MiG-21s Grounded – All Operations Of Accident-Prone Soviet-Era Fighter Jets Finally Suspended By RoAF

RoAF has grounded its fleet of MiG-21 LanceR military aircraft due to their high accident rate. Now, as per reports, the Romanian Air Force (RoAF) will only fly the 17 second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters, acquired from Portugal.

Meanwhile, the Romanian Ministry of Defense also intends to speed up the process to buy additional F-16 jets from surplus Norwegian stocks.

“At the same time, measures have been taken to speed up the procedures for the purchase of Norway’s 32 F-16 aircraft,” the ministry said in a statement.

In the past 26 years, more than twenty MiG-21s of the Romanian Air Force have made an emergency landing or crashed. The last accident involving the MiG-21 occurred in early March when a patrol plane crashed, killing the pilot.

Seven soldiers, sent to locate the Soviet-era fighter and the pilot during search and rescue operations were also killed in the helicopter crash.

Therefore, Romania has been modernizing its Air Force by replacing its Warsaw Pact-era MiG-21 fighters with the F-16s and has plans to eventually acquire F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as well.

Romania bought its first 17 F-16s in 2016 from Portugal. Out of the total F-16 AM/BM Block 15 purchased by the Romanian Air Force, 12 were modernized to the MLU 5.2R standard. The modernization package included an upgrade to avionics, software, communication equipment, navigational aids, and cockpit.

File:MiG-21 LanceR Romanian Air Force.JPG - Wikipedia
File Image: MiG-21 LanceR Romanian Air Force – Wikipedia

More specifically, the upgrade process featured a cockpit compatible with night vision systems; two multi-function displays; a modular mission computer; a modernized fire control radar; a hybrid navigation system; an advanced friend-enemy identification system; and electronic warfare management system, and a Link 16 data transmission system.

Additionally, the package also included the integration of other devices such as the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod as well as the JHMCS helmet for the use with the AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM, AIM-9M, and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles.

With 17 F-16AM/BM Block 15 fighters now received from Portugal, Romania plans to upgrade these aircraft and buy a further 36 to 48 from the United States. (Romanian Air Force)
F-16 AM/BM Block 15 fighters of the Romanian Air Force were acquired from Portugal. (Romanian Air Force)

The Romanian Air Force is also supported in its airspace surveillance missions by allied nations as part of NATO’s enhanced Air Policing over Romania. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022, additional fighter jets have been deployed to Romania.

Romania Surrounded By Pro-Russia Governments

Before the Russian invasion, the U.S. Air Force in Europe (USAFE) moved an unspecified number of F-16s from Germany to the Romanian Air Base of Fetesti, less than 60 miles (approx. 100 km) from the Black Sea to protect NATO airspace in the region close to Crimea.

Now, with the invasion of Russian armed forces in Ukraine and the capture of Snake Island on February 24, Russia has come close within 30 miles (approx. 50 km) of Romania’s coastline thus increasing worries for the country.

“They won’t stop,” a Romanian government official told Air Force Magazine, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Either you stop Russia in Ukraine, or you’re going to fight it on the NATO soil, on the EU soil.”

Romania is surrounded by pro-Russia governments in Hungary and Serbia, and a weak unaligned Moldova. While Bulgaria, its neighbor to the south, is also a NATO member, the country has huge investment and energy ties with Russia.

The Romanian government reportedly views Russia in a historical context with aspirations to re-establish its historic empire with a population prepared to sacrifice losses for Russian greatness.

The country plans to increase its defense spending in the wake of Russia’s long-term threat to its and NATO’s national security and part of that investment has been allocated to the base infrastructure used by American Troops and aircraft at Fetesti, Campia Turzii, and Mihail Kogălniceanu.

European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) funds have also invested in the airbase infrastructure and pre-positioning used by Americans.

Meanwhile, the grounding of MiG-21 LanceR has spurred discussions of the possibility that these planes can be provided to the Ukrainian Air Force which is in dire need of combat aircraft and has also started a crowdfunding program to acquire fighter planes, as recently reported by EurAsian Times.

The Romanian MiG-21 LanceRs are the upgraded versions of the original soviet made MiG-21 ‘Fishbeds’. The Israeli Elbit Systems company won the contract to integrate modern systems into Fishbeds to increase their operational lifetime by 10 years from 1995 and that resulted in three different variants.

The LanceR A features a multi-functional color display screen (MFCD), Hybrid Navigation System (HNS) type LISA-4000EB, and a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) system and is equipped with the Elta EL/M-2001B (RR – RANGE RADAR) radar.

File:CU2769 Mikoyan Mig-21 Indian Air Force (8413513629).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Indian Mig-21 Via Wikipedia

The Pilot is equipped with an Elbit Display And Sight Helmet (DASH), a helmet-mounted display of primary flight information, and also information on targeting and using weapons.

While the LanceR B was reportedly a trainer version that was pretty much identical to LanceR A.

The LanceR C aircraft is equipped with an Elta EL/M-2032 radar that can be used for air-to-ground attacks, but also to detect and engage multiple air-to-air targets up to 35 miles. It can also fire Western weapons which makes it a very versatile fighter/bomber. It can fire Smart Bombs like the laser and infrared-guided bombs using Rafael lightening laser designator pod.

The aircraft can also be equipped with the Elbit/Aerostar Airborne Reconnaissance Pod and for Electronic countermeasures (ECM), the Elta EL/L-8222R ECM pod can be used.

The MiG 21s can be very easy to maintain and sustain over time. Also, with the right set of avionics and armaments coupled with the famed innovative tactics of the Ukrainian Pilots, they can prove to be a formidable force even against the world’s best 4th Generation Fighters.