Indian Air Force

Why IAF Is Still Using Mig 21 Bison? When Will “Flying Coffin” Be Retired?

Hello defence lovers! Recently a Mig 21 Bison crashed in Moga, Punjab which took Squadron Leader Abhinav Choudhary’s life. In the last few years, several Mig 21s had crashed killing many young pilots. Due to these accidents Mig 21 has earned the infamous name of the flying coffin. So why Indian Air force is not grounding its Mig 21 fleet? Let us understand in this article.

Mig 21’s Service In IAF

The legendary mig 21 was one of the most advanced fighters of its time. Very few aircraft could match its capabilities at that time. The Indian government chose the Mig 21 over the English Electric lightning allegedly under the KGB’s influence. The mig 21 was inducted into IAF’s service in the 1960s. Since then, it has given the country over 50 years of glorious service. In total IAF procured 1200 mig 21s as it was one of the cheapest fighters of that time. It was even cheaper than BMP-2. For a very long time mig 21 had been the backbone of the Indian Airforce. It played a crucial role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation war.

During its service life, the Mig 21 received several upgrades. The initially procured jets were of fishbed standards. Later these were upgraded into Mig 21M, Mig 21FL and then into Mig 21-bis standards. The last upgrade was of Bison standards. With the upgrades Mig 21 bison was near 4th generation standards. All the non-Bison mig 21 have already been phased out of service.

Why Mig-21 Crashes So Frequently?

Mig 21 crashes more frequently than any other aircraft in the IAF, often killing its pilots. The age of the aircraft is an obvious factor. It is the oldest fighter aircraft in the IAF’s inventory. There are other factors as well. The lack of spare parts is one of the reasons behind these crashes. Lack of spares forces the technicians to repair the worn-out parts and use them again. The airframes also serving beyond their service lives. All these factors lead to mechanical failures leading to crashes. Apart from these factors, Mig 21 is one of the hardest aircraft in IAF’s fleet to fly. It lacks fly-by-wire. Almost every system is manual. The stall speed of Mig 21 is higher than any other aircraft in IAF’s fleet, which makes landings and takeoffs much more difficult. All these factors make Mig 21 bison, a difficult machine to fly.

Why Mig 21 Is Still In Service?

Around 100 Mig 21 bison are still in service. These jets are still in service because of the depleting fighter squadron strength of the Indian Airforce. Currently, IAF has 33 fighter squadrons against the required 42. Retiring the Bison will take down the number below 30. LCA Tejas was supposed to replace these Migs but got delayed and delayed. The bisons were supposed to be retired in 2020 but again given a service extension till 2022 due to delays in the production of Tejas. This was the third time when its retirement was delayed.

India is not the only country which is delaying the retirement of Mig 21. Even china still operates a large fleet of Chengdu J-7s which are Chinese copies of Mig 21. One-third of PLAAF consists of these fighters. Pakistan is also not able to retire its J-7 which is surprising as only one10th generation Spaceship JF 17 is enough to tackle the entire Indian Airforce. Keeping jokes apart, we should note that many operators of mig 21 are not able to phase them out due to lack of funds. In the modern era, no aircraft is as economical as Mig 21 was in its era.

The Indian Airforce will very soon phase this legend out. But one should note that though mig 21 bison is old, it’s not incapable. Even today it’s an excellent interceptor. It has a very small frontal radar cross-section, can use terrain masking effectively, and has an impressive rate of climb. It proves that what it can do if it is in the trained and skilled hands of IAF pilots on 27 February 2019.



Sheershoo Deb

I am a defense aspirant preparing to be an officer in the prestigious Indian armed forces. Earning the prestigious blue uniform is my dream.

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