Rare case: the RuAF sent a MiG-29 to intercept a foreign aircraft
In an uncommon occurrence on August 23, the Russian Air Force mobilized a MiG-29 fighter jet to intercept a P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft, belonging to the Norwegian Air Force. This event unfolded in close proximity to Russian airspace, over the Barents Sea.
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The National Defense Management Center of Russia provided a detailed account of a recent occurrence: “On the 23rd day of August 2023, the vigilant monitoring systems that oversee Russian airspace detected an unidentified aerial entity encroaching upon the Russian state border, navigating above the icy expanses of the Barents Sea. In an immediate response to identifying the unknown air target and to forestall any potential breach of the state-Russian border, a MiG-29 fighter jet, a stalwart of the Northern Fleet’s standby air defense forces, was swiftly mobilized.”
In a detailed account, the center’s report articulated that the MiG-29 executed its flight in rigorous adherence to the international regulations that dictate the utilization of airspace. It further expounded, “the approaching foreign military aircraft, upon recognizing the presence of the Russian fighter jet, promptly deviated from its course directed towards the Russian Federation’s territorial boundary, thereby averting a potential infringement.” This incident signifies a rare instance where the deployment of MiG-29s has been reported for interception operations.
‘Engineering peak’ for its time
The MiG-29, a remarkable product of advanced engineering, was meticulously designed to serve as the foundation of both the Soviet and allied Warsaw Pact fleets. In a similar vein to the American F-18 and F-16, this aircraft represented a pinnacle of fourth-generation fighter technology. However, the MiG-29 was not merely an analog; it displayed substantial superiority in several aspects. Its flight performance was exceptional, its missile capability was outstanding, and it had the unique ability to deploy from frontline makeshift airfields, thereby demonstrating its tactical adaptability.
Unprecedented in its time, the fighter jet was the first globally to integrate a high off-boresight targeting capability. This state-of-the-art feature enabled it to engage targets at extreme angles in visual range combat, utilizing R-73 missiles that were directed by helmet-mounted sights. This groundbreaking capability was critically evaluated by NATO services in the post-Cold War era, and it was judged to confer a truly overwhelming advantage.
Remarkably, this advanced targeting capability continues to provide even the older models of the MiG-29 with a significant edge over the West’s premier air superiority fighter, the F-22. Notably, the F-22 has yet to incorporate helmet-mounted sights into its design, a factor that underscores the enduring value and relevance of the high off-boresight targeting capability that was first debuted in the aforementioned fighter jet.
Tested in combat
In combat scenarios over Iraq and Yugoslavia, it has been observed that MiG-29s notably lacked advanced targeting capabilities. This unfortunate circumstance meant that these aircraft were unable to exhibit their formidable advantage in combat scenarios before the advent of reverse engineering. Western defense sectors, notably, managed to decipher and replicate the technology embedded in MiG-29 units. These units were initially obtained through East Germany following the historic event of German reunification.
With its formidable capabilities, the MiG-29 was once an integral component of the Russian Air Force. However, its prominence has significantly dwindled since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 1991, the Soviet Air Force boasted approximately 800 of these formidable aircraft, with an anticipation of further bolstering their numbers annually.
Yet, the current state of affairs reflects a stark contrast, as the Russian Air Force now deploys merely around 110 of these jets, a striking drop in numbers. Disconcertingly, a substantial 64 percent of these are unmodernized, raising questions about their efficacy in contemporary warfare.
Su-27s replace MiG-29s
One of the principal catalysts for this was the more robust and proficient Su-27 Flanker, along with its numerous derivatives. Despite their higher price tag, these models were deemed as more cost-effective alternatives to the MiG-29. The rationale behind this assessment hinges on their enhanced capability to monitor expansive territories, courtesy of their extended ranges and superior radar systems. This feature significantly bolstered their value proposition, despite the steep financial investment required.
In the realm of aerial interceptions conducted by the Russian Air Force, it is noteworthy that the overwhelming bulk has been executed by several versions of the Su-27. Typically, the original model, the Su-30, or the Su-35 is engaged for this purpose. On rarer occasions, the Russian forces have resorted to the use of MiG-31 heavyweight interceptors to carry out such tactical operations.
Still on duty
It is noteworthy that during the initial part of the 2010s, numerous reports suggested that the Russian Defence Ministry was contemplating significant enhancements to the MiG-29 fleet. The objective was to elevate the aircraft to the ‘4+ generation’ MiG-29SMT standard. This upgrade would considerably extend the aircraft’s range, ensure compatibility with cutting-edge weaponry, and incorporate vastly superior avionics, inclusive of phased array radars. However, the proposed enhancements remained unfinanced and thus unrealized.
It is anticipated that MiG-29s will progressively retire from primary operational roles, yet they are projected to constitute the majority of the Russian Air Force’s reserve units well into the 2030s. This timeline could feasibly extend even further, given the existence of hundreds of minimally utilized, and in many cases, unassembled airframes that currently remain in storage.
Despite the baseline models from the 1980s becoming largely obsolete in terms of their avionics, sensors, and weaponry, the modernized version of the fighter retains a significant degree of potency. This is a testament to the enduring relevancy of the design, even as technological advancements continue to reshape the landscape of military aviation.
Over the past decade, the MiG-29 has been a stalwart in Russian aircraft exports, commanding a significant presence in international markets. This popularity can be attributed to the strategic enhancements made to reserve MiG-29s, along with the superior advancements incorporated into the newly constructed MiG-29M and MiG-29K models. These upgraded aircraft have found favor amongst a global clientele, with countries such as Syria, India, Egypt, Algeria, Serbia, and Mongolia included in the roster of purchasers.
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