Croatian MiG 21 – State Defender
Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in June 1991. Several Independent Air Units (Samostalni zrakoplovni vod, SZV) with a total of 41 aircraft operated to support local units (HV) of the National Guard (Zbor Narodne Garde, ZNG) fighting the Yugoslav army. After the Yugoslav army withdrew from most of Croatia in 1992 the Croatian Air Force (CroAF) or Hrvatsko ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna obrana (HRZ i PZO) was formed. The only fighter aircraft used so far by the CroAF is the MiG-21 bis (izdeliye 75A and 75B) supported by MiG-21 UM (izdeliye 69) trainers converted to the ground attack role.
While the fighting raged with Yugoslavia the three MiG-21 bis that had defected were put into 1 Eskadrila Lovačkih Zrakoplova (Fighter Air Squadron, ELZ) of the Croatian Air Force, by then renamed Hrvatske Zračne Snage (HZS).
After the Dayton Peace Agreement was signed in November 1995 the CroAF was able to purchase 40 MiG-21 bis and MiG-21 UMs from the Ukraine; these arrived in crates, starting in 1994. The CroAF assembled 16 airworthy MiG-21 bis and four MiG-21 UMs and based these at Zagreb (airfield Pleso) and Pula. The remaining aircraft were stored for use as spares at the Zmaj (Dragon) overhaul and maintenance facility (ZTZ – Zrakoplovna Tehnička Zaklada) in Velika Gorica, close by Pleso.
In 2003 the CroAF purchased from Aerostar in Romania eight MiG-21 bis fighters that had been overhauled and given upgraded avionics for NATO interoperability. Such aircraft can be identified by the large ventral blade aerial offset to port just aft of the nose gear unit. They bear the unofficial local designation MiG-21 bisD. These newly acquired aircraft did not give immediate satisfaction and were returned to Aerostar later that year to remedy the faults. However, all airworthy MiG-21 s are currently concentrated at Pula.
At first many CroAF aircraft did not carry visible individual identification, such as a serial. The national insignia were in the form of a Yugoslav Air Force-style full-chord red/white/blue fin flash and the elaborate Croatian crest on the fuselage. Later some aircraft had three-digit serials applied to the fuselage nose and the wings; the crest was moved to the fin and replaced on the fuselage by a blue roundel with red chequers.
A MiG-21 U (izdeliye 66-400) was seen preserved at Zadar as ‘igs’ in 2006, althougli the serial is probably fake. Nothing is known of its service history with the CroAF and it is likely to have been abandoned by the Yugoslav Air Force (YuAF) during the wars that followed Croatia’s declaration of independence. Only three examples of this type served with the YuAF and one, serialled 22903, was noted at Zadar in 1999; this may be the aircraft in question.
The CroAF obtained four MiG-21 UMs (izdeliye 69) either from abandoned YuAF stock or, more likely, from Ukrainian Air Force surplus stocks. In 2003, four more were purchased from Aerostar of Romania, after being upgraded to MiG-21 UMD standard in a similar fashion to the eight MiG-21 bisDs. Stories have circulated that they are former Luftwaffe /East German Air Force aircraft but their c/ns do not match any German MiG-21 UMs.