Russia's MiG-23 Fighter Has Something the Air Force Can't Ever Match

May 9, 2024 Topic: Security Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: MilitaryDefenseFightersMiG-23MiG-23 FloggerRussiaAir Force

Russia's MiG-23 Fighter Has Something the Air Force Can't Ever Match

The MiG-23 "Flogger," designed during the Cold War to match the U.S. F-4 Phantom, ended up with a disappointing legacy due to various shortcomings.

Summary: The MiG-23 "Flogger," designed during the Cold War to match the U.S. F-4 Phantom, ended up with a disappointing legacy due to various shortcomings. Introduced with advanced features like variable swing-wing geometry and beyond-visual-range intercept capabilities, the MiG-23 was nonetheless built as a cost-effective export fighter, compromising its performance and reliability.


-This resulted in a poor combat record across several conflicts, where it was outmatched by opposing aircraft. Despite being difficult to fly and costly to maintain, the MiG-23 was widely exported to countries aligned with the Soviet Union and remains in limited service in some nations.

-The fighter's extensive operational flaws highlight the pitfalls of prioritizing cost over quality in military hardware.

The Troubled Legacy of the MiG-23 'Flogger': A Fighter Born to Struggle

The MiG-23 is one awful fighter, and the U.S. Air Force thankfully has no fighter jet that can match its terrible history. Pity the poor MiG-23 "Flogger" jet fighter. Built to replace the older – as in 1955 vintage – MiG-21 Fishbed, and intended to contend with America's F-4 Phantom, the MiG-23 instead became the proverbial "redheaded stepchild" of Soviet-designed fighters.


Instead of living up to its NATO codename "Flogger" in actual aerial combat, the plane far more often ended up on the receiving end of the proverbial floggings.

MiG-23: Not Necessarily Born to Fail…

On paper, the MiG-23 didn't seem like such a bad aircraft when it was developed. In fact, its variable “swing” wing geometry and advanced radar and fire control systems made it a fairly advanced aircraft when it was first introduced in 1970 and began entering operational service in 1971.

Of particular note to its pilots was a beyond-visual-range (BVR) intercept capability from more powerful onboard sensors. In addition, the fighter had robust landing gear that enabled it to operate from short, remote runways.  

…But Built On the Cheap

However, the Soviets purposely designed the Flogger as a lower-cost export fighter and therefore didn't build into it the sort of effort and quality control that would be expected for a fighter jet intended primarily for defending the precious "Rodina” (Motherland) itself.


The Soviet arms industry certainly had no shortage of customers for the MiG-23, as it was purchased by not only every member nation of the Warsaw Pact but by a veritable laundry list of official Communist allies as well as ostensible Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) states around the globe.  This customer list included Algeria, Cuba, India, North Korea, and Syria.

The phrase "penny wise, pound foolish” comes to mind; the plane was reported to be difficult to fly and expensive to maintain, while its engines had a short service life. And then there was the warbird's combat record. As noted by Senior Editor Peter Suciu:

There is no ambiguity here: the MiG-23 boasts a long, well-documented, and deeply embarrassing service record. The full extent of its failures is too great to recount in detail, but here are a few highlights. Over a dozen Syrian MiG-23 jet fighters were shot down by Israeli F-15s and F-16s throughout the Arab-Israeli Wars. Iraqi MiG-23 jet fighters also fared even more poorly against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War, reportedly suffering upwards of fifty losses against Iranian F-14s, F-5s, and F-4s. Libyan MiG-23s were routinely outperformed by Egyptian MiG-21 jet fighters during the Libyan-Egyptian War, and two of these fighters were destroyed by two U.S. F-14 Tomcats during the 1989 Tobruk skirmish.”

During Operation Desert Storm in 1991, one lucky Iraqi Air Force (IqAF) MiG-23 pilot managed at least a token bit of success when he damaged an F-111 Aardvark with an R-24T missile as the American fighter-bomber was on a bombing run.


The Aardvark still managed to return safely to base, and this partial victory was slim comfort for the IqAF in light of the seven Floggers they lost to F-15Cs in air-to-air combat.  

The Lingering MiG-23 Flogger

Despite these design flaws and a poor combat record alike, the MiG-23 has soldiered on.  The Russians built 5,000 Floggers of all types between 1967 and 1985, and the Russian Air Force kept them in service until 1999.

Meanwhile, it still remains in the aerial arsenals of Angola, Ethiopia, North Korea, and Syria.

Specifications (MiG-23MS)

Crew: One (Pilot)

Length: 54.7 feet (16.7 meters)

Wingspan: 45.6 feet (13.9 meters) fully spread; 25.26 feet (7.7 meters) fully swept

Height: 15.81 feet (4.82 meters) 

Empty weight: 10.2 tons 

Maximum takeoff weight: 17.8 tons

Armament: One twin-barreled 23mm GSh-23L cannon; six air-to-air missiles (mixture of infrared-homing close-range, AA-2 “Atoll” or AA-8 “Aphid”, and medium-range AA-7 “Apex” missiles)

Engine: One Tumansky R-29-300 turbojet of approx. 27,500 lbs (12,473 kg) thrust

Maximum speed: Approx. Mach 2.4 (1,553 mph/2,499 kph)

Wing sweep settings: 16, 45, and 72 degrees; adjustable in flight

About the Author

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).  Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU).  He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security.

Image Credit: Creative Commons.