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Thu, May 25, 2023

Indian Air Force Grounds Soviet-Era MiG-21 Fleet

Bedtime for the Fishbed

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has grounded its entire fleet of MiG-21 fighter jets in the wake of an accident in which a specimen of subject aircraft went down in western India’s Rajasthan state killing three civilians in the vicinity of the impact site.

Indian officials set forth the grounding was undertaken precautionarily, for purpose of carrying out mechanical checks on the Soviet-Era fighters—checks specified by IAF accident protocol.

“As per the standard procedure, one-time checks are going on for which the fleet was grounded after the crash. Aircraft are back in the air as the checks progress. … The customary checks of the entire fleet are expected to be completed very soon.” So stated an IAF spokesman on 20 May 2023.

The mass-grounding was ordered two-weeks after a MiG-21—NATO designation Fishbed—went down in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh village while taking part in a routine training mission. The fighter jet reportedly departed Suratgarh Air Force Station (VI43), an Indian Air Force installation in Suratgarh, a city of Rajasthan’s northern Sri Ganganagar district.

The IAF pilot of the accident aircraft suffered minor injuries.

Indian officials have undertaken an investigation of the occurrence in the hope of determining the cause thereof.

The grounding of aircraft types in the aftermaths of unexplained accidents or serious incidents involving such is standard, if not common, practice among modern militaries. In the last year, the U.S. Air Force has grounded its B-2, C-130H, and F-35A fleets. On 28 April 2023, U.S. Army Chief of Staff General James McConville grounded all U.S. Army rotary-wing aviators not then involved in critical missions following a trio of helicopter mishaps in which a total of 16 U.S. service-members lost their lives.

At present, some seventy IAF MiG-21 fighters and fifty MiG-29 variants remain grounded pending maintenance inspections.

The IAF has operated the MiG-21 platform since 1963—the selfsame year in which John F. Kennedy was assassinated and the Beatles released their debut, Please Please Me album. Over the decades since, India has procured and pressed into service upwards of seven-hundred MiG-21 variants. Currently, the vast country is making ready to retire its aging MiG-21s. Despite having been a formidable combat aircraft in its day, the type has more recently come to be known amongst contemporary IAF pilots as the Flying Coffin—the unflattering sobriquet deriving of the jet’s distressingly-high accident-rate

India’s Ministry of Defense (MoD) reports at least 170 IAF pilots have lost their lives in accidents involving MiG-21 aircraft. Since 2010 more than twenty such jets have been lost. The decade spanning 2003 to 2013 saw 38 MiG-21s destroyed—in peacetime.

Fittingly, numerous inquiries and investigations have been carried out by India’s military vis-à-vis the MiG-21’s poor safety record.

Indian news outlets contend the nation is currently evaluating domestically-produced aircraft to replace the IAF’s long-in-the-tooth MiGs. These include the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mark 1A and LCA Mark 2, along with the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft.



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