Ambala Air Force Station, Aug. 1: Defence minister George Fernandes today said the government was in the process of buying the Advanced Jet Trainers for the air force but the MiG-21s will continue to remain its mainstay.
Fernandes, who flew a sortie on a MiG-21 trainer to advertise its effectiveness, said he had not yet received any “formal” intimation of the UK Royal Air Force’s orders to British Aerospace to buy the Hawk AJT.
The Indian government had sought a clarification from the British on their decision to buy the Hawk AJT, which, along with Czech firm Aero Vodochody’s L-159B, is in the race for an IAF order for AJTs estimated to cost Rs 7,000 crore.
The reason behind seeking the clarification was doubts on the credibility of the deal since the British themselves were uncertain about buying the Hawk from a domestic company.
Fernandes said he had indeed mentioned in Parliament that the MiG-21s would be phased out but had given no time-frame. Asked about the resources to buy AJTs, Fernandes said there was “no dearth” of funds.
“For long, there have been efforts to play down the abilities of the MiG-21s. Which (is) why (I) have flown it today. I have also flown in the Sukhoi for about 45 minutes. In some ways, this (the MiG-21) is even more comfortable. This aircraft has all that is needed in modern aircraft,” Fernandes said after his sortie.
“A gradual phase-out (of MiG-21s) is necessary as there can be MiGs that were inducted more than 50 years ago. But not of all MiG-21s as they are the mainstay of the IAF today,” he said.
Asked about difficulties in procuring spares for the MiG-21s, Fernandes said the Prime Minister had taken up this matter with the Russian President.
The defence minister refused to give his reaction to statements made by families who had lost their own in MiG-21 crashes.