The MiG-21, known by the NATO reporting name Fishbed, was originally designed back in the mid 1950s as a result of experience gained in the Korean War. The aircraft was planned as a lightweight, day fighter with good transonic and supersonic handling, high rate of climb and minimum size. The aircrafts simple design also encouraged easy construction and maintainability, using a turbojet of medium power.
The early versions of the MiG-21 were day fighters with fairly restricted range, were relatively lightly armed and were equipped with limited avionics. As the aircraft was developed over the years the endurance, avionics and weapons load were improved and increased, turning the aircraft into an all-weather, multi-role fighter.
Over 8000 MiG-21 were eventually built by various countries and this aircraft has served with more nations and fought in more wars than any other fighter.
The reconnaissance versions of the MiG-21 are known as the MiG-21R and MiG-21RF. The MiG-21R, or Fishbed H, was based on the MiG-21PFM (Fishbed J) and carried on the centreline pylon the Soviet reconnaissance pod Type D housing forward looking or oblique cameras, infra-red sensors or ECM equipment. Additional ECM equipment was carried in the fuselage and within wingtip fairings.
After the disasterous Six Day War in 1967, the Egyptain Air Force was re-equipped by Russia with the new MiG-21PFS and recognised that they lacked a reconnaissance capability. The British Vinten company supplied Egypt with a number of long-range oblique photographic reconnaissance pods who's dimensions were based on the MiG-21's centreline auxiliary fuel tank. These new pods were used by Egyptain MiG-21s and Su-7s from the start of 1968.
The MiG-21RF, also known as Fishbed H, was generally similar to the MiG-21R but was based on the MiG-21MF and is powered by an uprated Tumansky R-13-300 turbojet engine. These aircraft began entering service from the mid-1970s. The centreline reconnaissance pod could carry optical or TV cameras, infra-red sensors or a SLAR.
The aircraft were supplied to various Soviet units operating as tactical reconnaissance squadrons - all these aircraft have now been withdrawn from service. The type saw considerable service in the Afghan War with the 263rd Independent Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron flying from Kabul. Fifteen aircraft were subsequently 'loaned' to the Afghan Air Force, but are no longer in service. Czechoslovakia obtained around 40 Fishbed H's and operated them in two regiments, it is understood that these aircraft have now been withdrawn from service.
Poland are believed to be the only country still operating the Fishbed H having acquired around 35 aircraft, although given the age of the aircraft, their days must be numbered.