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Indian Air Force Grounds MiG-21 Fleet After Rajasthan Crash

A MiG-21 crashed in Rajasthan around two weeks ago. Three civilians in the house where the plane crashed were killed. The pilot ejected safely.

Representational Image/File Photo of MiG 21
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Two weeks after a MiG-21 fighter plane crashed in Rajasthan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has grounded the entire fleet of around 50 planes temporarily.

The PTI cited people familiar with the matter to report that the MiG-21 aircraft are currently undergoing technical evaluation and checks and will be allowed to fly only after clearance by the teams concerned carrying out the scrutiny.

The Soviet-era MiG-21 aircraft have long been a concern as they are old and have frequently crashed. They were first inducted into service in 1960s. 

India has been very slow in inducting newer aircraft which means that existing aircraft have to remain in service for longer than desired.

The crash in Rajasthan

The latest incident two weeks has prompted the IAF to ground MiG-21 aircraft, according to PTI.

A MiG-21 crashed in Rajasthan's Hanumangarh around two weeks ago. Three civilians in the house where the plane crashed were killed. The pilot ejected safely.

The MiG-21 had taken off for a routine training sortie from the Air Force Station at Suratgarh on May 8.

Poor record of MiG-21

Once a star of the Indian Air Force, the MiG-21 in recent years has been called 'Flying Coffin' and 'Widow Maker' for frequent crashes or accidents. 

First inducted into the 1960s, the MiG-21 are the longest-serving planes with the IAF. They were a mainstay of IAF for a long time.

Even though MiG-21 aircraft currently in service are upgraded variants, the fact remains that even they are at least 35-years-old and retain the original airframes and engines even if avionics and weapon systems have been upgraded.

On the defence that MiG-21s currently in service are upgraded ones and not those from 1960s, a former IAF commander told The Print, "Be it any variant, the fact is that it is a MiG-21. The MiG-21 Bison is an upgrade of the MiG-21bis, which was on its last leg of flying. What has improved is avionics and armament. Armament has no role in crashes. The engine remains the same. It is like taking a Ford T model car onto the roads today."

Fort T model was one of the first mass-produced cars. The former IAF commander compared flying MiG-21 today to driving a Ford T model.

IAF to phase out MiG-21 in coming years

After the first induction, the IAF procured over 870 MiG-21 fighters to boost its overall combat prowess.

However, the aircraft has a very poor safety record.     According to official data, MiG-21s were involved in 400 crashes in the last six decades.

At present, the IAF has three MiG-21 squadrons with a total of around 50 aircraft, according to officials.

The IAF last year finalised a timeline of three years to phase out the remaining MiG-21 fighter squadrons.

The IAF also plans to start the phasing out of the three squadrons of Mig-29 fighter jets in the next five years.

As part of the IAF's modernisation plan, the defence ministry in February 2021 sealed a Rs 48,000 crore deal with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the procurement of 83 Tejas jets.

The IAF has already procured 36 Rafale jets to enhance its combat capabilities.

It is also in the process of acquiring 114 Medium Role Fighter Aircraft.

(With PTI inputs)

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