In a pivotal moment in the history of the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Number 4 Squadron on Tuesday bid farewell to MiG-21 Bison fighter jets as they flew over Uttarlai at Barmer, Rajasthan for the final time in a show of the force’s bid for indigenisation.
The MiG-21 jets were replaced by the Su-30 MKI aircraft as the IAF sought to modernise its defence capability, marking the end of an era. According to the Ministry of Defence, the MiG-21 was the first supersonic fighter in service of the IAF and was inducted in 1963 and has participated in all major conflicts for six decades.
The farewell ceremony saw a combined flypast by the MiG-21 and the Su-30 MKI, marking the last time the Bison fighter jets will fly in the airspace. The ceremony was witnessed by the various military and civilian dignitaries in attendance.
The Number 4 Squadron known as “Oorials” of the IAF based at Air Force Station Uttarlai, formally inducted the state-of-the-art Su-30 MKI. The conversion of this squadron to Su-30 MKI implies that the IAF now operates only two squadrons of the MiG-21. The IAF remains committed to phasing out the MiG-21 aircraft by the year 2025.
The contribution of MiG-21 jets
The MiG-21 entered service in 1965 on a trial basis. It has formed the backbone of India’s fighter fleet from 1970 to the mid-2000s and participated in major conflicts, including between India and Pakistan.
The MiG-21 Bison was the final variant to serve with IAF, equipped with upgraded electronics and better navigation and communication systems. The MiG-21, had met with several accidents in the recent past.
The 51 squadron that operated the MiG-21 fighters during Balakot operations, is famous for thwarting Pakistan’s aerial attack on India on February 27, 2019, and taking out an F-16 in an aircraft piloted by Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman.
“We will stop flying the MiG-21 fighter aircraft by 2025 and we will replace the MiG-21 squadron with the LCA Mark-1A. The same proposal is in place. In another month or so, the second squadron will get number-plated and we will follow with the third one sometime next year. The induction of the LCA Mark-1A will fill the gap of these outgoing MiG-21s,” said Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari earlier this month.
The Air Force is now set to replace the MiG-21 with the indigenous LCA Mark-1A fighter jets. The Su-30 fighter jets are the mainstay of the IAF with 260 of them already in service. The jets form around 50% of the fighter fleet.
The Su-30 MKI fleet upgrade plan is also seen by the IAF as an opportunity for exports as many countries in Southeast Asia and Africa operate the plane and can use these solutions to provide advanced capabilities to their fleets.
(with ANI inputs)