New Delhi: Amid escalating tension between India and Pakistan over the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Tuesday said the Indian Air Force (IAF) is still flying 44-year-old MiG-21 Russian fighter jets.
MiG-21s have been the most accident-prone of all IAF fighter jets, thus earning the names "flying coffin" or the "widowmaker”.
"We are still flying MiG-21, which is 44 years old, but nobody drives cars of that vintage," NDTV quoted him as saying.
Speaking at an IAF seminar in New Delhi, Dhanoa said the basic version of the Russian fighter jet would be phased out this year.
"Over 95% of components required in overhauling is made in India. The Russians are not flying the MiG, but we are because we have overhaul facilities," Dhanoa said while speaking on the modernisation and indigenisation of the IAF. "Hopefully, I will fly the last sortie in September, subject to visibility."
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was also present at the seminar.
He also said the IAF is replacing the high-end obsolete weapon with indigenously developed ones that will boost in-house defence manufacturing, however, "to win a war, we also need high-end, high-tech items, which we need to import".
"We have seen their (Pakistan's) deployment. The Indian Air Force is always cautious. We are responsible for air defence and we are always alert," Dhanoa said when asked about the situation at the Indo-Pak border.
Since Independence, 19 pilots and engineers have been killed in air accidents in-flight testing and evaluation of the indigenous Marut, Kiran, Ajit and prototype aircraft, Dhanoa said.
"Recently, we lost two young and extremely competent pilots during the testing of Mirage-2000 upgrade in HAL, Bangalore," he added.
The jet flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the pilot captured by Pakistan, was an upgraded variant called the MiG-21 Bison. The fighter pilot was able to shoot down a more advanced
Pakistani F-16 before his plane was shot down.
From 1963-2015, the MiG-21 has had a total of 210 accidents. Of these, a maximum of 16 accidents took place in 1999, according to the Bharat Rakshak, a database that gathers information on the
Indian Armed Forces.
In 1961, IAF opted for the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau made MiG-21 and since then has made 657 of these fighter jets, including three variants - MiG-21FL, MiG-21M and MiG-21 Bison. While
India was one of the largest operators of MiG-21s outside USSR, India is currently the largest operator of MiG-21 Bison, with an estimated 100+ aircrafts on duty.