IAF set to retire Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG-21 squadron on September 30
Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 combat aircraft during a dogfight over the Line of Control on February 27, 2019, was part of the squadron at the time
Over three-and-a-half years after the Indian Air Force scripted a historic episode of bravery beyond enemy lines, the force is set to retire one of its four remaining squadrons of the ageing MiG-21 fighter jets on September 30 — the Srinagar-based No. 51 squadron, also known as ‘Sword Arms’, an official familiar with the matter said on Monday.
Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 combat aircraft during a dogfight over the Line of Control on February 27, 2019, was part of the squadron at the time.
The dogfight took place a day after the Indian Air Force annihilated a terror facility in Pakistan’s Balakot when IAF’s Mirage-2000s bombed the region in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on February 26, 2019. The attack was in retaliation to the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed on February 14.
The other three MiG-21 squadrons will be phased out by 2025, the official said.
Several MiG-21s have crashed in recent years, with the accidents turning the spotlight on India’s longest-serving fighter plane, its safety record and IAF’s plans to replace the ageing jets with newer models in the coming years.
The air force got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and it went on to induct 874 variants of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters to bolster its combat potential.
Over 400 MiG-21s have been involved in accidents over the past six decades, killing around 200 pilots.
More MiG-21s have crashed than any other fighter jets because they formed the bulk of the combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory for a long time. The air force had to keep its MiG-21 fleet flying longer than it would have liked because of delays in the induction of new aircraft, as previously reported.
IAF is inducting different variants of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft to replace the MiG-21s.