End of the MiG era
Russian-origin MiG-21s were the first truly supersonic fighter jets to be inducted into IAF in 1963, which then was a move by India to counter the F-104 Starfighters provided to Pakistan by US. The MiG-23s, MiG-25s, MiG-27s and MiG-29s, each with their own specific roles, followed in later years. The MiGs, in fact, once constituted over 75% of India’s combat fleet, and still constitute a bulk of it. But now, with IAF going in for modern fighters, the end of the entire MiG era, except for the latest MiG-29s, is in sight. “We have got a clear-cut plan to replace them. By 2017, the entire MiG series will be replaced in a phased manner, that is from 2014 onwards,” said defence minister A K Antony in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. In the years ahead, India’s frontline combat fighters will have 270 Russian Sukhoi-30MKIs already being inducted for around $12 billion, the 126 new medium multi-role combat aircraft to be acquired in the $10.4 billion MMRCA project and the 250 to 300 fifth-generation fighter aircraft to be built with Russia in the gigantic $35 billion project. Moreover, induction of the first 40 of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft will also begin towards end-2013, with the first two squadrons becoming fully operational at the Sulur airbase (Tamil Nadu) by 2015 or so, a full three decades after the LCA project was first sanctioned to replace the ageing MiG-21s. Antony, on his part, assured Parliament that large-scale induction of Sukhoi-30MKIs, LCA and MMRCA would take place within the next few years, while acknowledging such an exercise could not take place in the past due to “historical reasons”. While the single-engined, delta-winged MiG-21s did indeed provide yeoman service to India over the decades, the high crash record of these highly-demanding fighters have also scarred the nation. Of the 793 MiG-21s inducted into IAF since 1963, over 350 have been lost in accidents. IAF has recorded 40 crashes in just the last three years, a majority of them being MiGs, which killed 16 pilots, 24 service personnel and five civilians.