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Romania retires MiG-21 fleet after series of accidents

Romanian MiG-21 LanceRs
Photo: Romanian Air Force

The Romanian Air Force officially grounded its fleet of MiG-21 LanceR aircraft on April 15, as per an order from the Chief of the Defense Staff, General Daniel Petrescu.

The defense ministry said the decision was taken following repeated safety accidents with the aircraft, including the fatal crash of a MiG-21 from March this year.

During the suspension of MiG-21 flight activities, the Romanian Air Force will continue to execute the air police combat service with its F-16 fighters, supported by the allied aircraft deployed in Romania, within the NATO Enhanced Vigilance Activity mission. The ground-based defense systems will also carry out nationally commanded air policing missions, as well as within the NATO integrated air defense and missile defense system.

To supplement the retired LanceRs, Romania said it would take steps to speed up the acquisition of the 32 F-16 aircraft from Norway. These will constitute two more squadrons in the next period.

The draft law approving this acquisition is in the approval phase, and will be presented to the Romanian parliament as soon as possible, the defense ministry said.

In addition to Romania, Norway also sold portion of its F-16 fleet to adversary air services provider Draken International, as part of its transition to the F-35 fifth-generation fighter.

With 17 F-16s already in service, Romania will have three squadrons at its disposal for at least the next 10 years.

Romania’s defense ministry did not reveal what will happen with the retired MiG-21 airframes, but given the current situation in Ukraine and Russia’s ongoing invasion there, it could be urged to transfer the aircraft to Ukraine. The case for the transfer could be made as the LanceR is a fighter of Soviet origin and Ukrainian pilots would be more familiar with them than with Western aircraft designs. The Ukrainian Air Force never flew the aircraft operationally after the break up of the USSR, but Ukraine did have a number of refurbished aircraft on sale in the 2000s.