Jamnagar, March 20: The MiG-23 MF fighter aircraft took to the skies one last time on Tuesday as the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to phase out these aircraft after 24-years.
Four of the five remaining MiG-23 MF fighters belonging to a squadron of the IAF made their last historic flights at the frontline Air Force Station in Jamnagar, moving into the annals of military aviation history.
Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi, the Chief of the Indian Air Force, said the IAF had to let go of the fighter planes as they were getting impossible to maintain.
"We take decisions to bid 'goodbye' to squadrons or aircraft when we feel that the maintenance is difficult, expensive or at times, even - impossible. After this study, we had decided to shut down MF. But sometimes, one does adjustments like say, out of a team of 20 planes, only ten are in the running, while the rest are used to draw spares from. But finally, a stage arrives when none of these arrangements work and you must decide," he told reporters.
The MiG-23 MF, christened the 'Warlords' is a swing-wing interceptor that can deliver an array of missiles, bombs and guided weapons. With a top speed of 2.35 Mach, which is approximately 2,500 kmph, the fighter aircraft can carry 96 rockets or 1.5 tonnes of bombs of 100, 250 or 500 kg caliber.
The IAF, which has most aircraft of Russian origin, flies a whole range of MiG aircraft, - MiG-23, MiG-27 and MiG-29, besides Sukhoi-30s, British Jaguars and French Mirage-2000 fighter jets.
One of the biggest air forces in the world, the IAF is currently on a modernising spree, buying new aircraft to strengthen its capabilities.
India plans to buy 126 fighter jets, valued at close to 10 billion dollars, with Lockheed's F-16 and Boeing's F18 Super Hornet pitted against planes from Russia, Sweden and France.
The IAF has also struck a deal with Russia to purchase 40 more Sukhoi -30 multi-role fighter aircraft. The air force already has an unspecified number of Su-30s in its fleet.
India is expected to procure defence equipments to the tune of 10 billion dollars in the next five years. India raised its defence spending by seven percent to 20 billion dollars for the year ending March 2007.
According to experts, the Indian defence market is expected to be worth around 10 billion dollars to 15 billion dollars over the next decade.