The MiG-21's amazing record includes service with no less than 56 air forces and action in 30 shooting wars. The little delta's phenomenal production tally of 13,500 aircraft is more than two-and-a-half times that of the F-4, the MiG's long-time adversary in Vietnam and the Middle East.
In the former USSR this aircraft was manufactured between the late 50s and the middle 70s. The MiG-21 is the world champion in the number of the air vehicles produced (11,000) and in airframe service life (up to 30 years). That is why about 3,000 MiG-21 are now operated by the air forces of more than 40 countries. The MiG-21 is close to setting another world record in the amount of the upgraded aircraft.
To improve on the MiG-15, Russian designers experimented with a tailed delta-wing configuration that soon became the distinctive shape of the MiG-21. This durable and simple short-range fighter design has been improved over the years with modified radar, flaps, airframe construction, avionics, weapons, and engines. The aircraft has mid-mounted delta wings with small square tips. There is one turbojet inside the body. There is a small round air intake in the nose. There is a single exhaust. The fuselage is a long, tubular body with a blunt nose and bubble canopy. There is one belly fin under the rear section. There is a large dorsal spine flush with the canopy. The tail fin swept-back and tapered with a square tip. The flats are mid-mounted on the body, swept-back, and tapered with square tips.
The MiG-21 had guns, missiles or rockets available for air-to-air use. Some models had one or two 30mm cannons with a 700 round per minute capability and enough ammunition for five seconds of firing. Since distinction between those models that had guns and those that did not was difficult, if not impossible, in an air-to-air engagement, a general assumption that all MiG-21s encountered had guns was made. Like the MiG-17, the MiG-21 could carry two Atolls, two Alkalis or two pods of 16 unguided rockets each. The external load had to be the same with no mixing of munitions. The Fishbed-D (MiG-21PF) was the second major MiG-21 variant, and its improvements included the addition of a radar in the engine inlet cone, which gave the PF model a moderately effective all-weather and night intercept capability. Adapting the design to fit the radar meant eliminating the guns from the earlier MiG-21 version. The PF relied solely on air-to-air missiles.
The MiG-21F Fishbed J is a short-range day fighter-interceptor and the first major production version of the popular MiG-21 series. It is but one of many versions of this aircraft that have served in the air arms of many nations around the world. The E-5 prototype of the MiG-21 was first flown in 1955 and made its first public appearance during the Soviet Aviation Day display at Moscow's Tushino Airport in June 1956. During the Vietnam War, MiG-21s were often used against U.S. aircraft. Between April 26, 165, and January 8, 1973, USAF F-4s and B-52s downed 68 MiG-21s. More than 30 countries of the world-including nations friendly to the U.S. have flown the MiG-21. At least 15 versions of the MiG-21 have been produced, some outside the Soviet Union. Estimates place the number built at more than 8,000, a production total exceeding that of any other modern jet aircraft.
MiG-21MF is a single-engined, single-seat supersonic jet fighter designed primarily for destruction of air targets by guided and non-guided weaponry and for air reconnaissance. To a certain extent, the aircraft can also be used for destruction of ground targets. A two-seat modification MiG-21UM is designed for advanced and perfection training of pilots for MiG-21 types. MiG-21MF (NATO reporting name Fishbed-J) represents the first third generation interceptor/fighter designed to gain and maintain air superiority. It was developed as a universal type to fulfil fighter tasks and multipurpose fighter/bomber tasks with limited possibilities in adverse weather conditions. It is equipped with the R-13F-300 engine with additional combustion, and the RP-22S radar. This type of MiG-21MF was manufactured in 1974 to 1975. Capacity of the internal fuel tanks is 2650 litres. The aircraft can be equipped with an optional external fuel tank under the fuselage and two tanks under the wings with a total capacity of 1470 litres. As to missiles, it can carry R-13A, R-60 and R-MK short-range air-to-air missiles. Standard equipment is the 23mm GSh-23L gun. MiG-21MF can also be used for air support of ground forces. In such case it can carry UB-16-57 or UB-32A launcher tubes, 240 mm S-24 air-to-surface rockets, or bombs up to 500 kg.
The upgrade project offered by RAC "MiG" and named MiG-21-93 is based on the use of "Kopyo" ("Spear") airborne radar, new weapons and equipment. This project has been developed jointly by RAC "MiG", Phazotron-NIIR Company, GosNIIAS and "Sokol" Joint-Stock Company under the general patronage of "Rosvooruzhenye" company. Due to high technical characteristics and reasonable cost, the project has won the Indian tender for MiG-21 fleet retrofitting. The "Kopyo" radar is designed for controlling the full aircraft weapons spectrum: built-in gun, rockets, advanced missiles with homing heads and guided bombs. This makes it possible to enhance qualitatively the MiG-21 following characteristics:
air target detection and lock-on range both in look-up and look-down with using R-27 and RVV-AE middle-range missiles ( the latter can be launched against several targets simultaneously);
ground and sea-surface target detection and improved communication, EW and navigation aids;
air target detection and engagement range in action in the front hemisphere;
improved guidance and engagement capabilities in action against ground targets of any type;
track-while-scan mode with the capability of tracking up to 10 targets and engaging two of them;
capability to battle successfully with forth-generation fighters;
effective destruction of ground targets covered by enemy air defense.
In accordance with the Indian party request, a number of systems of Western and Indian make have been combined in a single avionics complex.
The main objective of the MiG-21-93 project is to achieve the maximum combat effectiveness with minimum aircraft changes and extend the service life of this reliable aircraft (up to 40 years and 4,000 flying hours). Also, this rational approach to MiG-21 upgrade allows the Customer to save great funds to the utmost. Essentially the tests of the aircraft have been completed and the series production of the upgraded MiG-21bis aircraft for the Indian Air Force has been launched.
MiG-21 aircraft acquired by the United States under the Foreign Materiel Acquisition/Exploitation program are designated as the YF-110. After decades of secrecy, the Air Force acknowledged 13 November 2006 that it flew Communist-built fighters at the Tonopah Test Range northwest of Las Vegas. From 1977 through 1988, the program, known as Constant Peg, saw U.S. Air Force, Navy, and Marine aircrews flying against Soviet-designed MiG fighters as part of a training program where American pilots could better learn how to defeat or evade the communist bloc's fighters of the day.
As a result of marginal performance of American fighter forces in the skies over North Vietnam, Constant Peg complemented other revolutionary training programs such as Red Flag, Top Gun and the Air Force and Navy-Marine aggressor squadrons. The program also was intended to eliminate the "buck fever" or nervous excitement many pilots experience on their first few combat missions. Historical experience indicated that pilots who survived their first 10 missions were much more likely to survive a complete combat tour, and Constant Peg was intended to teach them the right "moves" to enable them to come out on top of any engagement.
The end of Constant Peg nearly coincided with the end of the Cold War, by which time some of its "graduates" had already proven themselves in actual air combat. Threat aircraft flown by the Red Eagles spanned several decades and technical generations of capability. There was the MiG-17 Fresco, a small, agile single-seat transonic fighter placed in service just after the Korean War and used extensively over Vietnam and the Middle East; the MiG-21 Fishbed, a high supersonic fighter used worldwide in large numbers; and the swing-wing MiG-23 Flogger, likewise in global service, an attempt by the Soviets to match the sophisticated capabilities of the F-4 Phantom. Although it came too late to influence Vietnam, Constant Peg training greatly influenced the success of American airmen in Operation Desert Storm, who shot down 40 Iraqi fighters, many of which were Fishbeds and Floggers.