Monday, July 15, 2013

The Indian Air force and its troubled relationship with the MiG-21

The crash of a MiG-21 Bison and the death of a pilot is yet another chapter in the troubled history of an aircraft that has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons in recent times.

In today’s crash, the aircraft involved was the modified MiG 21 Bison which crashed while landing at the Uttarlai Airbase in western Rajasthan, killing the pilot.

By the Defence Minister’s own admission in March this year, there have been 29 fighter aircraft crashes over the last three years, of which 12 have been MiG 21s.

The MiG 21 Bison is an upgraded  version of the MiG 21, which was dubbed the ‘flying coffin’ after a spate of crashes that killed its pilots. However it forms a major part of the Indian Air Force’s fighter jet squadron.

A Times of India article documenting the history of the MiG-21 in the Indian Air Force speaks of how a price advantage coupled with the fighter aircraft’s agility was what prompted the entry of the MiG-21 into the Indian Air Force. There are now over 1,200 such craft in the Air force fleet.

The article also documents why despite glowing praises from pilots who have operated them, the aircraft is a subject of controversy. Since 1971-72, as many as 380 of the 872 MiG 21s inducted in the IAF have crashed – a number constituting 43 percent of the fleet.

However, despite the controversy surrounding the aircraft, the delay in the purchase of 126 Rafale fighters and the development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft has meant that the upgraded version of the MiG 21 including the Bison, will remain operational till 2019, the Hindu had reported.

Air Chief Marshal  NAK Browne was quoted as saying that of the 874 MiG-21s bought since 1964, 264 are still operational and with a new radar system and aiming-navigation system the aircraft was good enought for use till 2019.

The Bison variant of the MiG 21 will continue to form a major element of the Indian Air Force’s fighting force and despite the controversies will continue to play a major role in the years to come, until its replacements arrive.


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