New Delhi: The 26 Squadron of the Indian Air Force (IAF) — a MiG-21 fighter squadron that had played a crucial role in the 1971 India-Pakistan War — is celebrating its golden jubilee anniversary at a two-day event in Pathankot.

The event scheduled to get over Friday could be, however, the last anniversary celebrations for the illustrious squadron with its current composition of aircraft.

Known as ‘The Warriors’, the squadron is likely to be wound up and number plated latest by March next year when the IAF phases out non-upgraded Bis and Type 96 versions of the MiG-21 fighter jets, said sources in the IAF who didn’t wish to be named.

When the aircraft in a squadron are phased out, it is number plated. For instance, the Ambala-based ‘Golden Arrows’ 17 Squadron — which had Type 96 MiG-21s and was commanded by former Air Chief B.S. Dhanoa during 1999 Kargil conflict — was number plated in 2011. It is, however, being resurrected for the first Rafale fighter jets squadron.

Once the IAF winds up 26 Squadron — which has only the two aforementioned legacy MiG-21 jets — its strength will fall to 29 squadrons as against the sanctioned 42.

How 26 Squadron Operates

The 26 Squadron operates two flights and has the last of IAF’s remaining MiG-21Bis and Type 96 aircraft.

The Type 96 aircraft is the ground attack version of the legacy jet. It has four pylons to carry external fuel tanks and air-to-air missiles or twin barrel guns.

The MiG-21Bis uses a more powerful engine and is a multi-role version that can be used for both air defence and ground attack.

“It (MiG-21Bis) had a radar, better avionics and could engage in air-to-air combat. It was extensively used for point air defence like Combat Air Patrol and Operational Readiness Platform,” said an IAF officer who has been part of 26 Squadron.

A Celebrated Squadron

Initially based in Adampur, ‘The Warriors’ played an active role in close air support during the 1971 India-Pakistan War.

At the time, it had the Sukhoi-7 aircraft and helped in training and equipping other Sukhoi-7 squadrons of the IAF.

In 1977, however, it was moved to Pathankot and was given MiG-21Bis fighters. The MiG-21 Type 96 aircraft of 35 Squadron was later inducted into The Warriors, after the former was number plated.

The 26 Squadron also took part in Operation Brasstacks — a massive military exercise carried out by the Indian Army in Rajasthan in 1986-87. It also participated in combat air patrol missions during the Kargil conflict in 1999, and subsequently during Operation Parakram in 2001-02.