The Indian Air Force (IAF) has retired its final Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27ML UPG variable-geometry ground-attack aircraft, following a ceremony at Jodhpur Air Force Station, Rajasthan, on December 27.
During the ceremony, No 29 Squadron ‘Scorpions’ – the final IAF unit to operate the MiG-27 – performed a seven-ship formation flypast over the base, a flight which marked the type’s final sortie in Indian service. The unit was part of South Western Air Command’s 32 Wing.
In a statement released before the type’s retirement, India’s defence ministry said: "The MiG-27 fleet earned its glory in the historic Kargil conflict when it delivered rockets and bombs with accuracy on enemy positions. The fleet also took an active part in Operation Parakram [the India-Pakistan standoff in 2001-02]."
The IAF took to Twitter to celebrate the MiG-27’s service contribution, saying: “This formidable ground-attack fighter aircraft has served the nation for over three decades. Inducted in 1985, the MiG-27 has been the mainstay of the IAF's ground-attack capability.”
India’s MiG-27s were known locally as the Bahadur (Valiant) and designated Flogger by NATO. Based on the older MiG-23, the MiG-27 was designed and produced by the then Soviet Union before a total of 165 MiG-27MLs were built licence built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). More than 160 MiG-27s served the air arm over the last three decades – alongside its predecessor, the MiG-23, in a swing-wing fighter-bomber role. Indian MiG-27s served with seven operational squadrons, in addition to combat training and tactics evaluation units.
The MiG-27 was the last variable-geometry aircraft to operate with the IAF, with India’s MiG-23 force having been retired in 2007 (MiG-23MF interceptor) and 2009 (MiG-23BN ground-attack aircraft) respectively. From 2004, 38 of the original aircraft were modernised by HAL to MiG-27ML UPG (upgrade) standard. This improved combat effectiveness and included a service life extension. The final non-upgraded MiG-27ML jets were withdrawn at Hasimara AFS in December 2017.
Employed mostly in low-level ground-attack operations, the MiG-27 was equipped with the Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-6-30 30mm rotary cannon and could carry S-5, S-8, S-25 and S-24 rockets across its seven hardpoints – four on the fuselage, two on wing glove pylons and one on the centreline, together providing the capacity to carry up to 4,000kg (8,800lb) of ordnance. The MiG-27 could also carry a range of air-to-surface missiles in its ground-attack role, including the Kh-23M Grom and Kh-25ML, along with the Kh-27PS anti-radiation missile. It could also be equipped with KAB-500Kr TV-guided and KAB-500L laser-guided bombs.
Despite its acclaimed combat performance, Indian MiG-27s suffered high-profile attrition, particularly towards the end of the type’s career. In 2019, two MiG-27s crashed while on training flights - one in February and the other in March, with both pilots ejecting safely.
The retirement is part of a modernisation process which is seeing the procurement of off-the-shelf products to replace India’s older, Cold War-era platforms. In terms of fighter aircraft, the IAF has already accepted its first of 36 Dassault Rafales in France and development of the HAL Tejas continues under the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme. Lockheed Martin offered its F-21 – a derivative of the F-16V Block 70/72 – during Aero India 2019 in a proposal in collaboration with India’s Tata Advanced Systems.