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Russia's MiG-29 Fulcrum: A Super Fighter or Super Failure?

July 20, 2016 Topic: Security Region: Eurasia Tags: RussiaDefenseTechnologyMig-29Air Power

Russia's MiG-29 Fulcrum: A Super Fighter or Super Failure?

They were hot rides—but with significant downsides.

Fulcrums also took a beating in the Ethiopian–Eritrean border conflict of the late 1990s, which featured more evenly matched opponents. Russian mercenaries flew alongside Ethiopian pilots, while Ukrainians supported the Eritrean Air Force. In all, four Eritrean MiG-29s were shot down by Ethiopian Su-27s. In exchange, the Eritrean Fulcrums shot down a Su-25, a MiG-21 and an unidentified fighter (possibly a MiG-23). Over multiple engagements, Flankers and Fulcrums exchanged over two-dozen R-27 missiles at long range for only a single hit. Instead, most of the victories were scored in short-range dogfights using AA-11 missiles.

Sixteen MiG-29s of the Serbian Air Force opposed NATO’s bombing campaign over Kosovo in 1999. Deployed at medium altitude, where they were exposed to hostile radar, five were shot down by F-15s and F-16s without scoring any victories in return.

MiG-29s have also performed ground attack missions in the former Yugoslavia, Moldova, South Sudan, Sudan and Ukraine.

Russian Fulcrums have been involved in a few incidents over the years. In 1989, Soviet defector Alexander Zuyev absconded with a MiG-29 and flew it to Turkey in an incident involving a cake full of sleeping pills, a shootout with a security guard and a failed strafing run. A MiG shot down a Georgian drone in 2008 in an incident preceding the Georgian–Russian war. Ukraine claims a Fulcrum shot down a Ukrainian Su-25 over Eastern Ukraine in 2014.

Major Operators

Unlike the Su-27, the MiG-29 would see extensive service in NATO air forces after the end of the Cold War. While most have been retired, Poland retains a fleet of thirty-eight MiG-29s, and Bulgaria and Slovakia have nineteen and six respectively.

India has over 110 upgraded Fulcrums, including forty-five MiG-29Ks in the Naval Air Arm.  Other notable operators include Algeria (26), Iran (25), Belarus (41), Kazakhstan (40), Myanmar (31), Peru (19), North Korea (35), Turkmenistan (24), and Uzbekistan (60).

MiG-29s are being actively used in combat in Ukraine—there were eighty before hostilities in 2014, but two have been shot down by rebel surface-to-air missiles—and Syria. Syria is believed to have fifteen to twenty operational MiG-29SMs upgraded by Russia with launch rails for deadly R-77 air-to-air missiles. Yemen’s nineteen or so MiG-29s were used in its counterinsurgency campaign, but have fallen into the hands of Houthi rebels and don’t appear to have flown since. Sudan’s twelve MiG-29s have been involved in raids against rebels in Darfur and the new state of South Sudan in 2012.

A two-seat Fulcrum with further modernized systems, the MiG-35, represents the Mikoyan firm’s latest bid to return to prominence in military aviation.

 

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

Image: A MiG-29K (9-41) carrier-based multirole fighter. Wikimedia Commons/Dmitriy Pichugin.