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Posted at: Jul 20, 2018, 12:29 PM; last updated: Jul 20, 2018, 1:44 PM (IST)

MiG-21 a relic that continues to fly

MiG-21 a relic that continues to fly
An Indian Air Force MIG-21 takes off. A file photo

Ajay Banerjee

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20

The crash of the MiG-21 fighter jet near Kangra in Himachal Pradesh again shows how slow-decision making had led to the obsolete MiG-21 staying on in Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet.

Another well-trained pilot, Squadron Leader Meet Kumar lost his life in peace-time flying on July 18.

India purchased 874 MiG-21s since 1963 the avionics, missiles and radars vary in each of the versions.  Of these nearly 490 were involved in accidents or crashes killing almost 200 pilots.

Some 120-odd MiG-21s continue to be in service. These will be retired in phases till 2021-2022.  

Russia stopped producing these machines in 1985, 33 years ago -- and Indian planes have been kept flying by refurbishing or upgrading -- them. 

Air Vice Marshall SJ Nanodkar says IAF is compelled to carry on (using the MiG 21) in absence of a viable option. This will continue as no immediate replacements are coming. 

IAF two-decade old demand to have new fighters is still pending. 

It now has 32 Squadrons (of which 7 are Mig 21 and 2 are MiG 27) against the 42 mandated by the government to tackle a collusive threat from China and Pakistan.

Air Commodore Prashant Dikshit (Retd) says  the numbers of the Rafale purchase were cut from 126 to 36, the FGFA programme with Russia is stalled, the Tejas has slow production rates (just 8 per year) and the tender for the next lot of 110 new planes has just come out, which can take years to fructify.

Around 19 years ago, post the Kargil conflict, the IAF, recommended purchase of more Mirage-2000/V aircraft from France. 

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2004 decided to have an open global tender to acquire 126 fighter jets and called it the Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). 

Some 11 years later, it was scrapped, the government decided to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets off-the-shelf from French major Dassault and the first one is to be delivered in 2019.

How the picture unfolds

The IAF will phase out nine squadrons of the MiG-21 and 2 MiG-27 over the next 5 years. Two squadrons of Rafale fighters, two of the LCA Tejas and two more Sukhoi-30MKI are to be added by then, making the number of 28 squadrons by 2022.

Six global companies have applied to build 110 jets in India. 

Deliveries are expected to commence within three years of signing the contract and completed within 12 years. Contract signing, if everything goes smoothly, could take about three-four years from now.

However, if the MMRCA-style delay is repeated, the IAF is in for a disaster. Its six Jaguar, three MiG-29 and three Mirage-2000 squadrons will retire by 2030. 

All three planes are already more than 30 years old, reminds Air Vice Marshal Nanodkar.

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