Final touchdown for IAF’s MiG-23 fighter jets

March 6th, 2009 - 3:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Halwara (Punjab), March 6 (IANS) It was a nostalgic moment for the Indian Air Force (IAF) Friday as it phased out its MiG-23 BN ’swing wing’ ground attack fighter jets here after 28 years of glorious service and flying more than 154,000 hours.
As Wing Commander Y.J. Joshi and Squadron Leader T.R. Sahu of the No.221 Squadron flew the aircraft from this airbase in Punjab, many eyes went moist. Present at the phasing out ceremony were the IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major and Air Marshal N. Chatrath, under whose command the squadron known as ‘Valiant’ was formed in 1963.

Over the years, the No.221 Squadron had become the lone squadron with MiG-23 BN on its inventory.

The ‘Valiants’ entered the ’swing wing’ era with the induction of MiG-23 BN in the IAF Jan 24, 1981 as a result of the force’s need for tactical air strike aircraft in the late 1970s and to counter the Paksitan’s then newly acquired F-16 fighter aircraft.

The jets, renamed in the IAF as Vijay (victory), were designed to replace the ageing fleet of MiG-21.

This single seater ground attack aircraft, which was brought from the erstwhile USSR, has a ’swing wing’ concept to compromise on the conflicting requirement of high-speed flight with good low speed handling.

The aircraft got its first taste of operation with the aircraft April 4, 1984 when the squadron was alerted for the launch of Operation Meghdoot for securing the Siachen Glacier in northern Ladakh.

“Intensive flying began in Kashmir Valley, the Mig-23 BNs were employed to the limits, flying in the mountainous region by day and night. In 1985, the MiG-23 BN got the unique distinction of being the first fighter aircraft ever to cross Banihal Pass in Jammu and Kashmir region by night,” an IAF official said.

On May 25, 1999, Operation Safed Sagar (Operation White Sea) was launched during the Kargil conflict. The IAF was to commence offensive air action at first light of the next morning. The MiG-23 BNs were launched into action targeting enemy positions at Tiger Hill with rockets and bombs.

“The ensuing seven weeks from May 26 and July 15 saw the squadron fly 155 attack missions more than those during December 1971 operations.

“During the 1999 Kargil conflict, this aircraft had the distinction of being the single aircraft type to fire the maximum weapon load over the dizzy heights of Drass and Kargil,” the official added.

Most of the IAF’s MiG-23s had already been phased out. Its superior version the MiG-23

MF was phased out in 2007.

Of the four squadrons the IAF had - over 70 aircraft - half of them were lost in air crashes and other accidents.

-Indo-Asian News Service

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