By Staff Correspondent
In a definitive shift within the Indian Air Force (IAF), the venerable MiG-21 Bison fighter jets took to the skies for their ceremonial final sortie above Uttarlai in Rajasthan’s Barmer district on October 31, 2023. Flanked by the more advanced Su-30 MKI, the MiG-21 Bison’s departure marked the end of an era and reflected the IAF’s ongoing strategic upgrade.
The ceremonial flypast, witnessed by military personnel from the tri-services, was not just a salute to history but also a clear signal of India’s evolving defence architecture. The phased decommissioning of the MiG-21 Bison, of which around 50 remain operational across three squadrons, opens the hangar doors for the introduction of India’s homegrown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark-1A jets, in a bid to modernize the IAF’s aging fleet.
Known as “OORIALS,” the MiG-21 Squadron has been a cornerstone of the IAF for approximately 60 years, playing a critical role in the Indo-Pak conflicts. The Squadron’s shift from the MiG-21 to the technologically superior Sukhoi-30 MKI underscores India’s commitment to enhancing its defensive capabilities amidst evolving geopolitical pressures.
The transition ceremony at the Air Force Station Utarlai was not merely procedural but symbolized the strategic recalibration of the IAF’s assets to better position itself in the region’s security landscape.
With the No. 4 squadron’s retirement of its MiG-21 Bison aircraft, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhary detailed the IAF’s roadmap to retire the entire MiG-21 fleet by 2024, with the LCA Mark-1A poised to succeed the Soviet-era jets.
Originally inducted into the IAF in the 1960s with a procurement of nearly 870 units, the MiG-21s were once the backbone of India’s air defence. However, the jets have become synonymous with safety concerns over the years, earning the unenviable nickname “flying coffins” due to their alarming crash record.
On digital platforms, the retirement of the MiG-21 Bison has elicited a wave of nostalgia and national pride, coupled with anticipatory support for the forthcoming LCA Tejas jets. A narrative echoed across social media platforms like X highlights the aircraft’s historic valour, especially during the 1971 war, and the readiness of the nation to transition to the more advanced Tejas for future defence needs.
The decommissioning of the MiG-21 Bison not only closes a significant chapter in Indian military aviation but also accentuates the IAF’s drive towards embracing indigenous technological advancements to fortify national security.