A Brief History
On October 6, 1977, the Soviet aircraft design bureau, Mikoyan-Guryevich, flew their MiG-29 supersonic fighter for the first time. In service since 1983, over 1600 of these highly capable air superiority and fighter bomber jets have been built, and incredibly (for a fighter aircraft) the plane is still in production.
Conceived as the lower end mix of fighter jets, similar to the American F-16 vis a vis the F-15, the MiG-29 is the smaller, cheaper half of the Su-27/MiG-29 mix of Soviet (now Russian) fighters. (Note: Twice as many MiG-29’s have been built as have Su-27’s.)
The MiG-29 program has been so successful that not only does Russia and other ex-USSR republics fly the plane, but a total of about 30 countries have this jet in their inventories. (Note: In 1997 the US bought 21 MiG29’s from Moldova.) Designed with the mission of air superiority, the MiG-29 was built to be highly maneuverable with excellent air to air characteristics and visibility, while retaining typical Soviet virtues of ruggedness and easy maintenance.
Capable of over Mach 2 flight at altitude and Mach 1.25 speed at low altitude, the MiG-29, called the “Fulcrum” by NATO, has been adapted for use as a fighter bomber and has undergone various improvements over the years. With a single 30mm cannon (capacity 150 rounds) and 7 “hard points” under the wings, this jet can be outfitted with a wide variety of air to air missiles, air to ground rockets, or bombs, up to a maximum of 3500 kilos worth. A limited number of MiG-29’s have been modified for aerial refueling.
Another variant has been adapted for naval use, and a future development expected around 2018 will be the MiG-35, with 10 prototypes already being tested. The MiG-35 will have a much better capability to operate independent of ground controllers for intercepting enemy planes. The MiG-35 is intended to be a “generation 4++” jet fighter, ready for aerial combat as well as all-weather ground attack. The MiG-35 is expected to have a single engine instead of the twin jet engine configuration found on the MiG-25.
Since 2006, the Mikoyan design bureau has been a subsidiary of United Aircraft Corporation, which continues to build new MiG-29’s. The Russian Air Force has attempted to secure funding to upgrade their large fleet of MiG-29’s to a higher standard, but has faced financial impediments. Of course, after this long a service life, the Russians are investigating a replacement for this fine aircraft, and as yet a replacement program has not been announced. Evolutionary upgrades have continued throughout the life of this fighter, and recently 16 of the MiG-29 SMT models (latest model) have been ordered by the Russian Air Force.
Post-Soviet maintenance of Russian Air Force jets has been inconsistent, and has led to problems with availability and airworthiness of the MiG-29 fleet, a reflection of poor maintenance rather than on the design and quality of the airplane itself. When properly maintained and flown by well trained pilots the MiG-29 matches up well against US fighters such as the F-16, F/A-18 and F-15.
How long will the MiG-29 remain in service is unknown. What will be its replacement? How much of a threat to NATO jets remains from Russian MiG-29’s? Let us know if you know the answer to any of these questions.
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