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The Romanian Air Force (RoAF) officially marked the retirement of its fleet of MiG-21 LanceR fighters on 15 May 2023.

Ceremonies were held simultaneously at the 71st Air Base ‘General Emanoil Ionescu’, located in Câmpia Turzii, and the 86th Air Base ‘Lieutenant Aviator Gheorghe Mociorniță’, located in Borcea, which concluded with the take-off of the last three MiG-21 LanceR aircraft in operation at each of those bases. Those six MiGs then flew to the 95th Air Base ‘Erou Căpitan aviator Alexandru Şerbănescu’, located in Bacău, where the LanceR fleet was officially retired from service.

Several MiG-21 LanceRs had already been flown to Bacău over the last five months as their remaining flight hours expired.

Romania’s National Defense Supreme Council made the decision to retire the RoAF’s LanceR fleet on 18 May 2022, accelerating the RoAF’s transition to the Lockheed Martin F-16. The RoAF currently 17 refurbished ex-Portuguese F-16AM/BMs (14 single-seat AMs and three twin-seat BMs), which were acquired between October 2016 and March 2021. An initial operational capability with the first 12 of these aircraft was declared in March 2019. The RoAF stated in December 2021 that it planned to acquire 32 ex-Norwegian F-16s to add to its current fleet. A EUR 388 M contract for these was signed on 4 November 2022, with first deliveries planned for late 2023.

The RoAF first began operating Mikoyan MiG-21s in the 1960s, upgrading around 110 of these under an expensive contract with Israel’s Elbit Systems between 1993 and 2002. In recent years around 16-18 single-seat MiG-21 LanceR C fighters and up to 12 MiG-21 Lancer B twin-seat conversion trainer variants remained of this fleet. However, these aircraft were only used for air policing missions and were grounded multiple times (most recently in April 2022) due to their high accident rate (one crashed on 7 July 2018, for example, and another on 2 March 2022, although the latter may have been mistakenly shot down by Ukrainian air defences).

The last European operator of the MiG-21 is now the Croatian Air Force, which still has 12 MiG-21BisD/UMD aircraft in service. These will be retired in 2024 and replaced by 12 ex-French Dassault Rafale F3Rs.

Peter Felstead