New Delhi. It was indeed ironical when the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said that the Indian Air Force is still flying 44-year-old MiG-21 fighter jets when no one even drives cars that old. The comment comes at a time when questions have been raised about the four-decade-old fighter planes that remain the core of India’s defence fleet since a recent dogfight at the Line of Control, in which Pakistan used superior F-16 jets.
“We are still flying MiG-21 which is 44 year old but nobody driving cars of that vintage,” Air Chief Dhanoa said at a seminar where he shared the platform with Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
The Air Chief said the basic version of the Russian fighter jet would be phased out this year. “Hopefully, I will fly the last sortie in September, subject to visibility,” he said.
The aircraft had been in service for decades because of the overhauling using Indian-made components. “Over 95 per cent of components required in overhauling is made in India. The Russians are not flying the MiG but we are because we have overhaul facilities,” said the Air Chief.
The MiG-21 joined the Indian Air Force in 1973-74.
The jet flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the pilot captured by Pakistan, was an upgraded variant called the MiG-21 Bison. The fighter pilot was able to shoot down a more advanced Pakistani F-16 before his plane was shot down.
At least 110 MiG-21 jets were upgraded in 2006 to MiG-21 Bison. They were equipped with powerful multi-mode radar, better avionics and communications systems.
Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa had flown the MiG-21. In May 2017, he led a four-aircraft ‘Missing Man’ formation in honour of the servicemen killed during the Kargil conflict.
The MiG-21 has seen several crashes over the years. Over the past 40 years, India has lost more than half of its MiG combat fleet of 872 aircraft, parliament was told recently.