A highlight on the sidelines of the upcoming India-Russia bilateral summit is likely to be the gifting of three MiG-21 fighter jets to Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in New Delhi on October 4 and 5 for the annual summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Three MiG-21s are scheduled to be handed over to Russians based on a request from their Defence Minister to our Defence Minister. They comprise one Type 75 aircraft and two Type 77 aircraft,” an official source said.
The aircraft to be gifted are in flight-worthy condition and the cost of crating and transportation will be borne by the Russians, another official said.
This will be major symbolic gesture to showcase the all-weather friendship and deep strategic partnership between India and Russia, which has been put to test in recent times due to changing geopolitical conditions.
The aircraft will get new registration numbers and may be adopted for vintage flight. However, it is not clear how the Russians intend to use them.
The MiG-21 has more of emotional value for Russia, as it has the distinction of being the most produced supersonic fighter in history. According to the website militaryfactory.com, close to 11,500 aircraft were built and operated by over 50 countries.
The MiG-21, a product of the Soviet Union, was designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich Design Bureau in the 1950s. It made first flight in 1956 and entered service in 1959. However, Russia stopped producing the aircraft in 1985, while India continued operating the upgraded variants.
India inducted the MiG-21s in 1963 and got full technology transfer and rights to license-build the aircraft in the country. It is the first supersonic fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force. The IAF still has about 120 MiG-21s in service which will all be phased out of service by 2021-22.