Russia’s MiG 21: History Lives On

The military aircraft can have a short lifespan. During the World War I, the planes that were state-of-the-art became obsolete shortly after and the similar things happened in the World War II. And with the enhancement of the technology, the fleets of aircraft became passé as well. Also, the fighters that were a top threat in the skies over Korea became poor a few years later. You get the point.

There is the other scenario as well. Some designs managed to stay with us and one of these is the B-52 Stratofortress which took its first flight in 1952, and it is still in service today. The C-130s became operational in 1954, and it is still actively produced in 2018. We have to bear in mind that these are bomber and transport aircraft and it is slightly different when it comes to the fighters. They have the longevity problem, that is obvious, but one plane which is an exception is the MiG-21 Fishbed.



The studies for this aircraft started in 1953. Prior to this model, there were MiG-15 and MiG-17 which proved to be very successful, and they showed that combating the Western powers in the sky is possible. The MiG-19 was the first supersonic fighter created by the Soviet Union. At that point, technology advanced quickly, and those fighters which were involved in the Korean War were obsolete by 1955, one of them being MiG-15, capable of some things, but helpless in some other situations. The Russians hoped to improve their fleet with the MiG-21.

The MiG-21 had an internal cannon, and it was able to carry between two and six missiles. It earned the nickname Fishbed by NATO and just like the most fighters, this one would serve for ground attacks since it is able to carry a limited number of bombs and rockets. Instead of equipping this plane with a complex radar, the Soviets controlled it from the ground.

Between 1959 and 1985, the Soviet Union assembled 10,645 Fishbeds. They were followed by China with 2,400 Fishbeds produced between 1966 and 2013, India, with 657 planes constructed under a licensing and technology transfer agreement with Moscow and former Czechoslovakia with 194 units built.



Even though MiG-21 came out in the late 1950s, the engineers managed to tackle the problems that could not be cured with time. Thus, the modern jets cannot fly faster or maneuver better than the MiG-21. Sure the modern fighters have the equipment which is much more sophisticated, but they can be perceived as a luxury and they do not make the plane better in the true sense of the word. The Fishbed is a cheap and easy-to-maintain plane that can do it all.

Had Fishbed been produced in the United States, it wouldn’t have been useful. The aircraft has short legs, and it cannot carry a lot of ordnance, but it also lacks the space to accommodate the sophisticated items we have mentioned previously. However, it served its purpose on the Soviet side, and it was a capable ground control intercept fighter. The MiG-21 could fly and fight over battlefields and act as an interceptor, and it did all those things. Even the American pilots praised this plane during the Cold War.



The MiG-21 was never used on the Central Front in a NATO-Warsaw Pact war, but this doesn’t mean that it was just sitting in the backyard. In Vietnam, they took advantage of the United States by cutting through bomber packages before the US fighters could visualize them and attack. They were quite maneuverable, and they could evade the air-to-air missiles, which were not quite developed at the time.

However, on January 2, 1967, a group of F-4 Phantom IIs commanded by pilot Robin Olds tricked the North Vietnamese and shot down several Fishbeds. After the Vietnamese War, the Fishbed was used across the Middle East. The Israeli Defense Force sent their fleet against the Egyptian and Syrian Fishbeds, and they managed to destroy them in the opening days of the Six-Day War. In the War of Attrition, the Fishbeds went against the Israelis and once again in the Yom Kippur War and the Lebanon War as well.

All of this caused people to believe that the MiG-21s were doomed, but the aircraft performed more than adequately in comparable pilot training contexts. The Indian MiG-21s flew in the 1965 Indo-Pakistani War, the 1971 War, and the Kargil War and proved to be awesome.


As the time passed, the number of MiG-21 decreased, especially as the new models emerged. When the Soviet Union collapsed, it had major consequences on the Russian military strength. Their client states could no longer keep the aircraft in service, and there are still some air forces which use the MiG-21 and the Chinese F/J-7 version of the same aircraft.


You can find the MiG-21 in 18 air forces. Two of those states are NATO members – Croatia and Romania. Just for comparison, the Fishbed served in 40 additional countries at its peak. As for the Chinese J/F-7, it is still active in 13 states, but four retired this one from service. The Fishbeds which are in service today have been updated, but they still resemble the originals. Nowadays, they have different, much better weapons such as the Magic 2, the Phyton III or the R-60 AAM. Their electronics and communication equipment is upgraded as well, and they are much more precise.

Will the Fishbed live on?

China will no longer produce the J-7, which means that the final MiG-21 version has rolled out of the assembly line. In the meantime, Romania and Croatia are going to dispose of their Fishbeds in the upcoming five years, and as for India, the country will retire the MiG-21 planes.

Despite all of this, the Fishbed will keep going on. A lot of the J-7 and F-7 models are predicted to stay in service for a very long time. For example, Bangladesh purchased the last dozen of F-7 models five years ago, and they will not have to be replaced for quite a while. And we also need to take into consideration the fact that a lot of states and their respective militaries do not have the budget to refresh their forces all the time and buy something more sophisticated than the Fishbed. A hundred-year fighter could never exist, but the MiG-21 could easily reach 60 and even 70, without too many issues.

The first one was produced in 1959. It is not that hard to believe that at least one MiG-21 is going to survive to celebrate the 100th birthday. They are still widely used, and with the few more upgrades down the line, the Fishbed could be going strong in years to come.

Whether this airplane survives the upcoming years and the advancements in technology doesn’t matter at this point because one thing is for sure. The Russian MiG-21 has been problematic for the enemies. Even though it is assembled by the enemies of the United States, America needs to admit that it is one of the most iconic airplanes ever created. This model is definitely going down in the books as one of the best fighters.

Source: nationalinterest.org

America’s F-35 Faces Similar Problems As F-105 Thunderchief Fighter-Bomber

According to an official test pilot report, published by War is Boring, the new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter which is added to the US military isn’t fast enough to beat a much older F-16 in mock air combat. The question is how is the F-35 going to survive against the nimble Russian and Chinese air force? Moreover, the F-35 is intended to be produced and used in high numbers.

To find the answer to that question, we need to look to the past. Fifty years ago, the United States Air Force was in the similar position. They threatened to defeat their enemies with the F-105 Thunderchief, which was a heavy, high-tech, ground-attacker which had the same goal as the F-35.


However, the same problem plagues both of these jets. They cannot turn too quickly to beat the enemy aircraft, such as the Russian-made MiG-21, which was the Thunderchief’s main rival back in the day. In order not to discontinue the production of the F-105, the US Air Force worked out special tactics to make things work, keeping the plane in the fleet. It is important to notice that the same thing needs to be done with the F-35.

The similarities between the two airplanes are striking, despite the age difference. Carlo Kopp, an Australian aerospace analyst, wrote in 2004: “Both the F-105 and JSF are large, single-seat, single-engine strike fighters, using the most powerful engine of the era … [and] with empty weights in the 27,000-pound class, and wingspans almost identical at 35 feet.”

“Both carry internal weapon bays and multiple external hardpoints for drop tanks and weapons,” Kopp continued. “Both were intended to achieve combat radii in the 400-nautical-mile class. Neither have by the standards of their respective period’s high thrust-weight ratio or energy maneuver capability favored for air superiority fighters and interceptors.”

Out of the 833 F-105 units the US Air Force acquired, 334 were lost in the war versus Vietnam between 1965 and 1970. MiGs North Vietnam army used, managed to take down 22 Thunderchiefs while the F-105s shot down at least 27 MiGs, as Kopp puts it.


However, this wasn’t enough for the Pentagon, and they wanted to improve its tactics. In 1969, the Air Force conducted mock air battles between an ex-Iraqi MiG-21 and an F-105 which was a part of the program called “Have Doughnut.” The experiment could have gone better for the American steel bird. The testers advised the F-105 crew to flee should they encounter the MiG-21. But if the F-105 was behind the MiG-21, and the crew didn’t notice them, the Thunderchief could attempt a high-speed ambush. This was the only scenario where the Thunderchief had an advantage.
In case they started out as equals, the American plane wouldn’t survive for a long time. The Air Force reported: “If the F-105 attacker attempts a prolonged maneuvering engagement, it becomes vulnerable to follow-up attacks as the offensive situation deteriorates due to loss of energy and maneuvering potential.”


The F-35 pilot in the JSF-on-F-16 test reported the similar issue: “Insufficient pitch rate.” During a turning fight “energy deficit to the bandit would increase over time.”

At least the F-105 had a straight-line advantage over the enemy jets, but that is not the case with the F-35. It is slower than today’s Sukhoi, Shenyang, and Chengdu fighters. Kopp says that the F-35 can survive in future wars but only if the Air Force is to create tactics which will give this plane an advantage. “The decisive factor for the JSF in this game will be its limited stealth performance,” says Kopp.

Source: nationalinterest.org