“She was a great teacher so long as you respected her. She would talk to you - little sounds, indications, et al. and she appreciated a thoughtful response,” Sqn Ldr (retd.) Anshuman Manikar fondly recalls his experience of flying the MiG-27 swing-wing fighter jet. He was at the Jodhpur Air Force station on Friday for the ceremony of de-induction of the last squadron of the aircraft with the Indian Air Force (IAF).
This also means that the IAF’s combat strength has now fallen to 28 fighter squadrons, way below the authorised strength of 42.
Sqn Ldr Manikar said his best recollection was low-level, high-speed runs over range, “optimum mix of fun and watchfulness and a complete adrenaline rush.” The trainer variant was considerably different from the fighter. “Not a drawback really, but fighter trips were so much better, ergonomics-wise. But that was a small cost to pay, given the diverse variants she serviced,” he told The Hindu .
At the ‘winding down’ ceremony, the aircraft from the No. 29 Squadron (SCORPIOS), the only unit in the IAF operating the MiG-27 Upgrades, flew for the last time, marking the end of the variable sweep (Swing Wing) era of the IAF. To commemorate the historic occasion, the squadron flew in a five aircraft ‘Arrowhead’ formation, flanked by Sukhoi 30 aircraft as a mark of respect.
The No. 29 Squadron was raised on March 10, 1958 at the Air Force Station Halwara with ‘Ouragan’ (Toofani) aircraft. “The squadron is now slated to be number-plated on March 31, 2020, with December 27, 2019 being its last flying day, thereby making the swing wing fleet a part of the IAFs glorious past,” the IAF stated.
Number-plating is where is squadron number is put in reserve after aircraft are de-inducted and till it is raised again with new aircraft in future. Now, the Kazakh Air Force remains the only one across the world operating the MiG-27s.
Backbone of ground attack fleet
“MiG 27 swing-wing fighter aircraft has been the backbone of the ground attack fleet of the IAF for the past four decades. The upgraded variant of this last swing-wing fleet has been the pride of the IAF strike fleet since 2006,” the Air Force said in a statement. The fleet earned its glory in the historic Kargil conflict, when it delivered rockets and bombs with accuracy on enemy positions, it added
From 1985 onwards, the IAF has flown about 165 MiG-27 fighters, licence-manufactured by the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). While it was a very technologically sophisticated machine for its time, over the years it has become unreliable and unsafe despite being upgraded by the HAL.
This marks the end of another Russian MiG series of fighters in the Indian inventory. All the other MiG-variants, such as MiG-23 BN & MiG-23 MF and the pure MiG 27 have already been retired from the IAF. The upgraded MiG-21 Bisons and MiG-29s now remain in service of which the MiG-21s are scheduled to be phased out very soon.
The IAF will continue to operate three squadrons of the upgraded MiG-29UPG for sometime, while it is also negotiating for another squadron from Russia. The Navy operates two squadrons of the MiG-29K/KUB off its aircraft carriers.
The MiG-35, a more advanced variant of the MiG-29, is competing in the IAF’s ongoing tender for 114 fighters jets with Sukhoi-35, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin’s F-21, Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Saab Gripen E.
The IAF is now looking for quick induction of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas to shore up its squadron strength. From May 2020, it will start inducting the 36 Rafale multi-role fighters contracted from France.