Very few fighters have a long life, but one exception is the MiG-21 fighter.
Early studies of the MiG-21 fighter began in 1953. The success of the MiG-15 and MiG-17 showed that Soviet aerospace engineers could fully compete with the Western partners. The Soviet Union produced the first supersonic fighter, the MiG-19. However, technology had changed so rapidly in the two decades since the birth of the first jet. The MiG-15s were once famous for their speed, but could not even keep up with modern American bombers.
And the introduction of the MiG-21 fighter jet aimed to regain the balance, while providing an effective air superiority weapon. The MiG-21 could reach speeds above Mach 2, was equipped with an internal 23mm cannon and was capable of carrying 2-6 missiles. The MiG-21 can also perform a ground attack role, the fighter can carry a limited number of bombs and missiles.
The Soviet Union produced 10,645 MiG-21s between 1959 and 1985. India also produced 657 under license and technology transfer from Moscow, and Czechoslovakia also produced 194 under license. China based the design of the MiG-21 to create the Chengdu J-7 version. A total of about 2,400 J-7 fighters were produced between 1966 and 2013. With such a huge number, the MiG-21 has become the most produced supersonic fighter in the history of the world.
The MiG-21 never fought in the war between NATO and Warsaw. In Vietnam, the advantages of size and maneuverability allowed the MiG-21s to avoid enemy air-to-air missiles, attack quickly and retreat quickly. The MiG-21 was widely used in wars throughout the Middle East. The Israel Defense Forces’ MiG-21 fighter-bombers devastated Egyptian and Syrian bases in the opening airstrikes of the Six-Day War.
The number of MiG-21s in service began to decline in the late 1980s and 1990s, and were replaced by more modern models. However, many air forces continue to use the Chinese-made MiG-21 and its variants. The MiG-21 is still in service with 18 air forces worldwide, including two NATO members, Romania and Croatia. The aircraft has served with about 40 other air forces since 1960. China, Russia and Ukraine still carry out maintenance and upgrade of existing aircraft.
The MiG-21s in use today have many differences from the 1959 version. It is equipped with more modern and sophisticated weapons, such as the R-60 AAM, Magic 2 and Python missiles. Electronic equipment upgrades improve radar and communications. This makes the MiG-21 still very intimidating when confronting modern aircraft.
Currently, China has stopped producing J-7. The J-7s have been delivered for local defense and training missions. Croatia and Romania will also liquidate MiG-21s over the next five years. After a series of accidents, India finally retired its MiG-21s. However, this does not mean the end of the MiG-21. Many models of the J-7 and MiG-21 are still in service for quite a long time. Bangladesh purchased the last dozen J-7s in 2013 and will use them for a long time.