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.