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 – Nos 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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