MIG-21: 50-year jour­ney


The ven­er­a­ble Mikoyan-Gure­vich MiG-21 con­tin­ues to be the back­bone of the In­dian Air Force’s air de­fence force since its ar­rival in 1963. Sprin­kled across squadrons mostly in the West and South-west, the MiG-21 is ex­pected to re­ceive a two-year ex­ten­sion that will see over 100 MiG-21 Bisons see ser­vice till 2017. This has been ne­ces­si­tated by steadily de­plet­ing squadron num­bers as well as delays in as­set ad­di­tion pro­grammes, in­clud­ing the in­dige­nous LCA Te­jas and MMRCA, that’s ex­pected to see a con­cluded con­tract this cal­en­dar year. The type may mark five years, but it is also true that the plat­form has seen con­tin­u­ous up­grades and im­prove­ments in In­dian ser­vice, mak­ing it more an In­dian air­craft than Rus­sian. Of the 874 MiG-21s that In­dia has op­er­ated over the years, 264 still fly to­day across a host of front­line squadrons.

Apart from op­er­a­tions in all con­flicts start­ing with the 1971 war, the MiG-21 is also cred­ited with the only peace­time kill of an ad­ver­sary air­craft (the shoot­ing down of an in­trud­ing Pak­istan Navy At­lan­tique over the Gulf of Kutch in 1999 af­ter the Kargil con­flict). It was re­cently re­vealed by the Chief of the Air Staff that the plat­form would re­ceive new life in the form of a life ex­ten­sion that will see at least five squadrons op­er­at­ing up to 2017 and per­haps be­yond.

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