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IAF operates upgraded MiG-21 fighter jets


The Indian Air Force (IAF) has upgraded its Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 (NATO reporting name: Fishbed) fighter jets, according to the military service’s official website.


IAF operates upgraded MiG 21 fighter jets Indian MiG-21 fighter jet (Picture source: Sheeju)


"[The IAF] MiG-21, MiG-27 [Flogger-D], and Jaguar aircraft have already been upgraded, and Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 [Fulcrum] air platforms are scheduled for updates," says the IAF. Moreover, the modernized Fishbed (it is designated MiG-21 Bison in the Indian service) is still on the list of India’s basic combat aircraft. "The MiG-21 Bison single-engine single-seat multirole fighter/ground attack aircraft of Russian origins form the backbone of the IAF," says the website. According to the IAF, the MiG-21 Bison is armed with a 23 mm twin-barrel cannon and four R-60 (AA-8 Aphid) short-range air-to-air missiles and produces a top speed of 2,230 km/h.

However, the real role of the MiG-21 in the IAF’s structure seems to be overstated. According to the Military Balance 2018 book published by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), India flies 115 MiG-21 Bison combat aircraft, 20 MiG-21M/MF (Fishbed) fighter jets, and 39 MiG-21U/UM (Mongol) operational trainers. Therefore, the IAF operates a fleet of 174 MiG-21s that have been issued to seven squadrons. The share of Fishbeds/Mongols is inferior to that of the Sukhoi Su-30MKI (Flanker-H) multirole combat aircraft: the IAF has inducted approximately 250 Su-30MKIs, the Military Balance 2018 says.

Meanwhile, India is planning to scrap several Fishbeds. Speaking at a seminar on the modernization of the IAF in late August, the service’s Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa said the non-upgraded MiG-21s (in particular, the MiG-21M/MF fighters) would be brought out of service before the end of the year. According to the official, the IAF’s last MiG-21MF would make its final flight in September.

Dhanoa also mentioned the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL’s) management and spare part production system, which both allow the IAF to fly the MiG-21s in spite of the aircraft’s obvious obsolescence. "The management done by the HAL and the BRD [Base Repair Depot] is praiseworthy. Over 95% components required in the overhaul process are being made in India only. The Russians are not operating the MiG [the MiG-21], but we are flying the aircraft because we have overhaul facilities," the Economic Times newspaper quoted the official as saying. On September 2, Dhanoa made his last training sortie as a member of the IAF, flying a MiG-21 family twin-seat trainer (probably, a MiG-21UM).

India claims that an IAF MiG-21 Bison shot down a Pakistani Air Force (PAF) F-16 Fighting Falcon-family multirole combat aircraft during a border conflict that had occurred in late February. At the same time, New Delhi provided no evidence of the destroyed PAF plane.

The IAF is planning to operate light multifunctional fighter jets in the coming years. As the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is being developed at a very slow rate, the service has to keep its upgraded Fishbeds operational. Once the LCA Tejas light fighter that is being designed under the program is inducted (or, may be, replaced by an imported air platform) by the IAF, New Delhi will begin scrapping its MiG-21s. The Ministry of Defense is reported to have a request for 40 Tejas Mk. I and 83 Tejas Mk. IA fighters; however, the status of the order is not known.

It should be mentioned that India has lost at least 10 Fishbeds in air accidents. On September 25, a twin-seat MiG-21 (probably, a MiG-21U or a MiG-21UM) crashed in Madhya Pradesh state, with both pilots surviving the accident.

According to the World Air Forces 2019 report published by the aerospace magazine Flight Global, a Chinese-built copy of the MiG-21, the J-7 fighter jet, holds the 8th place in the Top 10 list of the world’s most popular combat aircraft: 418 fighters of the type are now being operated.


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