New Delhi: Critics and some experts have questioned the rationale of using the MiG-21 aircraft in Combat Air Patrol (CAP) Wednesday, when India lost at least one fighter against Pakistan’s F-16s.
However, sources in the Indian Air Force defended the use of the MiG-21, saying it was one of the fighters in its inventory and that aircraft are rotated based on operations, time and threat level.
What happened Wednesday
At around 1005 hours Wednesday, three F-16s of the Pakistan Air Force violated Indian air space and entered into the Nowshera sector. They targeted four military installations and dropped bombs.
The Indian Air Force, which was on high alert, swung into action. At least two MiG-21 Bisons, which were on CAP duty, chased the F-16s and were even able to shoot down one of them.
Pakistan claims the Indian fighters crossed the LoC and were engaged by it, though it hasn’t clarified if they were engaged by its aircraft or air defence systems.
India has confirmed that it lost one MiG-21 Bison and that the pilot is ‘missing in action’. Pakistan claimed to have downed two fighters and captured two pilots, but later clarified the number to be one pilot — Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.
News of Abhinandan’s capture confirmed that it was a MiG-21 Bison that went down, after initial speculation about a MiG-29.
Many questioned why the MiG-21 was used for the CAP and to engage the F-16s. After all, it was first inducted into the IAF 56 years ago, in 1963, and has picked up the nickname ‘Flying Coffin’ due to a spate of crashes in the last couple of decades.
However, IAF sources explained that ever since the alert level was raised immediately after the Pulwama terror attack on 14 February, various fighter aircraft were put on CAP duty.
Tuesday night, a mix of Sukhoi Su-30 MKIs and MiG-29s were in the air through the night. However, in the morning, MiG-21s were put on the duty.
“The MiG-21 is something that we have in our inventory and it would be used for operations. We have had a mixture of aircraft doing CAP, and at the time when the Pakistan Air Force jets came in, the MiG-21s were in the air, and hence, they challenged the F-16s,” an IAF officer said.
The indigenous Light Combat Aircraft ‘Tejas’ was supposed to replace the MiG-21 in the IAF inventory, but due to inordinate delays in the former’s development, the IAF has been forced to drag the MiG-21 along.