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India gets modern Rafale, but is only major air force to fly these 6 outdated aircraft

From Soviet-era MiGs to British Avro transporters and French-origin Chetak/Cheetah helicopters, these 6 IAF aircraft need to be phased out soon.

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New Delhi: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh formally received India’s first Rafale fighter jet in France’s Merignac Tuesday, but the Indian Air Force still has a long way to go in terms of gradually replacing its ageing fleet and substituting them with modern fighter jets.

A major chunk of the IAF inventory consists of jets and helicopters which are barely used anymore by its counterparts from around the world.

ThePrint lists some of the rare birds that the IAF continues to fly, albeit in upgraded form.

Also read: Army plans to buy 350 helicopters over 10 years to modernise its Aviation Corps

MiG-21 and variants

The Soviet-origin MiG-21 Bison is one of India’s six fighter jets. It is a single-engine, single-seater multi-role fighter/ground attack aircraft, which forms the “back-bone of the IAF”, according to its website.

First inducted into the IAF in 1963, the supersonic MiG-21 was initially developed as an interceptor, but was later upgraded to perform other functions of a combat aircraft, including ground attacks. There were various reasons for this, but primary among them was a paucity of funds.

MiG-21s have been produced in nearly a dozen variants, of which the IAF has had several, including Type-77, Type-96 and the ‘bis’.

The Bison is the latest upgrade, and over 100 MiG-21s have received the upgrade since 2006.

Currently, the IAF has four operational squadrons of MiG-21 Bisons and one mixed squadron. The mixed squadron is slated to be phased out by the end of 2019, while the rest are to be phased out over the next five to six years.

Around the world, the MiG-21 is hardly in use anymore. According to some reports, the MiG-21 currently serves in 18 air forces worldwide, including two members of NATO (Romania and Croatia).

In fact, Russia, which phased out the MiG-21 in 1985, even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, recently asked India for three aircraft to be used to demonstrate vintage flying. India agreed to the gift.

Also read: This is the MiG-21 Bison, the fighter jet Wg Cdr Abhinandan flew to take on Pakistan’s F-16s


The Jaguar is a twin-engine, single-seater deep penetration strike aircraft of Anglo-French origin, with a maximum speed of 1,350 km/h. The first ones were inducted by the IAF on 26 July 1979 in the 14 Squadron ‘The Fighting Bulls’ at Ambala air base. It has been instrumental in various IAF missions, including photo reconnaissance.

Currently, the IAF operates six squadrons of the Jaguar. However, in reality, there are only five squadrons, as the sixth is not a complete squadron.

The IAF plans to gradually phase out the Jaguars, and has stopped its engine upgrade, owing to the high cost quoted by Honeywell and HAL.

The French reportedly retired their Jaguars in 2005 and replaced them with the Rafale. The UK, Ecuador, Nigeria and Oman have also discontinued them.

Also read: IAF set to shelve Jaguar engine upgrade, could buy more Su-30 MKIs instead


Expected to be phased out completely from the IAF by the end of 2019, the MiG-27 is a Russian-origin ground-attack aircraft which was manufactured by HAL under a licence agreement. Bought from the Soviet Union in the 1970s, it is one of the rare birds that both India and Kazakhstan operate.

Sri Lanka also had MiG-27 fighters acquired in the early 2000s, which are no longer operational.

Also read: 10 crashes, 11 aircraft lost, 22 killed — the year of Balakot has been a bloody one for IAF


The Avro Hawker Siddeley HS748 is a twin-engine turboprop military transport and freighter of British origin. The aircraft, which could carry 48 paratroopers or six tonnes of freight, has been in the IAF fleet since the 1960s, but hasn’t been used to its optimal capacity.

The fleet of 56 aircraft is likely to be replaced by Airbus’ C-295. The aircraft was shortlisted years ago, but the negotiations have been stuck. In the meantime, HAL is also offering an upgraded Avro with new engines and avionics, which would reportedly extend the life of the aircraft by two decades.

Also read: Indian Army tanks now have sharper night vision equipment developed by DRDO

Chetak/Cheetah choppers

The Vintage Chetaks and Cheetah helicopters used by all four services — the Army, Navy, Air Force and the Coast Guard — are just flown in a handful of countries.

The IAF is still looking for 197 Light Utility Helicopters to replace the Chetak and Cheetah fleet, which is of 1960s and 1970s vintage.

The Chetak is a single-engine, light utility helicopter manufactured in India under licence from French firm Aerospatiale (originally SNIAS) by HAL, beginning in 1962. The difference between the two is that the Chetak has wheels while the Cheetah has skis as its landing gear. The Cheetah also has fewer seating capacity.

Both the types are used for commuting, observation, surveillance, logistics support and rescue operations.

HAL has so far produced more than 350 Chetaks and delivered around 80 to the Navy, of which 51 helicopters are still flying. It has also produced over 275 Cheetahs, according to its website.

HAL has also collaborated with France’s Turbomeca to make a more powerful ‘Shakti’ engine for the Cheetah, in a variant called the Cheetal, for use in high altitudes.

The Navy is now looking to purchase 111 helicopters through the strategic partnership route to replace its ageing Chetaks.

Also read: Private players cry foul as HAL submits 2 bids for mega Navy chopper deal

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  1. Full & final comment on HAL by nationalist is they shld update & upgrade their speed of work which is not at all commendable. If they love their Nation, they must speed up their ability. We’ve heard when Pakistan was approaching our Khemkaran Sector along with their Paton tanks in 1965 , our Shell’s were not able to penetrate them, immediately the professors of Chemistry & Chemical Engineering department of Jadhavpur University came up with a shell which could melt down the steel chains of Paton tanks. Firing those shells immediately manufactured by the Kashipur Gun & she’ll factory, Calcutta & delivered to the war zone.
    Why not HAL cannot do the same?

  2. Nothing Wrong in MIG27
    And MIG29 aircraft’s as India needs deep strike Ground assault along with Mirage upgrades
    MIG 21 crash stastics and pilots lost life is major concern let’s scrap 2022 and pilot is more important than the Flight
    I think LCA MK1 will be the more lethal and safety for Indian pilots getting Quick Quality And Quantity delivery is must now
    More MK1 And mk1A will be the need of Hour for IAF

  3. BY going in for upgrades the IAF has made cost effective decisions that helped conserve national resources.
    Even today the upgraded MIrage and MIG aircraft are formidable.The Sukhoi upgrades will also stand us in good stead for next 20 years.
    There were three regrettable problems that have cost the IAF dearly and left it behind our adversaries :

    a. The ten year delay in bringing the Tejas into service.
    b. The atrocious decision by UPA to drop the purchase of the Rafale with full technology transfer in 2012-13.
    c. An equally bad decision by NDA to get only 36 Rafale in 2016 , without tech transfer.
    Hopefully the BJP Govt will see the error of its ways and sign on for full manufacture of the Rafale, while taking delivery of the first 36 in flyaway condition.

  4. There is a lot of talk about India’s outdated fleet of fighter planes. Whereas the fact is that the country is sweating its assets by going in for cost effective retrofits and upgradations in lieu of capital intensive new hardware. If a suitably upgraded fleet manned by capable fighter pilots can handle the job, why should the country hold back from such an option where scarce resources are put to more productive use elsewhere? New equipment can always be added as soon as resources permit.

  5. IAF seems to be hosting a live museum of antique flying machines. How did we end up in this condition? It would seem that once a decade, at least about a third of the machines have to be phased out so that none is used beyond 30 years. Flyers are more valuable than the flying machines.

  6. The first MiG-21 F-13s (also known as Type 74s) arrived in October 1963. So the IAF’s ‘love affair’ with the MiG-21s have lasted over 50 years.
    MiG-21 (Type 76) was added in 1965.
    HAL started the manufacturing of the MiG-21 (Type 77) by 1971. Over a period of time, the IAF acquired nearly 250 Type 77s.
    The aircraft distinguished itself in the 71 operations, but the IAF faced several issues about the Type 77 that were a source of concern. So, HAL moved to making the Type 96. In the interest of quick deployment, two squadrons of the MiG-21 Type 96 were procured. 
    Till the late 70s the Type 96 was the mainstay of the IAF, and had over 220 aircraft of this type.
    The MiG-21 Bis joined the IAF in 1980. The IAF had nearly 300 of this variant.
    On ‘retirement, the LCA was to be the replacement of these aircraft. But on account of inordinate delays in the LCA program, it was decided to upgrade the MiG-21 Bis.
    The proposal for upgrade of 125 MiG Bis aircraft with an option toupgrade 50 more, was cleared in January 1996. This would be done by MiG MAPO (Moscow Aviation Production Assn.)
    HAL initially dispatched 2 aircraft to Russia in May 1996. The program was delayed by more than 2 years and also faced steep cost overruns. The 2 MiG-21 bis fighters were upgraded in Russia over a period of more than 3 years and returned to the country in July 2001, after completion of extensive flight tests.
    Though the airframe and engine were the same, MiG pilots termed the aircraft upgrade as ‘fantastic’. They were most impressed by the avionics, the improved visibility of the new ‘frame less’ windshield, the new Helmet Mounted Sighting System, which meant simpler workload on the pilot, the multifunctional displays and new weapons, which incl. BVR missiles.
    As of 2019, 113 upgraded MiG-21s bis are operational with the IAF.

    • Why if Raga is silent doesn’t mean we the tax payer’s have to keep silent. We have all right to seek answers on pricing etc. The IAF is short supply, the government has to hasten the process and get aircraft much faster.

  7. The author has bad information all thru the article. He missed to say that if the same plane, if their life left then has been upgraded like MIG-21 or Jaguar or even Avro. They are good in flying as a MIG -21 proved on February 27. US B-52 have been flying for 70 years, of course after upgrades and newest to be upgraded and will be pressed into service is Warthog. It has spent close to 50 years and will be upgraded for at least 20 years of more service.

    This author of the lead article should stop listening to arms dealer who make money by selling newer planes.

  8. It is possible that the Navy and the Army too are getting by with a lot of improvisation. The first CDS may be pleased to sit with his three Chiefs and senior mandarins from MoD and MoF, to prepare a perspective plan for capital acquisitions for the three services, stretching over the next to fifteen years. How much the government can realistically allocate for Defence – based on various alternative rates of growth for the economy – and, of that, how much can be spent on weapons could be worked out. It would be a difficult exercise.

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