If it was not for MiG-21 ‘Bison´, an upgraded Russian-made aircraft, the Indian Air Force would have been left with a depleted fleet strength much before induction of its modern fighter jets.
“Bisons have helped the IAF to prolong the life of its MiG-21 fleet, whose Bison, Bis and M version are currently flying with the Air Force. If Bison was not there in the fleet, we would have had to do away with the MiG-21s altogether,” IAF sources said on Saturday.
The IAF at present has six squadrons of the Bisons, which are mainly deployed on the western frontiers of the country along the Pakistan border.
Currently, IAF has only 33.5 operational fighter squadrons comprising Su-30, MiG-29, Mirage-2000, Jaguar, MiG-27 and MiG-21s out of the sanctioned 39.5.
Due to shortage of fighter aircraft, DRDO had embarked on development of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme in the mid-80s, but the delays in the project have led to their induction being pushed to 2011.
Delays in the procurement of the 126 MMRCA, which the IAF now wants to induct around the middle of this decade, has also increased its dependence on the Bisons, which are upgraded versions of the Type-75 MiG-21s.
Bisons will be the last of the MiG-21s to be phased out once the new fighter aircraft induction plans of the IAF gather steam around 2015.