The Romanian Air Force retired the fleet of MiG-21 LanceR fighters on 15 May. The retirement of the aircraft, which have been flying in the country for 61 years, was celebrated with several ceremonies with farewell flights at air bases that operate old jets of Russian origin.
The decision to write off the Romanian MiG-21s this year was taken by the Romanian Supreme Defense Council in May 2022, but there was still no definition on the withdrawal date.
The replacement for the MiG-21 in Romania is the Lockheed Martin F-16. Currently, Bucharest has 12 examples of the fighter manufactured in the United States, which were acquired second-hand in 2006 from the Portuguese Air Force.
The European country has also confirmed the purchase of 32 additional examples of the F-16, purchased used from the Norwegian Air Force and which should be delivered starting this year.
Romania also intends to have Lockheed Martin’s F-35A Lightning II 5th generation fighter. The selection of the aircraft was announced by Romania’s Supreme Defense Council last month. Information on the number of aircraft to be ordered has not yet been disclosed.
With the deactivation of the MiG-21 in Romania, the last country in Europe to have the old Russian fighter will be Croatia, which still operates around 12 aircraft of the type. The copies of the Croatian fleet, however, will be deactivated until 2024 and replaced by the Dassault Rafale.
Romania’s MiG-21 fleet has been partially grounded since April 2022. The suspension of activities with the aircraft took place after the crash of a model of the type in March last year, near the border with Ukraine.
The rescue mission to find the fighter pilot also resulted in tragedy, with the search helicopter crashing in the same region. The two accidents left eight Romanian soldiers dead.
Soviet heritage with Israel upgrade
The MiG-21 fighters are one of the last pieces of Soviet heritage in Romania’s air force, which received its first aircraft in 1962. At that time, the country was one of the members of the defunct Warsaw Pact military alliance, which was led by Moscow .
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Romania strengthened its ties with the West until it joined NATO in 2004. With the new allies, Romanian forces began to renew their arsenals with Western equipment.
With no resources to acquire new aircraft, the Romanian Air Force decided in the 1990s to renew the MiG-21, through the LanceR program developed by the Israeli Elbit Systems. Between 1993 and 2002, 110 fighters in the Romanian fleet underwent the upgrade, which included digital avionics and longer-range weapons systems.