Given their “considerably high accident rate”, all the Romanian MiG-21 LanceR aircraft have been grounded.
The Romanian Air Force has suspended all the flight activities of the remaining MiG-21 LanceR aircraft starting Friday, Apr. 15, 2022. The order was issued by Chief of the Defense Staff Major General Daniel Petrescu, following a considerably high accident rate recorded by the RoAF MiG-21 fleet that caused “multiple casualties and damaged or destroyed aircraft”.
The latest such incidents occurred on Mar. 2, 2022, when a LanceR, that had departed for a night mission from the 57th Air Force Base Mihail Kogălniceanu at around 19.50LT disappeared from radars few minutes later, between Gura Dobrogei and Cogealac, west of Costanta, in the eastern part of Romania, not far from the Black Sea. During the subsequent SAR mission, an IAR-330 (Romanian-built version of Aerospatiale SA 330) Puma helicopter also crashed in the area of Gura Dobrogei about 11 km from Mihail Kogălniceanu. Both the MiG-21 and the IAR-330 aircrew lost their lives in the incidents.
The MiG 21 LanceR is the upgraded avionics and weapons systems version of the MiG-21 Fishbed, developed by Elbit Systems and Aerostar Bacău for the Romanian Air Force. The first LanceR flew in 1996 and was a LanceR A version. The LanceR program saw the upgrade of a total of 114 MiG 21 airframes in three versions: the ground attack version (LanceR A), the two seater trainer version with ground attack capabilities (LanceR B) and the air superiority version (LanceR C). The upgrade aimed at making the old Cold War planes capable to use both eastern and western weapons systems, mainly focused in the cockpit configuration with the introduction of modern avionics, HOTAS and NATO compatible weapon systems. However, despite the upgrades, the MiG-21 LanceR remains a quite old aircraft mainly used to carried out QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duties under the NATO control network by way of the Combined Air Operations Center in Torrejon.
According to the Romanian Air Force, during the suspension of the flight activities with MiG-21 LanceR aircraft, the Romanian Air Force will continue to carry out the Air Policing service with its F-16 aircraft, supported by allied aircraft deployed to Romania, as part of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing: MiG-21s had already been augmented by Eurofighters from Italy, Germany and the UK, moved to the Black Sea region following the tensions around Ukraine and the subsequent Russian invasion.
At the same time, “measures have been made to accelerate the steps in view of the purchase of the 32 F-16 aircraft from Norway […] The draft law to approve this acquisition has passed the legislative transparency stage and is in the notification circuit, following to be presented to the Romanian Parliament shortly,” says an official RoAF statement.
With the former-RoNAF (Royal Norwegian Air Force) Vipers the Romanian Air Force will field three F-16s squadrons, that will ensure continuity for a period of at least 10 years. Romania plans to operate the F-16s until 2030, when the aircraft should be replaced by the F-35: “The three [F-16] squadrons will constitute an aerial operational capacity of transition to the F-35 5th generation aircraft”.