With the rising fatalities in the Indian Air Force (IAF) due to the accident-prone and obsolete MiG-21 fleet of fighter planes, the Indian Defence Ministry has clarified that the last of the MiG-21 squadron will be phased out by year 2017. According to Minister of State for Defence M.M.Pallam Raju, after the phasing out of the MiG 21s from operational service, the IAF will have the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), SU-30MKI, Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) being developed with Russia.
The Indian Defence Ministry has conceded that most of the MiG-21 accidents have occurred due to obsolete technology. The IAF has inducted a total of 946 MiG 21s in its fleet and 476 of them have been lost in various accidents over the past 45 years. Currently, the MiG-21 fighters constitute the majority of IAF squadrons. Despite providing a longstanding service to the IAF, the MiG-21’s notorious reputation of taking lives due to its obsolete technology has led to the fighter being dubbed as a "flying coffin”. Over 350 MiG-21’s have been lost in accidents since they were inducted in 1963 claiming the lives of about 170 pilots.
Among the main reasons cited for rising mishaps in the MiG-21 fleet is the fact that the single-engine MiG-21 is of the vintage era lacking modern systems like FADEC (full authority digital electronic controls) and mission computers. The MiG-21 is prone to accident mainly during take-off and landing. Besides, the poor quality control on supply of spares, poor servicing and maintenance has led to the Mig-21 becoming a safety hazard.
According to the Indian Defence Ministry, the crash rate of the fighter planes is being controlled to a large extent but IAF will be forced to fly the upgraded MiG-21 "Bisons'' till 2017 because of the huge delay in the development of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA). Over a hundred MiG-21 "Bisons" in IAF combat fleet were earlier upgraded with new avionics, improved gearboxes and cockpits and the capability to fire some BVR (beyond-visual range) missiles and these will remain in operation till 2017.
The crash rate of fighter planes in the country has been quite high. According to figures, in the last three years, there have been over 65 crashes of fighters, transport aircraft and helicopters. Almost 60 military personnel, apart from several civilians, have been killed in these crashes. The IAF itself has recorded 25 fighter crashes in the last three years, killing five pilots and as many civilians. Out of these crashes, over a dozen were MiG-21 s which has been claiming the lives of the pilots as well as civilians. There have been two MiG-21 crashes this year alone. The IAF has been operating roughly 200 MiG-21s. Of these, 121 have been upgraded to the 'Bison' version.