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Sun sets for ‘Bahadur’

MiG-27 swing-wing fighter aircraft

The last squadron of fighter aircraft MiG-27 passed into history today, 35 years after the jets were inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF). The squadron based at Jodhpur air force station was wound down today in a ceremony in which several MiG-27 pilots recounted their experience with the ground attack fighters. Air Marshal SK Ghotia, air officer commanding-in-chief of South Western Air Command, presided over the wind down ceremony.

Russian fighter aircraft, MiG-27, was inducted into the IAF in 1981. At one time, IAF had 200 MiG-27s. The aircraft earned its glory in the historic Kargil conflict when it delivered rockets and bombs with accuracy on enemy positions, and began to be called ‘Bahadur’. In the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan, the single-engine fighters were used for the first time to attack targets at high altitude. Then flight lieutenant K Nachiketa was taken prisoner of war after his MiG-27 went down.

The IAF operated 165 MiG-27 fighters, around 40 of which were upgraded by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited 2005 onwards. The phasing out began a few years ago. Almost 10% of the fleet has been lost in crashes. In February this year, one MiG crashed in Pokaran in Jaisalmer, and another one went down in March in Jodhpur. The Number 10 Squadron was phased out in January this year, and the 29 Squadron, also called Scorpios, was wound down on December 27, retiring the last set of seven MiG-27s in the country.

“The MiG-27 swing-wing fighter aircraft has been the backbone of ground attack fleet of IAF. The upgraded variant of this last swing-wing fleet has been the pride of IAF since 2006,” said a pilot. The MiG-27 pilots like to call themselves wing swingers because of the aircraft could swing their wings from 16 degrees to 72 degrees depending on the mission.

At the end of the year, Number 29 Squadron was the only unit in the Indian Air Force operating MiG 27 Upgrades. The squadron was raised on March 10, 1958 at Air Force Station Halwara with Ouragan (Toofani) aircraft. Over the years, the squadron has been equipped with numerous types of fighter aircraft such as MiG-21 Type 77, MiG-21 Type 96, MiG-27 ML and MiG-27 Upgrade.

After the IAF retired its MiG-27s, the Kazakhstan Air Force is the only one in the world to use the aircraft that can fly at top speed of 2,000 kmph and carry 20,000 takeoff weight.

All the other variants such as MiG-23 BN and MiG-23 MF and the pure MiG-27 have already retired from the IAF. The fleet took part in Operation Parakram, the military’s largest mobilisation after the 1971 Indo-Pak war, in 2001-02. HAL gave the aircraft a avionics upgrade, superior navigation systems and improved targeting accuracy with the integration of Israeli and Russian technology.

The IAF continues to operate MiG-21, which were inducted in the 1960s, much before the induction of MiG-27s but the latter’s enginer, engine R-20, has technical problem for a long time and its spares are very expensive.

The phasing out of the last MiG-27 squadron has brought the count of IAF’s combat units to just around 30, the lowest in decades. IAF requires 42-plus combat squadrons to fight a two-front war. The IAF needs to swiftly upgrade its capabilities with new warplanes.

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