May 1999, the Indian Army woke up to one of their dreaded nightmares. The heights along the Line of Control (LoC) between India and Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) were found to be occupied by Pakistani Army regulars as well as irregular troops. In view of the extremely harsh weather conditions in the area; under a gentleman’s agreement; both Indian and Pakistan Army vacated the posts at theses heights in the winters and occupied them again in May every year. However, in 1999 Pakistan decided to not respect the agreement and went ahead and occupied the Indian posts.
What followed was a gritty battle of men of the Indian Army against the triple enemy of altitude (read lack of oxygen), terrain and the Pakistani Army. The Kargil War. Attacking from a lower altitude, the Indian troops suffered heavy casualty but defeated the enemy and re-occupied all the posts by July 1999. The day is celebrated as Vijay Diwas (Victory Day) by the Indian Armed Forces. Supporting the Indian Army in its initial push was a unique ground attack aircraft with a variable swing wing. Powered by one of the most powerful engines in the world, the Mig 27 was a formidable support. The Mig 27s of the Indian Air Force pounded enemy positions relentlessly. For its service during the Kargil War, the Mig 27 earned the name “Bahadur” or valiant from its pilots.
The Mig 27 was a ground attack aircraft developed by the Mikoyan Gurevich design bureau in the erstwhile USSR as a replacement for the Mig 23 aircraft. The Mig 27 entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1975. It was one of the main ground attack aircraft used by Soviet Air Force against the Jihadis in Afghanistan. Between its first flight in 1970 and 1986, 1,075 Mig 27 were manufactured in various versions. The only air forces other than the Soviet and follow on CIS air forces that had the aircraft in their inventory were the Indian Air Force which inducted more than 150 aircraft assembled under licenses by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and the Sri Lankan Air Force.
The Mig 27 was inducted into the Indian Air Force in 1985 and formed the backbone of the Indian Air Force’s ground attack force along with the Jaguars. These aircraft participated in all major operations and exercises conducted by the Indian Air Force. These aircraft were installed with a rotating six barrel Gatling gun and several rockets and bombs for ground attack duties. They lacked a radar initially and hence has limited air to air and anti ship capability. However, they upgraded with French avionics by HAL towards the end of their life. The last squadron was decommissioned by the Indian Air Force on 27 Dec 2019 at the Jodhpur Air Base. As of now, only 12 Mig 27 are still in service with the Kazakh Air Force.
The Russians developed the Mig 27 on the air frame of the Mig 23, which was a popular aircraft for the export market. However, the nose of the aircraft was lengthened to improve pilot visibility, the under carriage was strengthened to allow the aircraft to operate from less than optimal air bases. The visibility from the cockpit was so good that pilots nicknamed it the “Balkon” or balcony. Several versions of the aircraft, namely Mig 27, Mig 27K, Mig 27M, Mig 27ML, Mig 27D, and the Mog 27H. Of these, the Mig 27 ML was the export version which was in service with the Indian Air Force. The Mig 27H was the Mig 27ML upgraded by HAL with French and other western avionics including the inclusion of a radar.
The Mig 27 was a single seat, single engine aircraft. It was 17.08 m long and had a wingspan of 13.97 m when spread and 7.78 m when swept back. The aircraft had a height of 5 m. It weighed 11,908 kg when empty and 20,300 Kg fully laden. It had a maximum take off weight of 20,670 Kg.
The Mig 27 was powered by a Turmansky R-29 B-300 engine with after burners producing a thrust of 78.50 KN without the after burners. With the afterburners engaged, the Mig 27 generated a maximum thrust of 112.8 KN. It was designed to fly most of the time at low altitude, being a ground attack aircraft. It could achieve a top speed of 1,350 Km/h (Mach 1.09) at sea level and 1,885 km/h (Mach 1.5) at an altitude of 26,000 ft. The combat range of the Mig 27 varied with the weapon package. It was 780 Km normally, but reduced to 540 Km with two Kh-29 missiles and three drop tanks. It further dropped to 225 Km with two Kh-29 missiles without any drop tanks. Ferry range for the Mig 27 was 2.500 km.
The Mig 27 could operate up to maximum altitude of 46,000 ft and could climb up to the altitude at a maximum climb rate of 200 m/min (39,000 ft/ min).
For combat duties, the Mig 27 came armed with one 30mm rotary cannon, one 23 mm cannon, and seven hard points on the fuselage and wings for missiles and bombs including both anti air missiles as well as anti ground missiles.
A well respected and hard working life of the Mig 27 with the Indian Air Force came to an end on 27 Dec 2019 with the retirement of the last surviving squadron. Adieu friend, you will live long in our memories.