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MiG-21 Crash in Barmer: Why Is India Still Using the Accident-Prone Aircraft?

In 2021 alone, five MiG-21 aircraft crashed in India, resulting in the deaths of three pilots.

Updated
India
3 min read
MiG-21 Crash in Barmer: Why Is India Still Using the Accident-Prone Aircraft?
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Two pilots of the Indian Air Force (IAF) were killed after a MiG-21 fighter aircraft crashed near Barmer in Rajasthan during a training sortie on Thursday, 28 July.

A court of enquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.

Nicknamed 'the flying coffin,' the MiG-21 aircraft has a poor safety record.

In 2021 alone, five MiG-21s crashed in India resulting in the deaths of three pilots.
  • Wing Commander Harshit Sinha died after the MiG-21 aircraft he was piloting crashed in Jaisalmer during a training sortie in December 2021.

  • 28-year-old Squadron Leader Abhishek Choudhary was killed when his MiG-21 'Bison' crashed in May 2021 after taking off from the Suratgarh airbase in Rajasthan.

  • On 17 March 2021, Group Captain Ashish Gupta was killed when his MiG-21 crashed after taking off from the Gwalior airbase.

  • Two other crashes involving MiG-21 'Bison' were seen on 5 January and 25 August in the same year.

Why, then, is the Indian Air Force not doing away with the (in)famous aircraft which, more often than not, is in the news for all the wrong reasons?

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'The Flying Coffin': MiG-21 Background Check

The Soviet-origin jets were first introduced by the air force in 1963 to increase its combat ability during the Cold War. Over the years, as they gained the reputation of being the backbone of the air force, they also earned names like "widow maker" or "flying coffin" because of their accident-prone nature.

According to a report by the Times of India, more than 400 MiG-21s have crashed since 1971-72, killing over 200 pilots and another 50 people on the ground.

In 2012, former Defense Minister AK Antony had said in Parliament that more than half of the 872 MiG aircraft purchased from Russia had crashed. Due to which, more than 200 persons, including 171 pilots, 39 civilians, and eight other services’ personnel, had lost their lives.

Even the Soviets Don't Use It Anymore; Why Do We?

The Soviet Air Force – credited with designing the aircraft – removed it from service in the year 1985. By then, countries ranging from the United States to Vietnam had inducted the aircraft into its air forces. After 1985, however, Bangladesh and Afghanistan removed it from service.

As for India, the aircraft was inducted into the air force in the '60s and completed their retirement period in the mid-1990s. Despite this, they are still being upgraded.

In October 2014, the air force chief had said that India's security is threatened by the delay in removing the old aircraft from service because some part of the fleet was outdated.

Experts believe that the absence of any more fighter jets in the Indian Air Force for a long time is also one of the reasons for the accidents. For a long time, with the inclusion of no new fighter jets in the air force, the entire burden was on the MiG-21.
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A BBC report had also stated that pilots have been complaining that some models of the MiG aircraft land very fast and the design of the cockpit windows is such that the pilot cannot see the runway properly.

Further, being a single-engine aircraft means it is always under threat. The chance of a plane crash increases when a bird collides with it or the engine fails.

Is There an Alternative?

In the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, supersonic MiG-21 fighter jets were being used to train pilots due to delays in the induction of advanced jet fighters into the air force.

Air Vice Marshal (Retired) Sunil Nanodkar said, "Was there any other option other than this (MiG aircraft)? To protect your skies, you must have a certain number of combat aircrafts, but there was a lot of delay in the induction of other fighter jets into the Air Force over the years.”

He further added that even though 36 Rafale jets were included in the air force, their number is still less compared to the requirements.

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Topics:  Indian Air Force   MIG-21 

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