In yet another tragic incident, the IAF has lost another MiG-21 Bison during a combat training exercise at one of its airbases in Central India. The pilot, Gp. Capt. A Gupta, has been killed in the accident. The accident occurred this morning, when the aircraft was supposed to depart for the sortie, when the aircraft crashed upon takeoff.
The Indian Air Force acknowledged this loss in a tweet, citing its full support to the slain pilot’s family. A Court of Inquiry (CoI) has been ordered to investigate the circumstances of this crash.
Some statistics from the last 10 years:
The Indian Air Force has lost 24 aircraft of the MiG-21 family since 2011, with 2 Bison aircraft being lost in 2019 itself. The numbers of MiG-21 aircraft lost due to accidents from 2011 to present are as follows: 13 MiG-21 Bison variant, 3 MiG-21U/UM variant, 2 MiG-21M variant 2 MiG-21 Bis variant and 2 other MiG-21s which are of unspecified variants. During these 22 aircraft accidents, the IAF has lost 5 pilots. (data from BharatRakshak.com, you can get the full statistics here). The total number of MiG-21s lost since it’s induction in 1963 are numbered 285, with a loss of over 170 Indian pilots and 40 civilians.
Understanding the type of aircraft:
The MiG-21 is a second generation fighter-interceptor aircraft developed by MiG OKB in the late 1950s. The Indian Air Force officially opted to purchase the MiG-21s in 1961, with deliveries beginning in 1963. The MiG-21 family itself is divided into 2 sub-families: The second generation MiG-21s ad the 3rd Generation MiG-21s. In context to this article, let’s discuss about the MiG-21 Bison. The MiG-21 Bison is a 3rd generation MiG-21, meaning it is the most advanced MiG-21 variant across the globe. IAF has phased out a majority of its 2nd generation MiG aircraft fleet as of 2016, with limited aircraft being used for Operational Conversion Training for pilots transitioning into the Bison.
Its performance can be compared to that of an F-16C Block-25 (as proven in the case of the 27th February 2019 aerial hostilities, when an IAF MiG-21 Bison shot down a PAF F-16C). The aircraft features an improved avionics setup with integrated HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick), RWR (Radar Warning Receiver), and is capable of conduction BVR (Beyond Visual Range) engagement. The Bison is powered by a single Tumansky R-25-300 series afterburning turbojet engine, which incorporates an Extreme Afterburning Regime. The EAR is claimed to provide the aircraft with double the thrust with afterburners engaged than the dry thrust for short periods of time.
The problem with this type is that, or any other member of the MiG-21 family, is they have a poor safety record. This is balanced out with a cheap maintenance cost and durability. The IAF aims to replace this ageing fleet of Bison aircraft by 2025. It is also a speculation that IAF might upgrade these airframes into drones after their service life, as the USAF does to its F-16A models (which are now retired), into QF-16A’s.