The story of IAF’s tryst with MiG-21 fighter planes

The March 17 crash of a MiG-21 Bison in Gwalior — the second this year — has turned the highlight on India’s longest-serving fighter aircraft, its security report and the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s plans to exchange the ageing jets with newer ones within the coming years.

The air power acquired its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and it progressively inducted 874 variants of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters to bolster its fight potential, stated officers acquainted with the MiG-21 fleet. But greater than 400 MiG-21s have been concerned in accidents which have claimed the lives of 200 pilots over the past six many years, incomes the fighters ominous epithets similar to “Flying Coffin” and “Widow Maker”.

The two Bisons that crashed this year — the primary accident occurred close to Suratgarh in Rajasthan on January 5 — are essentially the most superior variants of the MiG-21 fighter planes. The MiG-21 Bis (an upgraded variant of the aircraft flown for the primary time in 1976) was additional upgraded to MiG-21 Bison in India in 2000.

IAF operates 4 squadrons of MiG-21 Bison plane — a squadron has 16 to 18 fighter jets. The final of these upgraded MiG-21s are set to be phased out within the subsequent three to 4 years. Of the 874 variants inducted by the IAF, greater than 60% had been licence-produced in India.

IAF’s overwhelming dependence

Experts say that extra MiG-21s have crashed than another fighter as a result of they shaped the majority of the fighter plane within the IAF’s stock for a very long time. IAF needed to maintain its MiG-21 fleet flying longer than it might have preferred as a result of of delay within the induction of new fighters.

“Was there a choice? You have to have a certain number of fighter planes to guard your skies. The induction of multi-role fighters was delayed, only 36 Rafales came instead of the projected requirement of 126 jets, the light combat aircraft (LCA) programme is behind schedule and fighters such as Sukhoi-30 have had serviceability issues. IAF had to make do with its MiG-21 fleet,” stated Air Vice Marshal Sunil Nanodkar (retired), a former assistant chief of air employees.

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Delay within the induction of superior jet trainers led to supersonic MiG-21 fighters getting used for coaching pilots within the Nineteen Eighties, Nineties and early 2000s. This interval witnessed a rise within the accident rate of these fighters, stated one of the officers cited above. The accident rate of the MiG-21s within the Nineties was 2.89 per 10,000 flying hours, which got here all the way down to 0.27 per 10,000 hours after the induction of Hawk-132 superior jet trainers in late 2000s, official knowledge accessed by Hindustan Times reveals.

Before the induction of the British-origin Hawks, MiG-21s accounted for half of the entire flying hours of the IAF. The Hawks had been inducted in 2008 to satisfy a long-standing want of the IAF. The planes are essential for the coaching of fight pilots as they function a bridge between subsonic trainers and supersonic fighters.

IAF skilled its pilots on the MiG-21s for a very long time earlier than the Hawks had been inducted, Nanodkar stated.

“That added to the MiG-21 losses. Pilots went straight from subsonic Kiran trainers to supersonic MiG-21s. The requirement for servicing and spares also went up as the MiG-21s were flying a lot in the training role. Maintenance became a nightmare after the end of the Soviet Union in 1991,” stated Nanodkar.

The leap from Kiran trainers to MiG-21 was daunting because the pilots confronted an enormous variation in plane pace, efficiency and know-how. The MiG-21 has a takeoff and touchdown pace of greater than 330 kmph in comparison with 200 kmph for the Kiran tainers.

An operational asset

The Bison isn’t the identical plane because the one inducted within the Sixties and has been modernised to satisfy the IAF’s necessities, stated a senior official.

The Bison was concerned in IAF operations after the unprecedented, peacetime, cross-border strike in opposition to terror targets in Pakistan’s Balakot two years in the past.

Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman scripted army aviation historical past by downing a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16, seconds earlier than his personal MiG-21 Bison was hit by a missile forcing him to eject on February 27, 2019. He was later awarded the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest wartime gallantry award. The quotation, printed within the Gazette of India in December 2019, stated his aggressive manoeuvres compelled enemy fighters into tactical chaos and he courageously engaged the hostile plane package deal regardless of its numerical and technological superiority.

The aerial fight with PAF occurred a day after IAF’s Mirage-2000s struck targets in Balakot in response to the Pakistan-backed Pulwama suicide assault in Kashmir during which 40 Central Reserve Police Force males had been killed on February 14.

Also Read | IAF group captain killed in MiG-21 Bison crash in Gwalior

Experts stated the Bison was a particularly succesful platform that the IAF will stretch to the top of its service life — 2024.

“The (Bison) upgrade was significant and essentially on avionics, radar, electronic warfare suite and weapons. The aircraft is very safe to fly, has had a good safety record and will see IAF through till 2023-24,” stated Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd), who was the crew chief of the MiG-21 improve programme, on March 17.

The modernisation plans

IAF will induct totally different variants of Tejas LCA within the coming years to exchange the ageing plane. The defence ministry final month awarded a 48,000-crore contract to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for 83 LCA Mk-1A jets for IAF. The first Mk-1A plane will likely be delivered to the air power in three years, with the remainder being equipped by 2030. The deal entails the provision of 73 Mk-1A fighter jets and 10 LCA Mk-1 coach plane.

The deal for the 83 Mk-1A jets took the entire quantity of Tejas variants ordered to 123. The 40 LCAs already ordered by IAF are within the preliminary operational clearance (IOC) and the extra superior remaining operational clearance (FOC) configurations. The LCA Mk-1A will come with further enhancements over the FOC plane, making it essentially the most superior Tejas variant thus far.

IAF can also be constructing 114 fighter jets within the nation in partnership with a international producer underneath the federal government’s Make in India plan. IAF is among the many final air forces to be flying the MiG-21 variants and even Jaguars, stated Chopra.

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“Even smaller air forces retired MiG-21s long ago. Every crash of an old aircraft is a reminder for IAF to replace older fleets. Modernisation of IAF is behind schedule. Two things are needed immediately. Accelerate the development of LCA variants, increase their rates of production and speed up the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) project. Secondly, send out the request for proposal for 114 new fighters,” Chopra stated.

The authorities is prone to approve India’s homegrown fifth-generation fighter programme – the AMCA – by mid-year, with design, improvement and first prototypes set to value round 15,000 crore. The IAF’s modernisation map envisages the deployment of round 120 AMCA (six squadrons) 2032 onwards, with the stealth planes forming an vital ingredient of future air fight.

Quality and amount ought to prime the IAF’s modernisation priorities, Nanodkar stated.

The depend of IAF’s fighter squadrons has shrunk to 31 in comparison with an optimum energy of 42-plus. Five years in the past, IAF’s then vice chief BS Dhanoa (who went on to develop into the IAF chief) admitted that the air power didn’t have adequate quantity of warplanes to combat a two-front conflict with China and Pakistan.

“Our numbers are not adequate to fully execute an air campaign in a two-front scenario,” Dhanoa stated in March 2016, drawing consideration to the sharp drawdown of India’s fighter fleet. IAF then had 33 fighter squadrons.

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