As the Indian Air Force (IAF) turns 80 on October 8, it is gearing up for an inventory without Soviet-vintage MiG-21s often dubbed “Flying Coffins” for their dubious flight safety record – first it will stop training its young pilots on the fighter jet and thereafter retire it by 2015-16.
The present acquisition spree and the phase out of the obsolete platform will ensure that the air force gets younger even as it crosses 80th anniversary mark.
The IAF had taken the decision to stop training its pilots on MiG-21s in 2011, when IAF Chief Air Chief Marshal announced after a spate of crashes that the last batch of pilots was being trained on the fighter jets.
Confirming this, the Air Chief Marshal Browne said: “Last batch of pilots is being trained. Now these three squadrons’ batches will be the last batch and all the training will shift on Hawk (Advanced Jet Trainer) aircraft.”
After their first two levels of training, half the pilots used to go to British-built AJTs and the rest to MiG Operational Flight Training Units (MOFTU). However, the present batch of MiG-21s Type 77 – the oldest of the MiG-21s that were the force’s mainstay in 1971 Indo-Pak War – will finish its syllabus by January 2014 paving the way for their retirement. Whereas the two squadrons of Type-96 MiG-21s will revert back to operational role from training and will continue to serve the force.
“We need to keep force levels going. By 2015 they will continue to serve,” the IAF Chief added. In fact four squadrons of MiG-27s will be retired in a phased manner by 2016-17. “MiG-29s will be the last of the MiG series aircraft remaining,” Air Chief Marshal Browne said. MiG-29s are presently undergoing an upgrade and the programme will conclude in 2020.
According to data, the IAF had purchased a total of 872 MiG aircraft of various types between1966-1980. The MiG series aircraft were inducted starting from MiG-21 in 1960s/1970s to MiG-29 in 1980s. Nearly half of the procured MiG aircraft - 482 - met accidents between financial year 1971-72 to 2012-13. A total of 171 pilots, 39 civilians, 8 service personnel and 1 aircrew lost their lives in these accidents. The causes of accidents were both human error and technical defects.
The fourth largest air force in the world is now entering its biggest modernization cusp as it has already signed contracts worth Rs.1.50 lakh crore in the past five years. The force has planned to raise four more squadrons of frontline fighter jets Sukhoi Su-30MKI – two each for western and eastern border. The 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) – French Rafale – shall be inducted in the services by 2017 giving a major firepower to the force.
Besides the fighter jets, the IAF is also modernizing its transport and helicopter fleet as it plans to acquire state-of-the art heavy lift transport C-17 Globemaster and one more squadron of special operations transporter C-130 Js and 300 different types of helicopters- ranging from attack and medium lift helicopters.