The decision to retire IAF's oldest fighter plane has followed a series of tragic events and more than 400 accidents in the last 6 decades

After assuming the post of the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari held his first press conference on Tuesday ahead of IAF's 89th anniversary. Addressing the press brief, the IAF chief discussed an array of topics ranging from the present situation at the LAC, to the possible threats posed by the Taliban in Afghanistan and the retirement of India's longest-serving fighter plane- MiG-21.

"We have four squadrons of the MiG-21s and the drawdown will happen in the next three to four years," he stated, adding that India would meet its requirements for 5th Generation fighter aircraft through the AMCA- an indigenous aircraft developed by the DRDO.

The decision to retire India's oldest fighter plane has followed a series of tragic events and more than 400 accidents in the last 6 decades. The supersonic MiG-21s were used for training pilots between the 1980s to early 2000s and served as a bridge between subsonic trainers and supersonic fighters before the induction of the British-origin Hawks in 2008. However, MiG-21s were plagued with safety problems and have accounted for the lives of 170 Indian pilots since 1970.

Owing to the number of accidents that it has been in, the aircraft has been dubbed as the 'flying coffin' and the 'widow maker'. Notably, Soviet Air Force, ie Russia which built the aircraft doesn't use it anymore. Several other countries such as America and Vietnam, which possessed the fighter plane have retired it long back.

Even as countries phased out MiG-21s, India continued to upgrade its technology, the latest version- the Bison aircraft. More than 100 MiG-21s have been upgraded to Bison, and several of these have been instrumental in cross-border strikes in Pakistan’s Balakot. In a notable chapter in the history of the aircraft, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman downed a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) F-16 using a Bison in 2019 despite the former's numerical and technological superiority. At present, India possesses four squadrons of MiG-21 Bison aircraft — each with 16 to 18 fighter jets.

Next Step For IAF

On Tuesday, the IAF chief confirmed the drawdown of MiG-21s. To replace the ageing aircraft, the IAF now plans to induct different variants of TEJAS in the coming years for which the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited has been awarded a Rs 48,000-crore contract.

"We are on the verge of getting 6 Light Utility Helicopters from the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)," VR Chaudhari said. Moreover, the induction of Rafale and Apaches have significantly added to India's combat potential. "Our offensive strike capability has become even more potent with the integration of new weapons on our fleets," he added.

Additionally, India is planning to procure 114 Fighter Aircraft under its 'Make In India' project. The project under the Make In India initiative includes top contenders such as Lockheed Martin's F-21, Boeing's F/A-18, Dassault Aviation's Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, Russian aircraft MiG-35 and Saab's Gripen. Efforts are also being made to work on indigenous Anti-drone capability. "We are giving benefit to start-up's to design and develop counter UAS system for Air Force," the IAF chief stated.