On Oct. 7, an Indian air force (IAF) MiG-21 combat aircraft went down, marking the sixth crash of the fighter for the IAF this year.

The aircraft crashed in India’s western state of Rajasthan during a routine sortie around 11.30 a.m. local time while the pilot was preparing to land, a defense ministry spokesman says. The pilot ejected to safety.

The IAF first purchased MiG-21s in 1961 and has operated more than 400 of the aircraft. More than 100 of the fighters were lost in crashes from 1993-2002.

Due to the increasing number of accidents, the IAF decided to phase out the more than 100 MiG-21s in its current fleet by 2017.

Before the phaseout, the IAF plans to begin inducting its new Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft. That $11 billion program for 126 fighters is likely to be finalized before March 2012.

The IAF did not have an intermediate trainer aircraft between the HJT-16 Kirans and MiG-21s suitable for rookie pilots. The gap was filled with India’s 2004 purchase of the BAE Systems Hawk, with deliveries beginning in early 2008.

Beginning in 2012, the IAF also is planning to allow only experienced pilots to fly MiG-21s.

Of the 976 MiG-21s inducted in the IAF since the 1960s, more than half of them have been lost in crashes.