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A chapter in the history of the Indian Air Force (IAF) came to an end with the last of the Mig-27 fighter aircraft flying into the sunset at Jodhpur on Friday, 35 years after they were first inducted. Not only will it be the last of the Mig-27s, it will also be one of the last aircraft from the Mig family of fighter jets with the IAF. The first Mig, which stands for the tongue twisting Mikoyan-Gurevich, came from the erstwhile Soviet Union, in the aftermath of the 1962 Chinese debacle — selected over competing aircraft offered by the United States — and soon to be made in India.
The Migs went on to be the major warhorse of the IAF, serving with aplomb in the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan, and the Mig-27 particularly rendered yeoman service during the Kargil conflict, where it flew under strict operating limitations imposed by the political leadership. Its performance surprised the Pakistanis, but it perhaps equally surprised the IAF which had worried about the moniker of “flying coffins” attached to Mig aircraft after multiple crashes. The Migs again proved their mettle in the short aerial combat after the Balakot strike, where the IAF claimed that Wing Commander Abhinandan had shot down a Pakistani F-16 even though he was himself shot down and taken captive in the bargain.
The Mig-27 will go but no obituaries will be written for it, as it leaves the IAF with a severe shortage of fighter jets in its fleet. Authorised 42 squadrons, it has two-thirds that number in its kitty. If India faces a military crisis in the near future, along with “God and the soldier we adore”, the much maligned Mig-27 aircraft will be remembered as well.