A MiG-21 Bison aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed in Barmer, Rajasthan, on July 28th, killing the two pilots aboard the trainer version of the fighter aircraft.



  • The MiG-21 is India’s longest-serving fighter plane. It was designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau (OKB) of the erstwhile Soviet Union.
  • The Soviet Union was willing to sell this fighter aircraft to India on extremely favourable terms and even agreed for licensed production by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
  • The 1962 war with China and growing hostility from Pakistan had lent urgency to efforts to rapidly scale up India’s military capability.
  • India got its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, and progressively inducted 874 variants of the Soviet-origin supersonic fighters.
  • The plane has seen several updates and modifications since then.


About MiG-21 Bison

  • The MiG-21 Bison is an upgraded version of the MiG-21bis which had been first inducted into service in 1976.
    • The MiG-21 FL, which was an older version of the aircraft and which joined service in 1963, had been phased out of IAF in 2013.
  • The IAF received the first upgraded MiG-21 Bison in 2001 and the last of these upgraded fighters was received in 2008.


How many MiG-21 Bison aircraft are in IAF?

  • There are four squadrons of MiG-21 Bison aircraft currently in service in the IAF with each squadron comprising 16-18 aircraft, including two trainer versions.
  • These four squadrons will retire from service, one by one, by the end of 2025.


How many MiG-21 Bison aircraft have crashed recently?

  • Over 400 MiG-21 aircraft of the Indian Air Force have crashed in the last 60 years, claiming the lives of over 200 pilots and 60 civilians.
  • There have been six MiG-21 Bison crashes in the last 20 months, with five crashes in 2021 and one in 2022.


Why are they still in service?

  • The Indian Air Force had to keep MiGs longer in service due to delays in induction of new fighter aircraft.
  • Due to delays, the IAF is facing a crunch to maintain a certain squadron strength to guard India’s skies.
  • Delays in the indigenous Tejas programme, political controversy surrounding the Rafael deal and slow-paced procurement procedure meant that MiGs had to be kept in service longer than usual.


Reasons behind frequent crash of MiG-21 aircraft

  • Single-engine aircraft –
      • The MiG-21 is a single engine fighter, and that could also be a cause for some of the crashes.
      • When a single engine fighter jet loses that engine, it needs to be re-started.
      • More often than not it re-lights but it takes a finite amount of time to re-light any engine. Hence, if one is below the minimum height, he/she has to leave the aircraft.
  • Poor engine quality –
      • MiG-21 has been upgraded dozens of times since its induction into the Indian Air Force.
      • However, despite such upgrades, its engine could not be improved.
      • Most countries including Russia itself have already retired the MiG-21, but India is still using it.
  • Lack of alternatives –
      • One of the reasons for the large number of crashes of MiG-21 fighter jets is the absence of any other fighter jet in the Air Force for a long time.
      • For a long time no new fighter jets were included in the Air Force, due to which the entire load remained on the MiG-21.
      • In the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, only supersonic MiG-21 fighter jets were used for pilot training.
  • Besides these reasons, high quality spare parts are easily available in the world markets for modern jets as opposed to those for the MiG-21s.