The MIG-21 is a Russian plane and was the first supersonic modern interceptor manufactured by Russia. Its rival was the F-104 starfighter of the United States Air Force. The Indian Air force for long relied on British aircraft as India was a colony of the English and IAF had been set by during the days of the Raj in 1932. In the late fifties, the Americans had a perception that Nehru the Indian leader was more inclined towards Russia and despite an Indian request denied the IAF sophisticated aircraft.


They gave the latest interceptors to India's rival Pakistan, as it had joined the American sponsored defense pacts against the Soviet Union. The left-leaning Indian defense minister Krishna Menon approached Khrushchev and the Russians readily filled the vacuum and gave India its first modern generation plane, the MIG-21.

The MIG in the IAF

The Indians were allowed to manufacture the MIG under license by the Russians and very soon the over 15 squadrons of these planes went into service.


However the plane had a drastic accident rate and till date over 100 planes have been lost. Courts of Inquiry have been held and they have pointed to pilot error in 90% of the air crashes. The plane was used with success in the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan. In the 1971 war, the Pakistan armed forces were decisively defeated and led to the creation of Bangladesh. In combat with the F-104, the MIG was decidedly superior. The MIG was also used in the 1998 Kargil war with Pakistan and acquitted itself very well.

Yet, the press and public seeing the many crashes during training sorties have labeled it the flying coffin. The MIG is a Mach II interceptor and carries guns and missiles. It has a short range but is very  maneuverable. Over the years, the plane has been upgraded at intervals and now the last upgraded version, the MIG(BIS) is in service.

The future

The last version of the MIG is now in service and is expected to keep flying for the IAF till 2025.

Many squadrons of the MIG -21 have now been equipped with the MIG 27, 29 and Su-31. With China becoming a bigger threat and Russia losing its parity with the USA, a strategic rethink has taken place. This has been accentuated under Obama and the old frostiness of the fifties and sixties of the last century are things of the past. India and the USA are into a strategic relationship and Russian aircraft are slowly being phased out. The IAF as the first step has been sold the C-130 strategic transport plane by the USA and in the years to come more American aircraft may replace Russian planes.


As far as the MIG is concerned, it will go down in the history of military aviation as one of the all-time great fighters.

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