The Russian-made accident-prone MiG-21 fighter planes have crashed 3 times already this year and twice with lost pilots of the ill-fated aircraft but according to the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Air Force (IAF), they will be retired from the force in a phased manner only by 2024.

The accident-prone MiG’s have been crashing repeatedly and have been termed “flying coffins” by several defense experts as they have been living way past their lives but due to depleting squadrons numbers of fighter planes, IAF continues to operate around 100+ upgraded Mig-21Bis that were manufactured in the mid-’80s since they are yet to complete their Total Calendar Life or Total Technical Life.

Since 2000, IAF has lost around 82 Mig-21 variants alone contributing to 53% of all crashes that were recorded in this period for the fighter jets in the IAF and more than 400 MiG 21s have crashed since the 1970s and many of them were due to technical snags. Due to its accident-prone nature of the Mig-21, IAF now has restricted these jets to be flown by senior-ranked pilots in the force. In the second crash that happened in March this year, Group Captain Ashish Gupta who was posted with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment where fighter pilots are given operational training lost his life in Mig-21 crash.

Loss of trained manpower that too with years of flying hours behind them is a loss that can’t be replaced easily and yet IAF continues to fly them. MiG 21s will soon be replaced with Light Combat multirole Tejas aircraft, which is being designed indigenously and developed by HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) but slow ordering process and lack of production capability mean, IAF will be limited to just 2 squadrons of Tejas Mk1 before upgraded Tejas Mk1A starts arriving in 2024 in large numbers, but still it will take another 5-6 years before HAL can deliver all 83 jets that were ordered recently.

IAF in hopes of not jeopardizing its Rafale obsession delayed procurement of Tejas Mk1A and gave priority to the procurement of 36 Rafale when for the same price, IAF could have got close to 100 Tejas that could have replaced all the Mig-21s that it continues to fly due to lack of its replacement a few years ago.

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