Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots are converting from the MiG-21 to the Su-30 MKI, with the IAF Number 4 Squadron on 30 October flying the last sortie of the supersonic jet fighter that was in service for 60 years.

The formal induction of the Su-30 MKI happened on the same day, joining the Mig-21 in its final flypast.

The IAF relies on Russian defence companies for spare parts on the Su-30 MKI, and it has publicly expressed difficulties with these suppliers in February 2022, during the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, as sanctions on Russia led to failed deliveries. 

Even as its partnership with the US flourishes, India remains a long term strategic partner of Russia, according to GlobalData’s ‘India Defense Market 2023-2028’ report. The relationship to Russia on matters of defence has a deep history, and is necessary to maintain Indian military platforms that in many case date back to the Soviet-era. 

The decision to phase out the Mig-21 in favour of the Su-30 MKI and indigenous LCA fighters was announced in 2011, at which point 476 of the fleet of 946 MiG-21 aircraft had been lost in accidents over the decades. Initially scheduled for 2017, the replacement is still ongoing, with two Mig-21 squadrons still in operation.

The MiG-21 was the first supersonic jet in the IAF, inducted into service in 1963, and in operation with Number 4 Squadron since 1966. The second generation interceptor variant commenced delivery in 1964, and saw use to great effect in conflicts with Pakistan between the perils of 1965 and 1971. 

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The Su-30 MKI was jointly designed by the Sukhoi Design Bureau and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited based on the Su-30 fighter aircraft. The MKI variant is a multi-role combat aircraft that made its first flight in 1997. One major advancement over the MiG-21 that the Su-30 MKI offers is a fly-by-wire control system. The Mig-21 was highly manoeuvrable when it was first introduced, but is outclassed today by aircraft with this system of avionics.  

In November 2017, the IAF successfully tested the air-launched variant of the BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles, with a striking range of 290km, from the Su-30MK. Following third live fire from the fighter two years later, the IAF successfully integrated the cruise missile onto the aircraft in December 2019