Indian Air Force phases out another MiG-21 squadron
The indigenous light combat aircraft Mk-1As that will replace the MiG-21s will be inducted by the Indian Air Force next year onwards
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has retired one of its three remaining squadrons of the ageing MiG-21 fighters, which will gradually be replaced by the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) Mk-1A aircraft, officials aware of the matter said on Tuesday.
The latest MiG-21 Bisons to be phased out belong to the No. 4 Squadron based at Uttarlai in Rajasthan. It was retired a year after IAF phased out the Bisons of the Srinagar-based No. 51 Squadron. The No. 4 Squadron has been operating the MiG-21 since 1966 and is now being re-equipped with the Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft, an official spokesperson said on Tuesday.
Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman, who was awarded Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 during a dogfight over the Line of Control on February 27, 2019, was with the No. 51 squadron then. The dogfight took place a day after IAF bombed a terror facility in Pakistan’s Balakot in response to the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir in which 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed.
The two remaining squadrons, based at Bikaner and Suratgarh in Rajasthan, will be phased out by 2025. Each squadron has 16 to 18 fighter planes.
“Marking an end of an era, the MiG-21 Bison aircraft were seen for the last time in the skies of Uttarlai in Barmer district of Rajasthan. The MiG-21 Bison flew alongside the Su-30 MKI to mark the occasion,” the spokesperson of the Gandhinagar-based South Western Air Command wrote on X on Monday. The Bison is IAF’s most advanced MiG-21 variant.
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 aging jets with newer ones in the coming years.
The air force got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and it went on to induct 874 of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters to bolster its combat potential. More than 400 MiG-21s have been involved in accidents that have claimed the lives of around 200 pilots during the last six decades.
More MiG-21s have crashed than any other fighter planes because they formed the bulk of the fighter fleet in the IAF’s inventory for a long time, and the air force had to keep its MiG-21 fleet flying longer than it would have liked because of delay in the induction of new aircraft.
The LCA Mk-1As that will replace the MiG-21s will be inducted by IAF next year onwards.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has a capacity to build 16 LCA Mk-1As every year in Bengaluru, and a new production line in Nashik will help the firm ramp up production to a total of 24 jets.
The first Mk-1A will be delivered to IAF in February 2024, and the last of the 83 on order by 2027-28.
In early October, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari announced plans to order 97 more LCA Mk-1As.
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