A Croatian Air Force MiG-21UMD Mongol fighter crashed during a four-ship formation flight in the early afternoon of December 6.
The two-seater aircraft, tail code ‘164’, c/n 516969001 was built in 1976 and acquired from Kyrgyzstan in 2003. The aircraft was operated by the 191st Fighter Squadron at Pleso Air Base near Zagreb. It was undergoing a training flight which involved two target aircraft callsigns ‘Vitez 03/04’ and two QRA jets, callsigns ‘Knight 01/02’. ‘164’ was one of the target aircraft. This training scenario was the first Croatian MiG-21 flight in two weeks due to poor weather conditions.
The cause of the crash is currently under investigation but speculation is that it was caused by an engine failure. Both pilots successfully ejected. The Croatian Air Force had a fleet of 12 MiG-21s (eight single-seat MiG-21bisD and four two-seat MiG-21UMD aircraft) but only seven of them (four MiG-21bisD and three MiG-21UMD aircraft) were operational, with the rest stored. There are now only two airworthy MiG-21UMDs.
There will undoubtedly be calls for the veteran fleet of Cold War fighters to be grounded, and if that should happen then the Hungarian Air Force and Italian Air Force, which both cover Slovenia's air defence might have to taken on Croatia's needs too.
The Croatian MiG-21s are set to be replaced by 12 Dassault Rafales - comprising ten single-seat Rafale Cs and a pair of two-seat Rafale Bs - purchased second-hand from the French Air and Space Force (FASF). The first batch of ex-FASF Rafales is due to be delivered in 2024, with the remaining aircraft set to be handed over in 2025.