Syrian MiG-21

The Syrian Arab Air Force was established in the early 1950s and its first Syrian MiG-21 F-13 (izdeliye 74) fighters arrived around 1962-63. Between 1958 and 1961 Syria was, with Egypt, a constituent of the United Arab Republic (UAR) but their ways were now diverging, leaving as their only common cause a shared enmity with Israel. The first of 40 or 45 MiG-21 F-13s was delivered to Syria in 1965 and they were to equip three squadrons РNos 8, 10 and 11. Serials starting with 1301 were applied. Even before the start of the Six-Day War six MiG-21 F-13s were lost (presumably mostly this type) on 7th April 1967 in a clash with Israeli Mirage III CJs over the Golan Heights. The Six-Day War followed a pre­emptive Israeli air strike on 5th June 1967. Syrian losses were substantial, amounting to 32 MiG-21 F-13s and MiG-21 PFs out of a total of 60. Following this (and other wars with Israel) more MiGs were urgently supplied by the Air Forces of Iraq and Czechoslovakia (four MiG-21 F-13s), Hungary (ten MiG-21 F-13s) in addition to the Soviet deliveries. This further complicates the task of keeping track of individual aircraft, a task already made virtually impossible by the policy of secrecy applied by Arab governments and the USSR.

36 MiG-21 PF (izdeliye 76) fighters arrived in 1966 and were given serials starting from 1401, but many were lost in the Six-Day War, after which in 1968, the USSR supplied a further 24. The next version delivered to Syria was the MiG-21 PFM (izdeliye 94A) in 1968. The first batch of 40, with serials starting 1461, was followed by a second of 60 with numbers headed by 1041. Some of these deliveries were MiG-21 PFS (izdeliye 94A) which differed from the MiG-21 PFM in having a front-hinged canopy.

In the 1970s six MiG-21 R (izdeliye 94RA) tactical reconnaissance aircraft were delivered; some served until at least 2000. Only one aircraft serialled 8506 has been reported but that may be misidentification.

In 1971 twenty-one MiG-21 MFs (izdeliye 96F) were supplied to Syria, followed by 40 more in 1973. Serials allocated at first started with 1601. Such were the MiG-21 losses in the skirmishes before and during the Yom Kippur War (about 180 Syrian fighters of all types were destroyed) that the USSR supplied a further 75 MiG-21 MFs in late 1973. In an effort to hide their losses, the Syrians changed the serials on their aircraft time and time again. Many new MiG-21 MFs were given the serials of older destroyed fighters.

In October 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, 12 MiG-21 Ms (izdeliye 96) were bought from East Germany. They were similar to the MiG-21 MFs except for less powerful engines and radars.

In the Lebanon War of 1982, Syrian fighter losses are estimated by neutral observers to be 54 MiG-21 s and MiG-23s. To replenish the stock and allow the withdrawal of obsolete types, in the 1980s the USSR supplied 198 MiG-21bis (iizdeliye 75A) fighters that were given serials in the 1700s and 2000s.

By 1990 the inventory of the Syrian Air Force was 178 MiG-21 bis in 12 squadrons plus 61 older variants in reserve. The MiG-21 bis fleet was down to 172 in 1990, 160 in 1995 and 102 in 2005 (in 7 squadrons).

Little information has been released or gleaned of deliveries of the MiG-21’s trainer versions to Syria. About eight MiG-21U-s were delivered in the 1960s and 20 MiG-21 UMs around 1973.

In 2014 it has been reported that MiG-21 s still equip eight SyrAF squadrons and total about 200 aircraft, including trainers.

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