The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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So long, old superspy in the sky
- Record-holder MiG 25, Indian Air Force’s relic from the Cold War era, flies its last sortie

Bareilly, May 1: The MiG 25 aircraft that holds the world record for the highest altitude at which an aeroplane can fly today went into the history books in this Uttar Pradesh town.

The Indian Air Force was the only one flying the MiG 25, the superspy plane from the Cold War era, and it has now flown its last sortie.

Wing Commander Taliyan handed the Service Form 700 ' the flying record of the MiG 25 ' to Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi this morning after slotting the last of the MiG 25s into “E” file for static display, the way the aircraft will be seen now in aviation museums.

The MIG 25’s lenses have captured photographs across the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and the Line of Actual Control with China that have often changed military thoughts in India since the aircraft were inducted in 1981.

Yet, the MiG 25 is today going the way of the typewriter and the grandfather clock.

“We inducted the MiG 25 in 1981 and along with it, its Cold War culture. Even I am not aware of many of its operations. We worked it on a need-to-know basis. You can see that culture here in Bareilly ' the MiG 25 hangars have extra-protection with a full complement of watchdogs,” said Tyagi. He was asked for some examples of MiG 25 sorties to illustrate its role for the IAF.

Air Marshal (retired) Trevor Osman, who commanded the MiG 25 squadron named Trisonics in the 1980s, says the aircraft flew between 20 to 25 sorties a month. Most of the sorties were across the border.

The MiG 25 was actually in the nub of the dirty business of spying.

No other Indian aircraft can claim to have flown into Pakistani and Chinese airspace as much as the MiG 25. But the fact is official secrecy rules forbid the Indian Air Force from making such a claim.

The MIG 25 is a strategic reconnaissance plane fitted with powerful cameras that photograph even as it flies at thrice the speed of sound (Mach 3) from an altitude three times the height of Mount Everest.

In May 1997 ' a demi-official claim suggests ' a MiG 25 flew over Islamabad and rattled the Pakistani air force with its sonic boom. Even before Pakistan’s F-16s could scramble, the MiG 25 was crossing the border into India. It flies at 50 km per minute, faster than a bullet and can outrun many kinds of anti-aircraft missiles. Despite its phase-out today, the flying records of the MiG 25 in the IAF will remain shrouded in secrecy.

Technologically challenged, the Cold War era artefact is too expensive for the Indian Air Force to fly because there are better options available. Even Google Earth ' the Internet business Google’s imagery site ' can perhaps produce better pictures today than the photographs captured on the MiG 25’s film rolls in the 25 years that it illegally transgressed into Pakistani and Chinese airspace.

For surveillance and reconnaissance, the Indian Air Force ' and all its armed forces ' now have more reliable images from satellites and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (imported mostly from Israel).

With the phasing out of the MiG 25, the Indian Air Force is also announcing that it is seeking to break out of the Cold War era in terms of technology. The MiG 25, despite its remarkable functionality after a quarter-century in the IAF and its unmatched ability, is essentially an artefact from the Cold War.

For the 42 pilots who have flown the MiG 25 since its induction into the IAF in 1981, the farewell today was an emotional and solemn affair. The Trisonics squadron ' so called because the long-nosed aircraft with the heavy body is capable of flying in the atmosphere as well as in the stratosphere (just below outer space) ' will now convert full time to MiG 21 Bisons, an upgrade of the MiG 21’s air defence fighters that are also due to be phased out.

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