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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

India replaces squadron of Soviet-era MIGs with modern Russian-made Sukhoi jets

The country’s air force has retired another squadron of MiG-21 warplanes, which had been operating since the 1960s, in a move to enhance its capabilities

The Indian Air Force’s Number 4 squadron of Soviet-made MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft performed its final flight over the base in Rajasthan, where they had been stationed since 1966. From now on, the squadron will operate modern Russia-made Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jets, the Indian Ministry of Defense said in a statement on Tuesday.

The Bison, originally developed in the USSR, was the most advanced MiG-21 jet built. “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,” an IAF spokesperson wrote on X (formerly Twitter). “The MiG-21 Bison flew alongside the Su-30 MKI to mark the occasion.”

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The MiG-21 was inducted by the IAF in 1963 and was the country’s first supersonic fighter, the defense ministry noted, adding that it has participated in all major conflicts involving India since then. New Delhi still operates two squadrons of the MiG-21s, which the IAF is planning to phase out by 2025. Each squadron has 16-18 jets.

Last month, India’s defense ministry also approved a $5.4 billion spending package, which covers various weaponry and ammunition, including the purchase of 12 Russian Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jets that will be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). These aircraft would be the most modern Su-30 MKI warplanes used by the IAF, the defense officials said and would include more than 60% domestically-produced content.

This change signifies the unwavering commitment of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to modernize and at the same time protect the skies of the nation,” the ministry added.

The phasing out of the remaining MiG-21s will pave the way for the country’s domestically developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-MK1A jets, which will be introduced to fill the gap left by the outgoing MiG-21s. The IAF is expected to start receiving the LCA Mark-1A warplanes from February 2024 onwards.

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The MiG-21, developed in the 1950s by the Mikoyan design bureau, holds the record for the most-produced jet aircraft in the world, and has been a mainstay of the IAF. India’s air force got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963 and introduced 874 of the Soviet-origin fighters over the years. These fighter jets played a crucial role in the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971.

In 2019, Abhinandan Varthaman, a Wing Commander of the IAF who was operating a MiG-21 Bison, shot down a Pakistani F-16 jet during a dogfight over the Indo-Pakistan border in the wake of the Pulwama suicide bombing, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Jammu and Kashmir in recent years. Varthaman’s MiG-21 was then downed and the pilot was captured by Pakistani forces, but later returned to India.