - the world’s most produced fighter jet that entered Soviet service in 1959.