New Delhi: The Indian Air Force’s strength is set to come down to just 28 squadrons of fighters as against a sanctioned 42, with the last of the remaining MiG-27 aircraft, heroes of the Kargil battle, flying their final sortie Friday in Jodhpur before retiring from service.
The No. 29 Squadron, known as the ‘Scorpios’, will be ‘numberplated’ (placed in suspension) until it can be re-operationalised with new aircraft and manpower.
“The aircraft has a glorious history, and this is the last of the MiG-23/MiG-27 class variable sweep (swing wing) Russian-origin aircraft operating in the world,” Commodore Philip Thomas, Air Officer Commanding of the Jodhpur air base, told ThePrint.
The Jodhpur base had two squadrons of the upgraded ‘Flogger’ MiG-27s — No. 10 and No. 29, of which the former was retired last year.
The MiG-27 ground strike aircraft, which earned the nickname of ‘Bahadur’ from pilots due to the Kargil battle, retained the same NATO name ‘Flogger’ as the MiG-23, which it was derived from.
India had 165 MiG-27s, all made by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited under licence. Only 15 remain now. While some of these will be gifted to various interested institutions, a majority will be used as decoys in multiple air bases in the Western Air Command.
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MiG-27, the hero of Kargil
The MiG-27 is a single engine, single-seater tactical strike aircraft having a maximum speed of 1,700 km/h (Mach 1.6). The aircraft carries one 23mm six-barrel rotary integral cannon, and can carry up to 4,000 kg of other armament externally.
The MiG-27s , inducted into the IAF in 1982, were upgraded in 2005 — while the airframe remained the same, the aircraft underwent avionics and instrumentation upgrades, as well as a weapons upgrade that enabled it to fire precision ammunition.
The MiG-27 played a critical role in Operation Safed Sagar in 1999, in which the IAF joined hands with the Army to flush out regular and irregular troops of Pakistan from the heights in Kargil sector.
Ground attack aircraft like the MiG-21s, 23s and 27s, along with the Jaguars, helicopter gunships and Mirage 2000, pounded the enemy positions.
Group Captain Kambampati Nachiketa Rao, who was captured by Pakistani troops after a crash during the battle, was also flying a MiG-27.
Bleak long-term outlook
With the ‘Scorpios’ taking to the sky for the last time Friday, the strength of the IAF will fall to a mere 28 squadrons.
However, IAF sources told ThePrint that this is temporary, as another squadron of India’s frontline fighter aircraft Sukhoi Su-30 MKI and Light Combat Aircraft Tejas will come up in 2020. The first of the Rafale fighters will also arrive in 2020, adding to India’s air strength.
“One should focus on the capability and not just the numbers. For example, the Jodhpur air base also has a squadron of the Su-30 MKI, and each aircraft, in terms of capability, is equal to three MiG-21s,” a source said. The MiG-21s are to retire by 2022-23.
However, according the IAF’s own projections, even if all existing orders for 36 Rafale, six squadrons of Tejas (including Tejas Mk 1A), and two more squadrons of Su-30 MKI are taken into account, the squadron strength will reduce to 27 by 2032 and a mere 19 by 2042.
The sources said even in the best case scenario — taking into account Tejas Mk 2, the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, and 114 fighters for which a Request for Proposal is still awaited — the IAF will not reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2042.
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