In March 1963, the first batch of MiG-21 arrived in India. Over the past 60 years, the aircraft, including all variants flown by the Indian Air Force (IAF), have been part of various operations, including the 1971 Bangladesh war, 1999 Kargil conflict and the most recent air duel after the Balakot airstrike.
Ministry of Defence spokesperson at Gujarat Wing Commander Manish tweeted last night, “MiG-21, a legendary fighter in service since 1963 and first supersonic aircraft in IAF, completed 60 years today and continues to serve the nation.”
India has sourced 874 MiG-21s since 1963. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited licence-produced 657 of these jets. Over the years, avionics, missiles and radars were upgraded with newer versions.
In all, nearly 490 MiG 21s were involved in accidents or crashes, killing over 170 pilots. Around 50 MiG-21s continue to be in service. These will retire in phases over the next two years.
After the first MiG-21s arrived, six MiG-21PFs (Type 76) were inducted in 1965. Another 250 machines of the MiG-21 FL (Type 77) variant were added and the plane saw another variants called MiG-21M/MFs (Type 96). The most recent variants is MiG-21 Bis (Type 75).
The IAF had planned to have a replacement for MiG-21 ready by 1994. The last of the MiG-21 Bis was produced in 1985, 38 years ago.
The original MiG-21 was a point defence fighter and until the MiG-21 Bis variant was inducted into the IAF, the jet was designed for air-to-air combat and that too within the visual range of the pilot using short-range air-to-air missiles.
MiG-21’s Bis version had a new multi-mode radar that supported the employment of the radar-guided weapons, making it capable of carrying out operations from a distance or what is called “beyond visual range” in military parlance.
The aircraft was originally designed for high-speed and high-altitude air defence operations.