romanian mig-21s
@ Aviation Report / Andrea Avian

Romanian MiG-21s: the end of an Era

On Monday 15th May, contemporary at 71 Baza Aeriana in Campia Turzzi and in 86 Baza Aeriana in Borcea-Fetesti, the ceremony for the farewell of MiG 21 have been hold, in the presence of the Minister of Defence and of the higher ranks of Romanian Air Force. Three MiG 21 from each one Squadron took off from their bases and landed at 95 Baza Aeriana in Bacau, where they will be stored and retired from active service.

From 1962 Romanian Air Force received around 330 MiG 21, in the version F-13, PF, PFM, UM, MF and then the LanceR upgraded version. In 1989, after the fall of Ceausescu regime, Romanian Air Force gradually moved from the Soviet doctrine to the Western standard, becoming member of NATO in 2004, and due to the collapse of  Soviet Union, the economical and material support to Romane Fortele Aeriane, was going to the end.

Furthermore, in those years, the technological avionics level of occidental fighters was growing up quickly, consequentely Romane Fortele Aeriane had to choose if to purchase a new fighter, to avoid a gap with others air forces, or to upgrade their fleet.

Obviously, the financial resources plaied a fondamental role in the choice, so the first initiative was to upgrade the MiG 29, with the Sniper program, but the financial situation leaded to abandon the Fulcrums and to upgrade the MiG 21 MF and UM fleet, in service with Romanian Air Force since 1962, with the Lancer program.

110 aircraft were selected for this program, which began in 1993, performed by the Romanian Aerostar SA, with the collaboration of Israeli Elbit System Ltd, concluding with the last aircraft delivered in 2003. The Program provided a total inventory of 73 MiG 21 Lancer A single-seat ground attack variants, 23 Lancer C single-seat air superiority jets and 14 Lancer B two-seat training and ground-attack versions. The aim of this important up-grade program was to increase the interoperability and compatibility with other NATO air forces.

One of the problems that ex-members of Warszaw Pact had to manage after the dissolution of Soviet Union, was the supplying of spare parts for military equipments; in the Lancer program was calculated the total number of spare parts necessary to keep MiG 21 in service till the end of its operative life. Col. Cosmin Cosma, Commander of 711 Escadrila, explains .”during the Cold War, Romania was part of a treaty (Warsaw Treaty), consisting the eastern european countries and CCCP, Soviet Union (and not Russia), most of them being members of  NATO in these days, treaty that ended in 1990.

After that, Romania has undertaken several initiatives at all levels in order to accede to NATO. MiG-21 modernization was part of these initiatives (at technological level), the declared objective being an increased interoperability and compatibility with NATO armies. At that time, were made complex and comprehensive assessments, trying to cover multiple aspects regarding optimal and sustainable new modernized platform (MiG-21 LanceR) exploitation. Spare parts aspect (among others, as remaining life as resource in flight hours, costs etc.) was essential in this aircraft modernization selection (MiG-21 or MiG-29) and decision-making process.

In the beginning of the 1990 Romania had few hundreds of MiG-21 (Fishbed), of which about 110 were chosen for modernization with a substantial package of spare parts, calculated to cover the entire operational period (up somewhere in 2021-2023). The original MiG 21 avionic has been deeply modified, and now the Lancer’s cockpit is much more similar to a occidental new fighter, rather than an old Soviet aircraft.

The instrument panel was re-designed with two Elbit multi-functional displays and a Elop 921 HUD/up-front control panel. In the lancer C the left-hand display is a color MFD for navigation and pylons management, and the right-hand one is monochrome MFD representing the radar situation. Essential navigation and combat informations are projected in the Elbit DASH helmet-mounted display, making the Lancer one of the first operational aircraft to introduce the DASH in active service and providing the pilot with an advantage in close maneuvering engagements.

romanian mig-21s

Another main modification was the replacement of the radar RP 21 Sapfir with the Israeli IAI Elta EL/M 2032M advanced pulse-Doppler radar, which equippes the younger airframes Lancer C, while Lancer A and lancer B had been equipped with the Elta EL/M 2001B, a pulse-Doppler range-only I/J-band radar.

Other avionics improvements comprise the LISA-4000EB hybrid navigation system, Marconi air data computer, VHF/UHF radio, data transfer system, flight data recorder and a NATO-compatible IFF transponder. The self-protection systems were improved throught the installation of two MPMN-60 chaff and flare dispensers on the sides of the rear fuselage.

Protection of the aircraft in a hostile electromagnetic environment is guaranted by an ELTA EL/L 8222R electronic warfare jamming pod which autonomously detecs enemy radar and missiles and emits electronic signals to counter the threat. Instead, one of the limits of  Lancer, is the lack of datalink Link 16 system, which permits to know fondamentals information, such as armaments, flight range and others informations, about the other aircrafts, when flying in a formation of two, four or more aircrafts.

The farewell of the MiG 21 rapresent a fundamental piont in the History of Romanian Air Force, estabilishing the definitive end of the soviet-made aircraft Era. Now all the National air space is defended by the western F-16 with the support of NATO Allies.

Article and images: Andrea Avian