What will Kyiv put on the bizarre looking MiG-29 underwing pylon?

Global attention has been drawn to recent military developments in Ukraine. A unique photo on the Ukrainian Air Force Twitter sparked interest in potential aircraft attachments. The Drive and The National Interest were particularly intriguing. 

What will Kyiv put on the bizarre MiG-29 underwing hardpoint?
Photo credit: Dzen.ru

The unique element was a MiG-29’s proprietary armament suspension pylon, distinguishable by its distinctively colored nose cone. This pylon is one of six underwing hardpoints on the MiG-29. 

Although the photo was captioned “New day – new challenges!”, no hints were given about the pylon’s attachment. This display is part of a series of modifications to Ukrainian MiG-29 and Su-24 aircraft to fit new Western-origin weapons. A progress report is expected soon. Until then, the content of the underwing pylon remains a mystery, leading to speculation and anticipation.

Something heavy

New pylons have been installed next to the engine nacelles on Kyiv’s MiG-29, suggesting a big plan. These spots usually carry R-27 missiles weighing between 280 to 350 kg. The same spot can also accommodate the AGM-88 HARM missile, used by both Ukrainian MiG-29 and Su-27. It’s been used for a year, so it’s a potential aircraft upgrade. 

F-35 will carry solid rocket-ramjet AARGM-ER: INS/GPS, 250km range AGM-88 HARM
Photo credit: Wikipedia

The MiG-29 in question has two long underwing pylons, located near the engine nacelles. These pylons, however, don’t match the previously mentioned ones. Their length and protrusion beyond the wing’s leading edge are unique. Despite the low-resolution image, each pylon appears to have four grips for heavier missiles.

Electronic equipment

When it comes to the curious case of the MiG-29’s underwing pylon, some aviation savants suggest that it could potentially bear containers loaded with electronic equipment. However, this isn’t as straightforward as slinging bombs or missiles onto the aircraft – it’s a more nuanced discussion. 

What will Kyiv put on the bizarre looking MiG-29 underwing pylon?
Photo credit: The Drive

The concept of integrating electronic warfare and defensive countermeasures into an aircraft’s external load isn’t new. Still, it’s a task that requires a considerable amount of meticulous adaptation work to ensure compatibility with the aircraft’s systems. 

What we see in the photo is a unique pylon, a fresh addition to Ukraine’s MiG-29, designed for a new breed of anti-aircraft weaponry. The intrigue now lies in discovering what this innovative pylon will carry into the skies.

JDAM-ERS

Ukraine has obtained long-range precision-guided bombs, JDAM-ERS, capable of hitting targets up to 80 km away due to their retractable wings. 

F-15s/F-16s armed with JDAMs advance to Ukraine to strike deep
Photo credit: Pentapostagma

While it’s unclear which aircraft can deploy these weapons, the MiG-29 could be a possibility for the limited Ukrainian Air Force. This might involve the installation of a new pylon type. 

Multipurpose heavy bomb racks suggest that bigger weapons like JDAM-ERs are gravity-dropped from the aircraft instead of being launched or jettisoned. Therefore, there are two existing contenders: adjustable and free-falling bombs.

AIM series missiles or IRIS-T

Let’s explore rockets like the AIM-7 Sparrow [AAMS] and AIM-9 Sidewinder [AAM], part of the Ukrainian Air Force. The AIM-7 Sparrow is shorter and lighter than the P-27 at 3.66m and 232kg. The AIM-9 Sidewinder is even smaller, at 2.85 m and 91 kg. The AIM-120, part of the NASAMS air defense system, could be used for aircraft launch. It is 3.66 meters tall and 161 kg.  

The IRIS-T missiles from the IRIS-T SLM complex need little adaptation. This German rocket is 3 meters long and weighs 87 kg. Its pylon bears a resemblance.

AIM-120 AMRAAM - Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Harpoon missiles

Picture this: The “Harpoon” version of the MiG-29 underwing hardpoint. A concept that might draw a flurry of critique, but hear me out. The dormant Black Sea Fleet, stuck in their bases, presents a tantalizing target. Even the sinking of an older, Soviet-era artillery boat could be seen as a significant victory. 

Two Harpoon anti-ship missiles hit a Russian tug, Ukraine claims

Considering the Black Sea Fleet’s current operation mode, where anti-ship weapons are not typically used against vessels and naval drones, it’s intriguing to ponder the placement of the Harpoon. This is a weapon generously handed over by the United States to Ukraine, and it could be positioned closer to the targets. 

Now, imagine this scenario: you don’t require a multitude of aircraft, just a handful. While they may not inflict substantial damage on the Black Sea Fleet, the impact of such an operation could be amplified. Especially if the target is a ship of the Azov region type, operating at a distance from the bases.

Let’s talk about electronic modules

Imagine this: It takes four handles and a lengthy pole to suspend a hefty e-fill container. Now, blend this with the world of modern, hyper-sensitive Electronic Support Means [ESM] and Containerized Guidance and Warning Radar [RWR] receivers. These tools play a pivotal role in the reconnaissance of air defense systems. 

Think of it as a collection of passive sensors, a silent army gathering intelligence by detecting specific types of electromagnetic radiation. They’re like the secret agents of the sky, collecting data on the operation of radars in air defense systems. When two sensors are flown equidistant from each other, it creates a sort of triangulation, pinpointing the location of enemy radars. 

So here’s the kicker: The ESM/RWR is perfectly tailored for the air defense suppression mission already undertaken by Ukrainian MiG-29s armed with HARMS missiles. The combination of electronic modules that detect air defense radars and anti-radar missiles poses a significant threat to air defense and surveillance systems. It’s a high-stakes game of hide and seek in the sky, and the Ukrainian MiG-29s are coming out on top.

… or jamming

Picture MiG-29s patrolling  volatile airspace filled with powerful air defense systems and efficient Su-35 interceptors. Now, imagine adding radio-electronic warfare modules to the situation. 

MiG-29 can't shoot anything down with its 40-year-old radar
Photo credit: Wikimedia

With the extensive range of Russian air defenses, which can target deep within Ukrainian territory, an extra layer of protection is needed. This is where the strategic use of electronic warfare systems becomes crucial and provides a significant advantage in this intense aerial game.

Something must be done

Ukrainian aviation engineers and technicians are working hard, eagerly waiting for the arrival of the F-16s. They’re innovating to make the most out of the situation. These experts deserve credit for their efforts in ensuring the Air Force’s efficiency and competitiveness. They’re adapting to integrate new NATO weaponry into the Ukrainian arsenal. 

However, these are only speculations. The actual situation may vary, especially when considering the need for such a pylon. The Ukrainian armed forces may have undisclosed resources, which is a potential possibility.

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