The Indian Air Force (IAF) will on Friday bid adieu to its MiG-23 'swing wing' ground attack fighter jets after nearly 30 years in service.
The MiG-23 BN aircraft, which were bought from the erstwhile Soviet Union to counter Pakistan's then newly acquired F-16 jets, will take to the sky for its last sortie from the Halwara airbase in Punjab on Friday.
"The jets, renamed in the IAF as Vijay (victory), were designed to replace the ageing fleet of MiG-21. They were once known as a formidable supersonic combat jets and it is going to be a nostalgic moment for us," a senior IAF official said on Thursday.
The single-seater aircraft, which was also used in Kargil War, was inducted in 1981 to meet the IAF's requirement of a tactical air strike aircraft. It also participated in operations in Siachen from 1985-86 and has operated from Leh, the highest airfield in India. It was also the first fighter aircraft to operate from the high altitude airfield Thoise in Jammu and Kashmir.
"Most of the IAF's MiG-23s have already been phased out. Its superior version the MiG-23 MF was phased out in 2007. Now we are left with only eight MiG-23 BN," the official added.
With a dubious safety record and besotted with engine troubles, the aircraft's phase-out comes because of burgeoning maintenance costs and problems relating to non-availability of spare parts.
Of the four squadrons the IAF had - over 70 aircraft - half of them were lost in air crashes and other accidents.
"Maintaining the aircraft fleet is very expensive for the IAF, so we have to phase out the aircraft, which has served us well over two decades-and-a-half. The aircraft incurs heavy financial costs for repairs and spares," the official added.