The Indian Air force is still flying 44-year-old MiG-21 fighter jets when no one even drives cars that old, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said today.
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, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh by his side. He was speaking at a seminar on modernisation and indigenisation of the Indian Air Force.
Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa was referring to the MiG-21 fighter aircraft that had been inducted into the force in 1973-74.
“The fifth-generation fighters are a reality and the next generation fighters are already on the drawing board. Can we afford a victory with such losses? If there is no war, we cannot wait for indigenous technology to replace obsolete war fighting equipment.
“Neither will it be prudent to import every defence equipment from abroad. Today, I can still fly the MiG 21 MF aircraft which is almost 44 years old. I’m sure none of you are driving a car of that vintage,” he said.
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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 Air Chief BS Dhanoa.
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 has 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.
Photo credits CNN news 18