IAF set to retire Abhinandan Varthaman’s MiG-21 Squadron Sword Arms on September 30

One of the IAF’s most decorated squadrons, the No. 51 Squadron, widely known as “Sword Arms,” took part in the Balakot airstrikes and Operation Safed Sagar (the Kargil conflict) in 1999 and is set to retire MiG-21 fighter jets on 30th September 2022.

Why In News?

  • On September 30, the Indian Air Force will retire one of its four remaining squadrons of the ageing MiG-21 fighter jets, the Srinagar-based No. 51 squadron, also known as “Sword Arms,” an official familiar with the situation said on Monday. More than three and a half years have passed since the Indian Air Force wrote a historic episode of bravery beyond enemy lines.

History & Valor of IAF No.51 Squadron Sword Arms

  • Swordarms, also known as No. 51 Squadron, was established in Chandigarh on February 1st, 1985.
  • The Mig-21 Type-75 was initially used by the squadron until being replaced in January 2004 with the MIG-21 Bison.
  • The Squadron’s crest features two powerful arms tightly clutching a sword and the slogan “oeVijyay Prakrarnan,” which translates to “Valor for Victory.” The Squadron has upheld its slogan since its beginnings in a variety of drills, operations, and campaigns.
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  • Swordarms took part in Op Safed Sagar (the Kargil campaign) in 1999, and for its valuable participation, it was awarded one Vayu Sena Medal and three Mention-in-Dispatches.
  • The Squadron was responsible for the Air Defense of Kashmir Valley during Operation Parakram. Swordarms made history in October 2008 when they performed the first-ever fighter night ops at the Udhampur airfield.
  • The Sqn was the first to ignite Kharbutang Range and shoot over the Toshe Maiden range.
  • The squadron received the President’s Standards on March 22, 2018, in recognition of its honourable and distinguished service to the country over such a brief period of time since its founding.
  • In the wake of the Balakot Air Strike in 2019, the squadron was once more tasked with protecting the Kashmir Valley.

Gp Capt Abhinandan Varthaman MiG-21 fighter jet dogfight with F-16

  • In a dogfight above the Line of Control on February 27, 2019, Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman, who received the Vir Chakra, shot down a Pakistani F-16 combat aircraft. He was a member of the squadron at the time.
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  • The squadron at the time included Wing Commander (now Group Captain) Abhinandan Varthaman, who received the Vir Chakra for shooting down a Pakistani F-16 combat aircraft on February 27, 2019, during a duel over the Line of Control.
  • The dogfight occurred on February 26, 2019, a day after the Indian Air Force’s Mirage-2000 aircraft blasted the area in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and destroyed a terror complex in Balakot, Pakistan. The assault was a response to the Pulwama suicide attack in Kashmir on February 14 that claimed the lives of 40 members of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).
  • Varthaman downed the Pakistani F-16 fighter before his MiG-21 Bison plane was destroyed. On India’s Independence Day in 2019, he received the Vir Chakra, the nation’s third-highest award for valour in battle.
  • For more details read: Brave Group Captain Abhinandan Varthaman Indian Air Force Vir Chakra

Why does IAF want to retire all 4 MiG-21 squadrons By 2025?

  • According to the official, the remaining three MiG-21 squadrons would be phased out by 2025.
  • The spotlight has been brought to India’s longest-serving fighter plane, its safety record, and the IAF’s plans to replace the ageing jets with newer models in the upcoming years by a number of MiG-21 crashes in recent years.
  • After receiving its first single-engine MiG-21 in 1963, the air force went on to acquire 874 different models of the Soviet-made supersonic fighter to increase its combat capacity.
  • For more details: IAF To Retire All 4 MiG-21 Squadrons By 2025

Why MiG-21s Are Called Flying Coffins And Why IAF Still Uses Them?

  • Over the previous six decades, more than 400 MiG-21s have been engaged in incidents that have resulted in 200 pilot fatalities.
  • Because they made up the majority of the combat aircraft in the IAF’s inventory for a considerable amount of time, MiG-21s have crashed more frequently than any other fighter jet. Because of delays in the introduction of new aircraft, as previously reported, the air force had to maintain its MiG-21 fleet in operation for longer than it would have preferred.
  • For more details read: Why MiG-21s Are Called Flying Coffins And Why IAF Still Uses Them?

What is the replacement of MiG-21 jets for the No. 51 squadron?

  • To replace the MiG-21s, the IAF is introducing various Tejas light combat aircraft versions.
  • On September 30, the 51 Squadron, which is headquartered at Srinagar Air Base and operates MiG-21 Bison aircraft, will receive a number plate till Tejas Mk1A induction starts. Originally, the second squadron of the Tejas Mk1 fleet planned to take its position, however it appears that 51 Squadron will once again be outfitted and raised in 2025.
  • Deliveries of the Tejas Mk1A, an updated Tejas aircraft with AESA Fire Control Radar and a number of enhancements, will begin in 2024. When there is increased tension at the border, the IAF’s Two Squadrons of Tejas Mk1 planes, which are based in South Indian states, are usually stationed at the advanced airbase for familiarisation sorties.
  • IAF in May 2022 inducted Tejas Mk-1 FOC aircraft into the recently resurrected No 18 Sqn, the “Flying Bullets” at Air Force Station Sulur, marking yet another important step towards enhancing the operational capability of the Air Force. The Squadron is the first in the IAF to induct this platform. This is also an important milestone in the country’s indigenous fighter aircraft program and a significant boost to the ‘Make In India’ initiative. Tejas Mk-1 FOC is a single engine, light weight, highly agile, all weather multi role fighter aircraft capable of air-to-air refueling thus making it a truly versatile platform.
  • By 2025, all four of the current Mig-21 Bis squadrons will be decommissioned and replaced with LCA-Tejas Mk1A aircraft, which will begin entering service in 2024 and continue through 2029. Most of the Mig-21Bis squadrons now in operation are deployed along the western Pakistani border.
  • For more details read: Everything You Need To Know About LCA Tejas

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