SOURCE: THOMAS D’SOUZA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
Post-1962 war with China, Indian Air Force felt a need for modern supersonic interceptor aircraft and quickly English Electric Lightning, Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 were shortlisted. F-104 Starfighter came with superior avionics and construction was top notch in comparison to Soviet-developed MiG-21.
Electric Lightning lost favor pretty soon with IAF and Lockheed F-104 Starfighter was selected by India. Since F-104 were supplied to Pakistan Air Force a year earlier in 1961, Indian government felt that Americans will oblige to Indian request just after 1962 war with China and will agree to the sale of F-104 Starfighter to India but then came a shocker.
American administration thought that supply of F-104 Starfighter to India will be seen as a great betrayal to Pakistani government and India was offered Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter instead which was seen by Indian side has a deliberate action taken, to embarrass India, since it took months for the American administration to even reply back to earlier Indian request.
An offer of Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter jet in response to a request for F-104 Starfighter was seen in India as an American way of telling Indians which fighter it’s good and economical for poor third world country like India.
Left with no Choice India placed orders for 12 Mig-21s by end of 1962 and Soviets delivered them by mid of 1963, while India still kept door open for Americans, hoping that F-104 Starfighter export will be cleared to India but this also meant Soviets were kept waiting for more order of Mig-21s and when 1965 war with Pakistan happened, IAF didn’t have enough Mig-21 in its fleet to use them effectively in the war .
American delay tactics and waiting Soviets meant that after the war was over, India rushed to the Soviet Union to buy more Mig-21s and no longer Mig-21s were seen in Indian Air Force as stop-gap Interceptors and instead more squadrons were activated with fast-tracked delivery schedules from the Soviet Union meant that the fleet grew in a short period of time .
When 1971 war with Pakistan came knocking, IAF had several squadrons of Mig-21s in place which also had highly trained and motivated fighter pilots thus came much-anticipated air combat between two Mach 2 capable fighters which world was waiting to see.
By end of 1971 war with Pakistan, Mig-21 had shot down 4 F-104 Starfighter and remained undefeated against same fighter aircraft which American thought was too high tech for Indians to afford and fly. Military analysts around the world soon declared that Mig-21 was the winner and soon Indian air force’s heroics with Mig-21 against superior American fighter aircraft was immediately acknowledged by other air forces, which lead to a boom in Mig-21 sale around the world.
Indian Mig-21 Instructors were much-sort after crew requested by many countries who operated Mig-21 and wanted their pilots to be trained. F-104 which was dubbed as superior aircraft with superior build quality started suffering high crashes leading to its premature withdrawal from many airforces where they were inducted and operated including in Pakistan, while Mig-21 continues to fly even today.