The Indian air force plans in December 2019 finally to retire its last few Soviet-designed MiG-27 Flogger fighter-bombers, bringing to an end 38 years of MiG-27 operations in India and leaving the Kazakh air force as the last operator of the 1970s-vintage, swing-wing warplane.
New Delhi’s last MiG-27 unit, No. 29 Squadron is based in Jodhpur in Rajasthan. Two other MiG-27 squadrons shuttered in 2016.
Pilots and planners probably won’t miss the speedy but volatile MiG-27, a ground-attack derivative of the MiG-23 interceptor. U.S. Air Force test pilots who flew a captured MiG-23 under the auspices of the once-secret Constant Peg program, literally were afraid of the plane owing to its tendency to explode in mid-flight.
“It would accelerate until it blew up,” John Manclark, a commander of Constant Peg during the mid-1980s, said of the MiG-23. “The limit was 720 to 710 knots, but guys would look down inside and see they were going 850 to 880.”
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The Indian air force acquired the first of 165 locally-assembled MiG-27s starting in 1981. The type flew in combat during the Kargil War between India and Pakistan in 1999. In essence, a simpler MiG-23 without that type’s air-to-air radar, the MiG-27 with its powerful R-29 engine at low altitude could accelerate to a top speed of around Mach one.
But the plane was complex and unsafe compared to Western types. Even other Soviet types were safer to fly than the MiG-27 was. The Indian air force lost at least 10 percent of its MiG-27s in crashes.
Sri Lanka’s experience was even worse. The Sri Lankan air force in the late 1990s acquired from Ukraine a batch of six MiG-27s plus a MiG-23 trainer.