Since its introduction in the early 1980s, the Soviet Cold War-era Mikoyan MiG-29 has been widely exported and it has served in a variety of regions around the globe. Now the twin-engine combat aircraft, which was developed as an air superiority fighter in the 1970s, will be heading to the extreme conditions of the arctic for the first time.
The Russian military has been conducting combat training exercises of the upgrade MiG-29K (NATO reporting name: Fulcrum-D) from the Novaya Zemlya archipelago in the arctic. The goal of the operations has been to increase the zone of controlled airspace over Russia's northern sea routes, including those in the Barents Sea.
"The replacement of the flight personnel and MiG-31BM fighters of a separate composite aviation regiment took place at the Northern Fleet's Rogachyovo airfield," the press office of the Russian Navy's Northern Fleet said in a statement to Tass. "They were replaced for the first time by pilots of deck-based MiG-29K fighters of the 100th shipborne aviation regiment of the Northern Fleet's Air Force and Air Defense Army."
The press office added that the experimental combat duty will expand the area by employing the Northern Fleet's fighter aviation in the Arctic while it also increases the zone of controlled airspace over the Northern Sea Route.
The 100th shipborne aviation regiment is reportedly outfitted with generation four-plus MiG-29K fighters, the all-weather carrier-based variant of the original MiG-29. It was developed in the late 1980s from the MiG-29M, and it took its first flight in July 1988.
However, as the Russian Navy preferred the Su-27K – later re-designated Su-33 – Russia did not move forward with the MiG-29K program, and only two prototypes were originally built in the early 1990s. However, the Mikoyan Design Bureau did not stop its work on the MiG-29K aircraft despite the lack of financing since 1992.
The program later received a boost in the late 1990s to meet an Indian requirement for a ship-borne fighter following the purchase of a former Soviet aircraft carrier, which became INS Vikramaditya. The program was restarted and the MiG-29K was first received by the Indian Navy in 2009. As the Russian Navy's Su-33s began to near the end of their service, the MiG-29K was seen as a fitting replacement.
Now for the first time, MiG-29Ks are being deployed to the arctic region. The 100th shipborne aviation regiment's pilots had previously participated in the long-distance deployment of the Northern Fleet's carrier group in the Mediterranean Sea on the Russian heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser Admiral of the Fleet of the Soviet Union Kuznetsov.
The aircraft will join the Northern Fleet's 45th Air Force and Air Defense Army (anti-aircraft missile)regiment, which is armed with S-400 'Triumf' surface-to-air missile systems. The unit assumed combat duty on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago several years ago.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.