Romanian MiG-21 withdrawal
On 13 February 1962 the Fortele Aeriene ale Romanei, Romanian Air Force, received its first twelve MiG-21F13 version fighters from their Russian allies at Deveselu Air Force Base. A second squadron entered service on 15 August 1963 at Mihail Kogălniceanu. In 1964 a total of thirty-eight MiG-21PF version were delivered followed by a total of fifty-six MiG-21PFM version in 1966. Between 1969 and 1971 a total of twelve MiG-21R version were delivered. The Romanian Air Force changed the type designations to their own type designations, the MiG-21PF changed to MiG-21 RFM, Radar Fortaj Modernizat (Radar Force Modernized), the MiG-21PFM changed to MiG-21RFMM, Radar Fortaj Motor Modernizat (Radar Force Engine Modernized), also known as MiG-21SPS by the engineers and maintainers and the MiG-21R changed to MiG-21C, Cercetare (Reconnaissance).
The deliveries continued with the delivery of no less than sixty-eight MiG-21M version in 1969 and 1970 and with the deliveries of the last single seat subversions the MiG-21MF and MiG-21MF-75 versions, a total of seventy-four were delivered between 1972 and 1975. Also a trainer version was received, a total of seven MiG-21U400s and MiG-21U600s followed later by eleven MiG-21US and thirty-two MiG-21UM versions. So between 1962 and 1975 the total of MiG-21 deliveries were 323!
Romania was eager to join the European Union (EU) and become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) but they were facing a challenge to modernize its fleet because there was not enough budget available to replace the current MiG-21 fleet, an estimated number of more than two-hundred, and other fighters in service with the Romanian Air Force. In 1992 the decision was made and a tender for modernizing a substantial part of the MiG-21 fleet was issued. The MiG-21 LanceR project was selected and a total of 110 aircraft were modernized to MiG-21 LanceR standard. The capital R in the name LanceR refers to Romania. The modernization program was also known as “DD program”, named after Doru Davidovici who was a MiG-21 pilot and killed in a crash with a MiG-21UM in April 1989.
The contract was won by the Israeli Elbit Systems company working together with aircraft manufacturer and maintenance company Aerostar Bacău. This cooperation resulted in three versions of the MiG-21 LanceR: LanceR A, LanceR B and LanceR C. The first flight of a MiG-21 LanceR took place on 22 August 1995 and it was successful. The MiG-21s which were low on hours on the airframe were stripped down, completely overhauled, fitted with new systems and could use Eastern as well as Western weapons which is quite unique.
Between 1996 and 2000 a total of seventy-one MiG-21 LanceR A ground attack aircraft were converted from thirty-four MiG-21Ms, seven MiG-21MF-75s and thirty MiG-21MFs. On 8 May 1997 the first MiG-21 LanceR A squadron was declared operational. The new systems enabled the pilot to fly the aircraft more easily and simplified the aiming and activation of the weapon systems. All LanceR A aircraft had the green/brown camouflage with a blue underbelly. Between 1997 and 2002 a total of fourteen MiG-21 Lancer B training aircraft were converted from fourteen MiG-21UMs. All LanceR B aircraft had the same green/brown camouflage with a blue underbelly as the LanceR A aircraft. Between 1997 and 2002 a total of twenty-five MiG-21 Lancer C air defense and superiority aircraft were converted from twenty-three MiG-21MF-75 and two MiG-21MFs. One aircraft crashed during a test flight by Aerostar prior to delivery and an extra MiG-21MF-75 was converted to LanceR C aircraft. With the delivery of this aircraft in April 2003 the LanceR program came to an end. All LanceR C aircraft had the light and dark grey paintjob with a blue underbelly.
Replacement for the MiG-21 LanceRs
Romania joined NATO on 1 April 2004 and the search for a new fighter to replace the ageing LanceR fleet simultaneously began. The upgrade from the MiG-21 to LanceR extended their operational lifetime and the aircraft were planned to be replaced between 2005 and 2010. The Romanian Air Force selected the F-16 above the F-18, Rafale, Grippen and Eurofighter.
In 2005 Romania was interested in the acquisition of twenty-four ex-Israeli Air Force F-16s and it was approved by the US government and Lockheed Martin but it never took place. In the summer of 2006 there was a negotiation with the Belgium Air Force about F-16s that were in long term storage but these aircraft were not up to MLU standard which means additional costs for the upgrading. In the spring of 2008 the Romanian Government submitted a proposal for future acquisition for Major Defense Equipment (MDE) in the United States of America for the delivery of twenty-four refurbished F-16C/D block 25 aircraft and twenty-four new F-16C/D Block 50/52 aircraft but this attempt also failed. In 2010 the Romanian Supreme Defense Council approved the proposal to purchase twenty-four used United States Air Force F-16C/D Block 25 aircraft but this proposal was cancelled due to lack of a long-term financing plan.
In October 2013 Romania finally succeeded in their attempt to purchase twelve ex Portuguese Air Force F-16s. Since 2006 the Portuguese Government was searching for a potential buyer for its surplus MLU upgraded F-16AM and F-16BM aircraft. The program called Peace Carpathian included nine F-16AM and three F-16BM Fighting Falcons. The contract also included modification and upgrades on the aircraft, additional engines, logistics support and training of pilots, planners, maintainers and engineers. Between October 2016 and September 2017 these F-16s were delivered at Baza 86 Aeriana Borcea/Fetesti. In January 2020 the Ministers of Defense from Portugal and Romania formally signed the contract for the sale of another five modernized F-16AMs to the Romanian Air Force and these aircraft were delivered between August 2020 and March 2021 bringing the total of F-16 deliveries to seventeen.
In December 2021 the Romanian Ministry of Defense (MoD) requested the Norwegian Defense Material Agency (NDMA) for the purchase of thirty-two F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons. The contract also included spare parts, support equipment, maintenance and technical training service and was approved and signed in November 2022. In the beginning of 2022 Major General Viorel Pana, the Chief of Staff of the Romanian Air Force said that at the end of 2023 the Romanian Air Force will have its second F-16 squadron operational followed by a third squadron at the end of 2024. When all thirty-two former Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s have been delivered the total of F-16s in use within the Romanian Air Force is fourty-nine.
MiG-21 farewell ceremonies
All MiG-21 LanceR A aircraft have been withdrawn from use around 2010 leaving only fourteen MiG-21 Lancer B and twenty-six Lancer C version operational. The remaining aircraft suffered difficulties with maintaining and serviceability of the aircraft. All MiG-21 LanceR flights were suspended on 15 April 2022 due to the high rate of accidents and to speed up the acquisition of thirty-two ex Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s. On 23 May 2022 the MiG-21 LanceR resumed flying.
In the months before the retirement ceremony multiple MiG-21 LanceR aircraft which reached the end of their flying hours arrived at Baza 95 Aeriana Bacau to be formally withdrawn from use and to be decommissioned. On 15 May 2023 the Romanian Air Force held ceremonies for the MiG-21 retirement and on that day the final flights with the MiG-21 LanceR took place! From Baza 71 Aeriana Campia Turcii three MiG-21 Lancer C aircraft took off and performed a few fly passes and continued their flight. Also from Baza 86 Aeriana Borcea/Fetesti three MiG-21 Lancer C aircraft took off and performed a few fly passes including one with two F-16AM Fighting Falcons. The six MiG-21 Lancer C aircraft performed a last air-to-air photoshoot and flew to Baza 95 Aeriana Bacau.
At Baza 95 Aeriana Bacau was the final ceremony to mark over 60 years of flying the MiG-21 within the Romanian Air Force. The aircraft flew in two formations of each three aircraft and after this fly pass all landed for the last time. The ceremony was completed with a fly pass of three IAR-99s and three IAR-330 helicopters of which one carried the Romanian flag underneath it.
The authors of Lowpass Aviation.com would like to thank all the involved personnel of the Romanian Air Force for their hospitality, time and help during our visit at Baza 95 Aeriana Bacau.