Romania readies to retire venerable MiG-21 LanceR fighters

Pucs Fongabe /

After more than 60 years of service, the MiG-21 LanceR fighters of the Romanian Air Force (RoAF) will fly their final mission on May 15, 2023. 

Two parallel ceremonies will be held at the RoAF 71st Air Base, Câmpia Turzii in Transylvania, and in the 86th Air Base located near Borcea, southeast Romania. All remaining MiG-21s will take off for the 95th Air Base in the northeastern Romanian city of Bacău, where they will be retired. 

For their last year of service, the Romanian MiG-21s were limited to air police missions and training flights to maintain the proficiency of current pilots. This was decided after the Romanian Ministry of Defense suspended all operations with the MiG-21 for a month on April 15, 2022, following multiple incidents involving the aircraft.   

What is the MiG-21 LanceR? 

The MiG-21 LanceR, serving with the Romanian Air Force, is an upgraded version of the iconic Soviet-built MiG-21 fighter jet. The MiG-21 initially entered service with the RoAF in 1962. 

In the mid-1990s, Romania conducted a modernization program to enhance its aging MiG-21 fleet and eventually improve NATO interoperability. The program carried out in collaboration with Israeli defense companies equipped the LanceR with modern radar, avionics, a glass cockpit, and integrated Western weaponry. 

Renewing the Romanian Air Force fighter fleet 

In the past few years, the Romanian Air Force has been attempting to replace the aging MiG-21 LanceR fighters that currently constitute the backbone of its fighter fleet, with about 20 currently in operation. In order to do so, two batches of second-hand Lockheed Martin F-16 fighters were purchased, namely 17 from Portugal in 2016 and 32 from Norway in 2022. 

Romania also plans to procure a number of Lockheed Martin F-35 fifth-generation fighters. On April 11, 2023, Romania’s Supreme Council of National Defense (CSAT) confirmed the future order. 

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