An official with knowledge of the situation said on Monday that the Indian Air Force will retire one of its four remaining squadrons of the old MiG-21 fighter jets on September 30. This will be the Srinagar-based No. 51 squadron, also known as “Sword Arms.” This will happen more than three and a half years after the Indian Air Force did something brave behind enemy lines that made history.
Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman was in the squadron when he shot down a Pakistani F-16 fighter plane during a dogfight over the Line of Control on February 27, 2019. This earned him the Vir Chakra award.
The dogfight happened a day after the Indian Air Force destroyed a terror base in Pakistan’s Balakot. On February 26, 2019, IAF Mirage-2000s dropped bombs on the area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The attack was a response to the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir on February 14, in which 40 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) were killed.
The official said that the other three MiG-21 squadrons will be phased out by 2025.
Several MiG-21s have crashed in recent years, drawing attention to India’s oldest fighter plane, its safety record, and the IAF’s plans to replace the older jets with newer models in the coming years.
In 1963, the air force got its first single-engine MiG-21. It went on to get 874 different types of these Soviet-made supersonic fighters to improve its ability to fight.
Over the past 60 years, over 400 MiG-21s have been in accidents that killed about 200 pilots.
MiG-21s crashed more than any other fighter jet because they made up most of the IAF’s combat planes for a long time. Because of delays in getting new planes, the air force had to keep its fleet of MiG-21 planes in the air longer than it would have liked.
The MiG-21s are being replaced by different types of the Indian-made Tejas light combat aircraft.