The development of the MiG-21 LanceR
The Israeli Elbit Systems company won the contract to integrate modern systems into these Cold War fighters, working together with aircraft manufacturer & maintenance company Aerostar Bacău and the Romanian Air Force. The outcome of this cooperation resulted in three versions of modernized MiG-21 aircraft that were referred to as MiG-21 LanceR. The capital R in the name LanceR refers to Romania . The prototype of the MiG-21 LanceR registered 9809 performed its first flight on 22 August 1995 and took 37 minutes. Its success cleared the way for an intense modernization process. The modernization program was originally referred to as the “DD program” meant as a tribute to the Romanian poet and novelist Doru Davidovici who was also a MiG-21 pilot and killed in a crash with a MiG-21UM in April 1989 later changed to LanceR. A total of 110 MiG-21 aircraft which were low on hours on the airframe were stripped down, completely overhauled and fitted with new systems. Unique feature is that the “new” LanceR aircraft were given the ability to use either Eastern of Western weapons.
Different versions of existing Roman MiG-21s were used for conversion. The differences between aircraft to be converted, like different engines (R-11, R-13 and R-25) and different internal structures and wiring were overcome.
A total of 71 LanceR A ground attack aircraft were converted from 34 MiG-21M’s, 7 MiG-21MF-75s and 30 MiG-21 MF’s. Deliveries to the Romanian air Force took place from 1996 forward and lasted until 2000. In October 1996 the first two LanceRs were received of which serial number 714 was the first LanceR A to be delivered. In 1997 twenty additional aircraft were delivered, followed by thirty-four aircraft in 1998, another thirteen in 1999 and the last four in 2000. The first unit to receive the LanceRs was 95th Air Base Bacău which received the aircraft on 25 March 1997. The pilots started to perform their initial operational flights on 15 April 1997 and the first squadron was declared operational on 8 May 1997.
The systems build in the LanceR A enabled the pilot to fly the rugged aircraft more easily and simplified the aiming and activation of the weapon systems. The LanceR A was equipped with a multi-functional color display screen (MFCD), Hybrid Navigation System (HNS) type LISA-4000EB, StrapDown a head up display, Elop 921 HUD, which were developed and manufacture by Elbit Systems Electro-Optics Ltd. (Elop), a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) system and is equipped with the Elta EL/M-2001B (RR – RANGE RADAR) radar. IFF Plessey replacing the old SRZO-2 IFF transponder, compatible with NATO IFF Mk. 10 transponder, according to STANAG 41-93.
The new RNAV system, assisted the pilot in navigation aid, approach in adverse weather conditions, compatible with VOR (VHF Omnidirectional Range)/ILS (Instrumental Landing System)/DME (Distance Measuring Equipment), consisting of a KNR-634A VOR/ILS receiver and a DME transponder KDM-706A model. Most noticeable is the Elbit Display And Sight Helmet (DASH), a helmed mounted display of information. Not only primary flight information, but also on targeting and using weapons are projected onto the pilots visor. All LanceR A aircraft had the green/brown camouflage with the blue underbelly, though all aircraft seemed to be sprayed in slightly different patterns.
For pilot training initially 10 MiG-21UMs were converted to LanceR B fighters. Later four additional LanceR Bs were delivered to the Romanian Air Force. The installed radar was identical to that of the LanceR A. These aircraft underwent the same paintjob as the LanceR As. First two seater prototype appointed serial number 327 flew on 6 May 1995 and deliveries took place between 1997 and 2002. The first two being delivered in 1997, followed by another 2 in 1998, only 1 aircraft in 1999, another 2 in 2000 and 2 more in 2001 and the last 5 in 2002.
The LanceR C was built as an air defense variant. The first prototype appointed serial number 6607 performed its initial test flight on 26 November 1996. A total of 25 additional, powerful MiG-21MF-75 aircraft were converted. As one aircraft crashed during a test flight by Aerostar prior to delivery to the Romanian air Force an extra MiG-21MF was added to the process to be converted into a LanceR C fighter. These aircraft received a light and dark grey paintjob, with the usual blue underbelly. Of the total 26 aircraft which were converted, two were original built MiG-21MF and the remaining 24 were original built MiG-21MF-75 aircraft. The LanceR Cs were built during a six year period, with the first airframe delivered in in 1997, followed by 2 additional aircraft in 1998, 3 more in 1999, and 3 in 2000, followed by twelve aircraft in 2001 and the another five in 2002. In April 2003 the LanceR program came to an end with the delivery of the final aircraft carrying serial number 9611.
The LanceR C aircraft is equipped with a Elta EL/M-2032 radar that can be used for air-to-ground attacks, but also to detect and engage multiple air-to-air targets up to 35 miles. Like all the LanceR aircraft, the Lancer C had a multi-role computer, DASH, Head up display, HOTAS, a Hybrid navigation system, ILS/VOR/DME, a Marconi air data computer, ARC-430 and ARC-435 VHF/UHF radio, radar warning receivers, chaff/flare dispensers, flight data recorder and a NATO compatible IFF transponder. The possibility to use either Eastern or Western weapons made it a very versatile fighter/bomber. Besides dumb bombs, smart bombs like the laser- and IR-guided bombs can be carried on the underwing hard points. A Rafael ligtening laser designator pod is essential for targeting and deliverance of the smart weapons. The aircraft can also be equipped with the Elbit/Aerostar Airborne Reconnaissance Pod. For Electronic counter measures (ECM) the Elta EL/L-8222R ECM pod can be used, as was demonstrated during an Electronic Warfare Live Training Exercise (ELITE) that was held at Lechfeld air base in Germany by the Roman Air force in 2007.
Besides the Eastern missiles like e.g. the R-73 or R60 also Magic II and Python-3 missiles can be used on the LanceR C aircraft.
Besides these LanceR conversions Elbit/Aerostar converted also an MiG-21Bis to LanceR C standard. It was promoted at Le Bourget air Salon in 1997, but it was not an export success.
During the “LanceR” upgrade program of the MiG-21 it soon became clear that the MiG-29 “Fulcrum” also required a modernization program. These Fulcrums however were not licensed built aircraft but directly purchased from their original manufacturer RSK MiG. For the necessary upgrade and modifications a quotation was requested and delivered by RSK MiG. The limited budget and the extend of the requested activities lead to the choice to cancel the upgrade program as requested by RSK MiG. The prototype appointed serial number 67 (construction number 32367), made its maiden flight on 5 May 2000, and was flown to Berlin for static display at the ILA 2000 show. It also flew during the Timisoara International Air Show-2000, where the aircraft was presented to the Romanian public for the first and the last time.
The Romanian Aircraft factory Aerostar SA, teamed with EADS (DASA) and Elbit, also responsible for the MiG-21 LanceR upgrade program, managed to modify one Air Force MiG-29 to the required standard. This project was referred to as the MiG-29 “Sniper” project, but this project was cancelled because of lacking budget. The cancellation of this projects lead to the early retirement of the MiG-29 Fulcrum and as a result all the MiG-29’s were stored at Mihail Kogălniceanu Airbase near Constanta.
The limitations in budget not only cancelled the modernization project of the MiG-29, but this shortage of money also resulted in the early retirement of other aircraft types in service at that time with the Romanian Air Force. The types concerned were the earlier mentioned IAR-93 and MiG-23, but also the Hong 5 disappeared from active duty due to two separate crashes, putting an end to this exotic type. To reduce further expenses a number of operational Airbases were closed and flying activities were concentrated on the remaining air bases.