IAF equipped 28 fighter squadrons & 4 training units with MiG-21. 16 have been number-plated. Between 2015 & 2022, IAF phased out a squadron each year in March, with exception of 2021

New Delhi: As October came to a close, the Indian Air Force phased out yet another squadron of the MiG 21 Bison — the Number 4 Squadron in Rajasthan, known as the Oorials, located at the Uttarlai Air Force Station in Barmer. The squadron, which had been operating the MiG-21 fighter aircraft since 1966, close to six decades, will now fly the Su-30MKI.

The The MiG-21s had been inducted into the air force in 1963. In all, the air force had equipped a total of 28 fighter squadrons and four training units with MiG-21. The average tenure of the aircraft was 33 years.

Beginning last year, the air force numberplated the Srinagar-based Number 51 squadron. Numberplating refers to officially decommissioning squadrons of the air force, with the members of the unit being posted to other units. More often, the units are restored at a later date with the induction of new aircraft.

The air force now operates two squadrons of the MiG-21s, which are scheduled to retire by 2025.

Interestingly, while their service spans about 60 years, the aircraft’s phase-out plan spans 40 years.

According to a post by air force enthusiast Anchit Gupta on social media platform X (formerly Twitter), sharing the MiG-21 data, the first squadron, Number 7 Squadron, was phased out in November 1984. This squadron had carried out 11 years of operations and flew the MiG-21M variant, only to be converted to Mirage-2000 aircraft.

Similarly, the Number 1 squadron, which carried out operations for 20 years with the MiG-21FL variant, was converted to Mirage-2000 in January 1986.

The same year, two more squadrons of the MiG-21 were converted to MiG-29 — Number 47 in April and Number 28 in December — after 18 and 22 years’ service, respectively.

Subsequently, in July 1996, the Number 29 Squadron came to be converted to MiG-27 after 30 years of service. A year later, in June 1997, the Number 24 squadron was converted, however, this time to Sukhoi-30 aircraft. This marked the first shift of a MiG-21 squadron to Su-30MKI, Gupta said in his post.

India placed its first order for the Sukhois in 1996. It was later in December 2000 that HAL signed a contract with Rosoboronexport for the license production of Su-30MKI aircraft. Another squadron — Number 20 — was converted to Su-30 in 2004.

More Number-Plating

In October and December last year, squadron Numbers 30 and 45 operating the MiG-21s, came to be number-plated.

In the following years, maximum MiG-21 squadrons across the country came to be number-plated. In June 2005, and June & July 2006 the air force number-plated three squadrons— Number 52, Air Defence Flight (ADF) and Number 8.

Furthermore, between 2009 and 2012, the air force number-plated squadron Number 15, MiG Operational Flying Training Unit (MOFTU) formed at Tezpur, and Numbers 17 and 101 squadron.

In March 2014, in the Operational Conversion Unit (OCU), the MiG-21FLs were retired and replaced with Hawk-132 aircraft. The Hawks are advanced jet trainers that were inducted into service in February 2007.

According to Gupta’s post, an interesting trend that has emerged since 2015, is of the air force numberplating one squadron each year in March until 2022, with the exception of 2021.

In 2015, it happened to be squadron Number 21. In 2016, it was the Number 37 squadron’s turn, followed by the Number 32 in 2017. 2018 and 2018 saw the Number 108 and the Number 35 number-plated, respectively.

In March 2020, Number 26 Squadron came to be number-plated, while in March 2022, the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) was converted to Su-30MKI aircraft. The TACDE operated four different variants of the MiG-21: MiG-21FL, MiG-21bis, MiG-21M and MiG-21 Bison.