The same model of jet that inspired the creation of the U.S. Navy’s “Top Gun” program (and so popularised, by proxy, such memorable phrases as “kick the tires and light the fires”) is now home to the airborne equivalent of your grandfather’s old Buick — the MiG-21.
Yes, the MiG 21 is no longer the scourge it used to be, especially in the hands of a North Korea (DPRK) wracked to strangulation with international sanctions.
Even Grampa’s buick is probably in better order than the DPRK’s fleet of approximately ~150 or so MiG 21 flying jalopies — the country’s most numerous fighter jet.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 first appeared in the air in the late-50s, and the Soviets later produced more than 10,000 of them.
In 1963, when the DPRK began building its fleet, the MiG 21 was a total beast in the air, one U.S. F-4 Phantom pilots were wary of encountering over Vietnam.
... The cockpit of the MiG-21 was rather rudimentary. The differences are somewhat prophetic in terms of the MiG series today.
Some of those 10,000 ended up in the hands of Kazakhstan, who sold the DPRK 40 for their last acquisition in the late '90s.
The purchase didn't really make much sense, especially because at the time North Korea was suffering one of the worst famines in history.
Aside from not looking nearly as cool anymore, at the time the MiG couldn't hold a match to other fighter models.
The desperate acquisition was very much a reflection of the DPRKs steadily failing economy — by '98 modern radar and jamming technology had left the MiG 21 in the dust.
According to satellite imagery, some of their MiG 21's even sit rusted out in pools of standing water.
Some analysts say the low-hours are due to concerns over mainframe repair, but others say it's lack of fuel.
With DPRK radar and missile technology dating decades old, the kill ratio in a concerted dogfight would fall heavily in ROKs favour.
Certainly it's a bird that looks better up on stilts, possibly in a museum, rather than trying to fight the ROK's superior F-15K.
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