The Indian Air Force is set to retire Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman's MiG-21, one of its four remaining squadrons of the MiG-21 fighter jets, sources said Monday.
Nicknamed 'Sword Arms', the ageing fighter jet is the Srinagar-based No. 51 squadron and will reportedly retire on September 30. The remaining three squadrons will retire by 2025.
The No. 51 Squadron is to be retired by the end of September, "as per the plan", the defence sources said. The remaining three squadrons of MiG-21 will be phased out by 2025, they said, PTI reported.
According to the Bharat Rakshak website, "It was conferred with one Vayu Sena Medal and three Mention-in-Dispatches for its effective contribution. During Operation Parakram, the Squadron was tasked with the Air Defence Of Kashmir Valley."
A PTI report quoted sources saying, "Ageing is a factor, but we read reports that even a modern aircraft can crash. A crash can happen due to multiple factors, including weather."
Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman flew MiG-21:
The Srinagar-based MiG-21 squadron 'Sword Arms' became famous in 2019 after it was flown by Wing Commander, now group captain Abhinandan Varthaman to shoot down a Pakistan F-16 fighter jet in a dogfight a day after the Balakot strike in February 2019.
Following the airstrike by India, Pakistan, in a tit-for-tat airstrike, shot down his plane inside Pakistani territory and captured Wing Commander Abhinandan. He was held captive for over 60 hours and was later released after various government efforts.
The Wing Commander returned to India at Wagah on 1 March 2019 and was awarded Vir Chakra by the Indian government for his courage and bravery.
What is Balakot strike:
The 2019 Balakot airstrike was a bombing raid conducted by Indian warplanes on February 26, 2019, in Balakot, Pakistan, against an alleged terrorist training camp in retaliation to the Pulwama attack in which 40 CRPF personnel were killed.
The MiG-21 is a Soviet-era single-engine multirole fighter and ground attack aircraft which were inducted into IAF over four decades ago. Currently, the IAF has around 70 MiG-21 aircraft and 50 MiG-29 variants.
In the past few years, several MiG-21s have crashed drawing attention towards safety record and the ageing fleet.
For its meritorious and glorious service to the nation, since its inception, the squadron was awarded the President's Standards in 2018.
As per a report in HT, over 400 of these aircraft have been involved in accidents in the last six decades, killing around 200 pilots.
(with PTI inputs)