The Soviet Bloc's most widely used fighter, the MiG-21 Fishbed served not just the Soviet Union, but Soviet allies during the Third World War. First entering widespread Soviet service in 1959 with both the VVS (Soviet Air Force) and Voyska PVO (the Soviet Air Defense Force), the aircraft was widely exported to the Warsaw Pact, Soviet clients, and a number of “non-aligned” states, including license production in India. The aircraft served from the first day of the war to the last, and has seen extensive post-war service in the former Soviet Union, the remnants of China, the Middle East, and in both Cuba and Mexico. This work will cover those MiG-21 variants that saw service during and after the war.
MiG-21F-13 (Fishbed-C); First major production version (1959). Two AA-2 (K-13) Atoll IR missiles (Soviet copies of AIM-9B), one 30-mm NR-30 cannon. Daylight only, with ranging radar with no search or track capability. Clamshell canopy.
MiG-21PF (Fishbed-D): Improved version with RP-21 search and fire-control radar. Radar enabled use of AA-1 Alkali SARH missiles in addition to AA-2 Atoll. No gun armament.
MiG-21PFS (Fishbed-D): Boundary Layer Blowing added, wide chord tail, improved ejection seat, sideways opening canopy.
MiG-21PFM (Fishbed-F): Modernized PFS with RP-21M radar, improved IFF and other avionics, Gsh-23 gun with 200 rounds in an underbelly pod. AS-7 Kerry missile capability added. Export version had no air-to-ground capability other than dumb bombs. Some Soviet versions were nuclear-capable with a 5 KT tactical nuclear bomb.
MiG-21R (Fishbed-H): Tactical Reconnaissance aircraft: recon systems carried in centerline pod: either a daytime PHOTINT pod, a nighttime PHOTINT pod, an ELINT pod, or a pod with a TV system. Could also be used as fighter or attack aircraft with AA-2, or bombs/rocket pods.
MiG-21S (Fishbed-J): Saphir-21/RP-22 radar, four hardpoints (two “wet” for external fuel tanks), GP-9 gun pod with 23-mm cannon, AA-2 Advanced Atoll SARH missiles added. Soviet AF only. Some wired for the RN-25 tactical nuclear bomb (5 KT yield).
MiG-21M (Fishbed-J): Export version of MiG-21S: No SARH missiles, RP-21A radar, built-in Gsh-23-2 cannon. License-built in India. Some WARPAC versions upgraded with RP-22 radar.
MiG-21SM (Fishbed-J): Upgraded S with new avionics, new engine, and built-in Gsh-23-2 gun.
MiG-21MF (Fishbed-J): Export version of SM with RP-22 radar, Gsh-23-2 cannon, AA-8 Aphid AAM added. License-built in India.
MiG-21SMT (Fishbed-K): SM with added fuel capacity in spinal tanks. Most converted to SM standard with saddle tank of MiG-21bis post-1972.
MiG-21bis (Fishbed-L/N): Ultimate MiG-21 version. Tumansky R25-300 engine, avionics upgrades, RP-21 radar, AA-8 Aphid and AA-2 Advanced Atoll AAMs, Built-in gun. Fishbed-L for Voyska PVO fitted with GCI system, Fishbed-N for VVS fitted with ILS. Exported to WARPAC countries, Cuba, and India, with license-production in India.
MiG-21U (Mongol-A): Two-seat training version of MiG-21F-13.
MiG-21US (Mongol-B): Training version of MiG-21PFM
MiG-21UM (Mongol-B): Training version of MiG-21MF.
Chengdu J-7: Chinese built version of MiG-21F-13. Used by North Korea during the war, and by various Chinese warlords.
Soviet Union: A number of MiG-21 regiments sent to North America, serving in both Northern and Southern Theaters. MiG-21R was main SAF tactical reconnaissance aircraft for first two years of the war, pending arrival of Su-24MR. The aircraft could hold its own against the F-4, but was outclassed by the F-14, F-15, and F-16.
Czechoslovakia: One MiG-21M regiment in North America. Remainder saw combat in 1989.
Cuba: Main Cuban AF air defense fighter and tactical reconnaissance aircraft. Used over North America as well as for air defense of Cuba.
East Germany: One Regiment of MiG-21bis (JG-1) deployed to North America. Remaining EGAF units saw combat in 1989 campaign.
Egypt: Several units due to convert to F-16 had to retain MiG-21s due to the war. Combat against Libyan aircraft in several border skirmishes. Replaced postwar by F-16s as per prewar plans. Egyptian aircraft wired for AIM-9 missiles prewar.
Hungary: One Regiment MiG-21bis in North America. Remainder saw combat in 1989.
Libya: Libyan AF MiG-21s remained for air defense of Libya. Combat against U.S. Sixth Fleet as well as Egypt. Some Libyan MiGs reportedly wired for R.550 Magic AAMs from France.
Mexico: FARM mostly used the MiG-21 during the war and after. Most survivors destroyed during the Baja War.
Nicaragua: Primary fighter of Sandinista AF during and after the war. Survivors retired after 1995 coup which toppled the Sandinista regime.
North Korea: Used both MiG-21 and J-7 in combat; NKAF in Northern Theater used mainly MiG-21, but a number of J-7s were identified in Canada during the war. Combat during brief “War of Korean Unification” following fall of Rump USSR.
PRC: J-7 used by remnants of PLA-AF and by warlords in numerous conflicts during and after the war.
Poland: Two MiG-21 Regiments deployed to North America. Remainder saw combat in 1989.
Far East Republic: A number of MiG-21 units in the Urals and Siberia joined the FER. Most survivors upgraded and modernized by either Japanese or South Korean firms.
Former Soviet Republics: Most ex-Soviet republics inherited at least one MiG-21 unit of one sort or another. Frequent use in post-Soviet conflicts, including Second Russian Civil War and fall of Rump USSR.
Russia: Some SAF units joined the Russian Republic. Replaced by MiG-29 in Russian Republic service.
Ukraine: Ukranian AF formed out of SAF units stationed in Ukraine. MiG-21s saw extensive service against Soviet loyalist forces. All now out of service and replaced by MiG-29 or Su-27.
Captured Examples; The USAF used a number of MiG-21s “acquired” from various sources for Aggressor training out of the Nellis AFB/Groom Lake/Tonopah complex. Several flown by defectors to unoccupied Canada used for evaluation and some aggressor training by both RAF and RCAF.