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In the annals of India’s military aviation history, the MiG-27 has had a prominent yet tumultuous role. Originally inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the mid-1980s, the MiG-27 was envisaged as a powerful ground-attack aircraft. However, its operational life was marred by several issues that eventually led to its premature retirement. Among the various plans to extend the life and enhance the performance of the MiG-27, the proposal to re-engine the aircraft with the AL-31F engine stands out as a significant yet ultimately abandoned initiative.

The IAF inducted the MiG-27s, known as the Bahadur in India, during 1984-85. These aircraft were licensed-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under a transfer of technology agreement with the Soviet Union. A total of 165 MiG-27Ms were produced, serving as the backbone of the IAF’s ground-attack capabilities for several decades.

In the early 2000s, the MiG-27s underwent a mid-life upgrade to enhance their avionics, weapon systems, and overall combat effectiveness. Despite these upgrades, the aircraft continued to face significant operational challenges.

One of the key issues with the MiG-27 was its Tumansky R-29-B-300 afterburning turbojet engine. The IAF frequently reported design flaws in the engine that resulted in reliability and performance issues. To address these concerns, there was a proposal to re-engine the MiG-27s with the AL-31F engine, which powers the Su-30MKI.

The AL-31F is a more advanced and reliable engine, offering improved thrust and performance characteristics. A demonstration of a MiG-27 fitted with the AL-31F engine showed promising results, indicating enhanced performance and potentially extended service life for the aircraft.

Re-engineering an entire fleet is a complex and costly endeavor. The financial outlay required to replace the engines, along with necessary modifications to the airframe and systems, was deemed prohibitively high.

Beyond the engine, the MiG-27s suffered from poor build quality. This included structural and systems-related issues that persisted despite the mid-life upgrades. The overall reliability and airworthiness of the aircraft remained a concern.

By the late 2010s, the IAF was undergoing a strategic shift towards modernizing its fleet with newer and more capable aircraft. Investments in platforms like the Su-30MKI, the indigenous HAL Tejas, and potential acquisitions of other advanced fighters were prioritized over extending the life of older aircraft.

even with a new engine, the MiG-27’s design limitations would have constrained its operational effectiveness in modern combat scenarios. The IAF sought platforms that offered greater versatility and technological sophistication.

In light of these considerations, the IAF decided to retire the MiG-27 fleet prematurely. The process began with the retirement of the first batch of MiG-27MLs in December 2017, culminating in the final batch being phased out on 27 December 2019. By the time of its retirement, the MiG-27 had served the IAF for over three decades, playing a critical role in various conflicts and operations.

The MiG-27’s retirement marked the end of an era for the IAF. While the aircraft faced numerous challenges throughout its service life, it also provided valuable lessons in aircraft maintenance, operational planning, and fleet management. The decision to retire the MiG-27s and not pursue the re-engine plan underscores the IAF’s commitment to maintaining a modern, reliable, and capable fleet.