Vietnam Plans to Convert Decommissioned MiG-21 Aircraft into Drones

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Vietnam plans to convert Soviet era Mig-21 aircraft into unmanned drones to serve as target drones or even as combat UAVs.

So far, research has been carried out on how to have the drone (MiG-21) automatically land properly, Viet Defence publication reported on its Facebook page. No details of which agency in Vietnam was doing the conversion job has been given.

Converting these old interceptors into drones could benefit the Vietnam People’s Air Defense-Air Force  providing a target large enough to conduct air defense exercises with the S-300 high altitude air defense missile system along with being used for attack purposes, the report said.

Although all Vietnamese MiG-21s were retired by 2010 & grounded, most are still in storage within hangers across the country.

The research required to convert existing fighter jets into unmanned drones is quite complex and it is not yet known if Vietnam possesses this capability.

Converting older generation aircraft such as the MiG-21 into drones is quite a complex task. These do not come with fly-by-wire systems controlled by a computer. In fly-by-wire  aircraft, the unmanned interface simply has to plug into the on-board computer.

The MiG-21 has physical actuators that push manual flight controls which makes the task of designing a computer interface difficult and expensive. Even the Russians have not done it and prefer target drones instead.

In 2010, the US Air Force began converting F-16s to QF-16s (Q standing for drone). Using a Boeing-designed Drone Peculiar Equipment ((DPE) kit, the F-16, a fly-by-wire aircraft was transformed into a drone with onboard computers translating the ground-based pilot’s commands into action.The DPE kit allows the drone to take off and land, and perform complicated aerial maneuvers meant to escape air-to-air missiles. Most QF-16 drones dont land as they are shot down by the missiles.