v1.0.2 / 01 may 02 / greg goebel / public domain
* The Mikoyan MiG-29 "Fulcrum" was one of the Soviet Union's most important combat aircraft in the last years of the Cold War, and remains an important military asset for the successor Russian Republic. It has been widely exported, and is now being updated with improved systems to keep it in service well into the 21st century. This document provides a short history of the MiG-29.
* In the late 1960s, the US Air Force began work on the development of a next-generation fighter under the "Fighter Experimental (FX)" program. In 1969, McDonnell Douglas won the FX competition with what would become the "F-15 Eagle."
The Soviet Union followed the FX program with great interest. Obviously, if the West had improved fighters, the USSR had to have comparable fighters to counter them, and that same year, 1969, the Soviet government issued a requirement for an "anti-F-15" heavy fighter, under the designation "Prospective Frontal Fighter (Perspektivnyi Frontovoi Istrebitel / PFI)".
Both the Mikoyan and Sukhoi design bureaus (OKBs) began work on PFI concepts, basing their designs on recommendations from the "Central Aerodynamics & Hydrodynamics Institute (Tsental'ny AeroGidrodinamicheski Institut / TsAGI)". The PFI requirement was extremely ambitious, specifying long range; sophisticated weapons and fire-control systems; high performance; superior agility; and operation from short, rough airstrips.
As it turned out, the requirements were so ambitious they could not be reasonably met with a single type of aircraft. Recognizing the problem, MiG OKB Director Artem Mikoyan successfully lobbied to split the PFT specification in two, resulting in 1970 in the "Heavy PFI (Tyazholyi PFI / TPFI)" and "Lightweight PFI (Logiky PFI / LPFI)" specifications, issued in 1972. In fact, the US Air Force had come to a similar conclusion, and had followed up the F-15 program with a lightweight fighter effort of their own, which would result in the General Dynamics "F-16 Falcon".
Mikoyan was forced to step down as director-general of the MiG OKB after a heart attack, and then died on 9 December 1970. His place was taken by Rostislav Belyakov. Under Belyakov's direction, the MiG bureau went forward on both TPFI and LPFI designs.
Several MiG TPFI design concepts were developed, some resembling the MiG-25 "Foxbat", but with aerodynamic improvements such as wing-body blending, and some resembling the US North American A-5 Vigilante naval attack aircraft. The Sukhoi OKB won the competition for the TPFI requirement, resulting in what would become the Sukhoi Su-27, and the MiG heavy fighter designs were not built.
The MiG lightweight fighter design, with the bureau codenumber "9-11", won the LPFI award, and would become the MiG-29 as it is known today. The MiG-29 was to replace MiG-21, MiG-23, Su-7, and Su-17 fighters in the Red Air Force's "Frontal (Tactical) Aviation" component. The primary mission of the MiG-29 was to be battleground air superiority, though it would have a secondary attack role.
The development work went forward under a team under Mikhail Waldenburg. The Red Air Force (VVS) was confident enough in the MiG-29 design to award a production contract along with the development assignment.
* The initial prototype, number "901", performed its first flight on 6 October 1977, with MiG OKB chief test pilot Alexander Fedotov at the controls. It was followed by three more development prototypes, numbered "902" though "904", with shorter nose gear and other changes.
The "903" development prototype was lost when its engine caught fire in flight on 15 June 1978, the pilot, Valerii Menitskii, ejecting safely. It was replaced by a new "908" development prototype, but ironically this aircraft was lost as well under similar circumstances on 31 October 1980, the pilot, Alexander Fedotov, also ejecting safely.
Western intelligence was aware of the development effort, a spy satellite having spotted one of the MiG-29 prototypes at the Zhukovsky flight test center in November 1977. As the proper name of the secret center was not known to Western intelligence at the time, the site was referred to as "Ramenskoye" after the name of a nearby town, and so the mystery aircraft was assigned the designation "Ram-L".
Nine preproduction prototypes, numbered "917" through "925", followed the development prototypes, the last of this series of aircraft performing its initial flight in December 1982. Of course, each successive aircraft in this sequence was closer to full production specification, with the final "925" prototype serving as the model for operational aircraft.
Production MiG-29s went into service with Frontal Aviation in June 1983. All the prototypes and production single-seaters had the bureau codenumber of "9-12". The design was fundamentally the same as that of the original 9-11 concept, though the 9-12 had a longer nose, taller tailfins, and a simplified canopy.
As Western intelligence began to acquire reliable details of the new type, the first-generation MiG-29 was given the NATO codename "Fulcrum-A". The USSR finally publicly "unveiled" the type to the West with a visit to Finland in July 1986.
* Following the Finland visit, commentaries on the MiG-29 ran wild in the Western aviation press, with detractors claiming it was a warmed-over rehash of Western designs and technologies.
The facts were much more complicated. The MiG-29's configuration does has some resemblance to American contemporaries such as the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, the F-15, and the YF-17 (the experimental Northrop ancestor of the F/A-18). It also resembles the Su-27 in some ways, though this is not surprising, as the design of both Soviet aircraft was based on TsAGI recommendations. However, while there have been accusations that the MiG-29 is a copy of this aircraft or that aircraft, in fact all these advanced fighters drew on a similar pool of design concepts, and resemblances between them were almost inevitable.
The 9-12 MiG-29 is mostly built of aluminum, with some use of composite materials. The fighter has a high-mounted wing, all-moving horizontal tailplanes, and twin vertical tailplanes with a slight outward cant. Flight controls are hydraulic. The wing is blended to the fuselage, with leading-edge root extensions (LERXs) and full-span leading-edge maneuvering flaps. There are conventional inboard flaps and outboard ailerons on the trailing edge of the wing. A dive brake is fitted to the back of the aircraft, with another fitted to the belly.
Early production 9-12 MiG-29s had small ventral fins on the bottom of the wings, directly under the vertical tailplanes. The ventral fins had been introduced during prototype flight test, but were later judged unnecessary and deleted.
At about the same time that the ventral fins were deleted, chaff-flare dispensers were added, in the form as distinctive "strakes" fitted on top of the wing as forward extensions of the vertical tailplanes. Each dispenser could accommodate 30 chaff cartridges or 30 flare cartridges, for a total of 60. This addition was a direct consequence of Soviet combat experience in Afghanistan, where American "Stinger" heat-seeking man-portable surface-to-air missiles (SAMs) provided to the Afghan mujahadin warriors had proven a dangerous threat to Soviet aircraft.
In the late 1980s, a production change was made to the 9-12 MiG-29 to provide extended-chord rudders and wing vortex generators. These improvements were retrofitted to earlier aircraft, including some of the initial production aircraft with ventral fins.
The 9-12 MiG-29 is powered by two Klimov RD-33 afterburning turbofans, with 5,040 kilograms (11,100 pounds) dry thrust and 8,300 kilograms (18,300 pounds) afterburning thrust each. Two engines were selected to improve aircraft survivability. The engines are in separate housings under the fuselage.
To permit operation from rough fields, each main intake has a door that
closes whenever the main landing gear is in touch with the ground, with the
engines obtaining airflow for takeoff or landing from spring-loaded louvres
on top of the wingroots. Pilots state that the transition between the
louvers and the front intakes is smooth and almost unnoticeable. There is a
container between the engine exhausts that stores a cruciform drag parachute.
MIKOYAN 9-12 MIG-29 (FULCRUM-A):
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spec metric english
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wingspan 11.36 meters 37 feet 3 inches
length 17.32 meters 56 feet 10 inches
height 4.73 meters 15 feet 6 inches
empty weight 10,900 kilograms 24,030 pounds
loaded weight 18,500 kilograms 40,785 pounds
max speed at altitude 2,450 KPH 1,520 MPH / 1,320 KT
service ceiling 17,000 meters 55,775 feet
range (internal fuel) 1,500 kilometers 930 MI / 810 NMI
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
The aircraft has three stores pylons under each wing, for a total of six. In the air-superiority role, it carries a mix of two "beyond visual range (BVR)" "R-27R / AKU-470" semi-active radar homing (SARH) air-to-air missiles (AAMs), with the NATO designation of "AA-10 Alamo-A", and four "R-60 (NATO AA-8 Aphid)" AAMs or "R-73 (NATO AA-11 Archer)" heat-seeking short-range "dogfighting" AAMs.
The AA-11 is a potent weapon, an "off-boresight" missile that doesn't have to be pointed at a target before launch, instead being cued to the target by a sight mounted on the pilot's helmet. The Soviets were well ahead of the west in developing an off-boresight AAM and helmet-mounted sight. The AA-11 is a very agile weapon and its seeker has a wide field of view, with excellent discrimination against confounding sources of heat or countermeasures flares. The AA-11 is far superior to and replaced the AA-8 in Soviet-Russian service, but the AA-11 was only exported in relatively limited numbers, and so foreign MiG-29 users often had to make do with the AA-8.
The 9-12 MiG-29 may also occasionally carry a single long-range "R-27B (NATO AA-10 Alamo-B)" heat-seeking missile in place of one of the R-27R Alamo-As. While the R-27R Alamo-A is regarded as roughly comparable to contemporary Sparrow or Skyflash BVR AAMs and so now is a generation or two behind the times, the R-27B Alamo-B does give the MiG-29 the interesting capability of engaging an adversary from BVR without any tell-tale radar scans. All these AAMs are regarded as fine weapons, and are said to be far more tolerant of rough handling and poor maintenance than their Western counterparts.
The outboard pylon on each wing is reserved for AAMs and cannot be used to carry attack stores. The inboard pylon on each wing is "wet" and can be used to carry a 1,150 liter (303 US gallon) external tank. A 1,500 liter (396 US gallon) external tank can be mounted on the centerline for ferry flights.
Although the 9-12 MiG-29 lacks the combat avionics systems for the strike role, it can be fitted with various mixes of dumb bombs and unguided rocket pods, and it is believed that some MiG-29 squadrons were equipped with the RN-40 tactical nuclear weapon.
The 9-12 MiG-29 is fitted with two sensors, including a Phazotron "N-019 (NATO Slot Back)" pulse-Doppler multimode radar, and an "infrared search and track (IRST)" sensor combined with a laser rangefinder. The sensor systems are capable, but they are regarded as a generation behind their Western counterparts, in particular lacking sophisticated software to give them operational flexibility and ease of use, increasing pilot workload and fatigue. They are also less reliable, and more difficult to test, maintain, and repair.
Western pilots flying the 9-12 MiG-29 find using its systems to locate and lock up on a target very tiresome. However, in practice a Soviet pilot would not normally rely primarily on the aircraft's own sensors to perform an intercept. The MiG-29 has a datalink to allow it to receive inputs from a ground control intercept (GCI) station or an airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. This was in accordance with Soviet air-defense doctrine, which strongly emphasized centralized control, though the current Russian Air Force now places more emphasis on initiative and independent operation.
Cockpit layout for the 9-12 MiG-29 is generally regarded as middling to poor, even by the standards of the era in which it was designed. It is an analog layout, though it does feature a head-up display (HUD) and has limited "hands on throttle and stick (HOTAS)" controls. In some compensation, the MiG-29's cockpit layout does have a clear evolutionary relationship with those of the MiG-21 and MiG-23, easing pilot conversion.
In another compensation, a MiG-29 pilot sits on one of the best ejection seats in the world, the Zvezda "K-36D". This is a rocket-powered ejection seat that clamps the pilot into place with restraints and uses twin pop-out booms to stabilize the seat's flight. The West got an impressive advertisement for the K-36D at the Paris Air Show in 1989, when pilot Anatoly Kvotchur had to leave his MiG-29 in a big hurry after losing an engine due to a birdstrike. The ejection seat got him out neatly with split seconds before the aircraft smashed into the ground and turned into a fireball.
* The 9-12 MiG-29 is very agile, though this means it can be a challenge to fly, at least if the pilot wants to get the most out of the aircraft. While aerodynamically very sophisticated, it lacks the advanced fly-by-wire (FBW) flight controls of its Western counterparts, meaning that much more of the workload has to be taken care of by the "meat computer" inside the pilot's skull.
The flight controls are designed to impose no limits on what risks the pilot can take with the aircraft, with the stick bounded by stops indicating "soft limits" that the pilot can override if desired. On the other hand, the MiG-29 doesn't impose more risks on the pilot than necessary. It gives plenty of warning before departing controlled flight, and it does not spin easily. When it does spin, the spin can be almost always be easily corrected by neutralizing the controls. The MiG-29 has good handling at low speeds and remains controllable at very high angles of attack.
The MiG-29 is regarded as more agile than its Western counterpart, the F-16A, and a particularly dangerous adversary in a low-speed turning fight, but has poor range. The designers were aware of this limitation, since MiG-29's design requirements specified an aircraft that would be used as a short-range interceptor or a battleground air-superiority fighter operating from rough forward fields. It has still been sometimes described as a "fighter for use over the airfield beacon".
* Two subvariants of the 9-12 MiG-29 were built. The "9-12A MiG-29A" was intended for export to Warsaw Pact allies. It is almost identical to the standard 9-12 MiG-29, but doesn't have wiring for nuclear stores, and may have a different "identification friend or foe (IFF)" system and a simplified radar system.
The "9-12B MiG-29B" was intended for exports to nations outside the Warsaw Pact. It is a further simplification of the standard 9-12 MiG-29, with the IFF system and datalink removed, and a simplified radar installed. While total production quantities of MiG-29s are unclear, it appears that a total of about 840 9-12 MiG-29s and subvariants were built for Frontal Aviation use and for export.
* Although the MiG-29's handling characteristics are basically docile, it is a high-performance aircraft and capable of some impressive tricks in the hands of a well-trained pilot. To assist in pilot training, the MiG OKB developed a tandem two-seat operational conversion trainer, with the designation "9-51 MiG-29UB".
The second cockpit was not raised significantly, as that would have affected performance. As a result, the back-seat instructor has a poor forward view, but a pop-up periscope to compensate. Some fuel capacity was deleted to make space for the back-seat cockpit, and since the 9-12 MiG-29 was not noted for its range in the first place, there was no thought of making the MiG-29UB combat-capable. The N-019 radar was deleted, to be replaced by a simulator to give trainees a feel for the real thing. This gives the MiG-29UB a smaller nose that arguably improves its appearance. The chaff-flare dispenser strakes were not fitted.
The "UB" suffix is misleading, since it stands for "Uchebno-Boevoi (Trainer-Combat)" when the variant is really a pure trainer. NATO swallowed this misinformation, designating the type "Fulcrum-B" rather than assigning it the "M"-series codename normally given to trainers, such as "Midget" or "Mongol". Russian crews call the MiG-29UB the "Sparka", a general name for a two-seat trainer.
* While the 9-12 MiG-29 was going into volume production, the MiG bureau had been considering a refinement of the type, the "9-13", with the first new-build prototype flying in 1986. It is believed to have been preceded by several modified 9-12 MiG-29s to test various improvements.
The new variant retained the "MiG-29" designation, but it seemed visibly different enough from the 9-12 variant to be given a new designation of "Fulcrum-C" by NATO. The main difference was a swollen spine, which led Soviet MiG-29 pilots to call the variant the "Gorbatyi (Hunchback)".
Western analysts interpreted the swollen spine as accommodation for increased fuel capacity in order to boost the 9-12 MiG-29's limited range. In fact, the fuel capacity increase of the 9-13 MiG-29 was modest, and most of the expanded space was used to house a "Gardeniya" active jammer module. The updated avionics suite also led to modifications of the wingtips and addition of antennas to the tail. About 200 9-13 MiG-29s were apparently built, with initial introduction to service in 1986. They were not exported, due to worries about the security of the countermeasures system.
* The MiG OKB continued to make further tweaks with the 9-13 line that resulted in the "MiG-29S", which retained the NATO "Fulcrum-C" designation as the external appearance remained largely unchanged.
There was actually a range of different MiG-29S subvariants. It appears that the initial push to develop this line of improved MiG-29s was triggered in 1985, when the Soviet security and intelligence service, the KGB, discovered that Alexander Tolkachev, chief designer of the Phazotron radar-design bureau, had been selling the organization's secrets to the US Central Intelligence Agency.
Tolkachev's betrayal compromised the radar systems of a number of aircraft, including the MiG-25 and MiG-29, making these aircraft much more vulnerable to countermeasures. Some claim that Tolkachev had actually gone so far as to sabotage the design of the MiG-29's N-019 radar, as it took a long time to get right, but this sounds more like a convenient excuse.
In any case, the VVS needed to fix the problem, and a modified "N-019M" radar was quickly fitted to the 9-13 MiG-29, along with other modifications such as an improved active jammer. This was the "9-13S MiG-29S", but it was only built in small quantities. An export version, the "MiG-29SE", was built in prototype form and offered with different options for foreign buyers, but there were no takers. A few 9-12 and 9-13 MiG-29s were also fitted to carry various "smart" air-to-ground munitions and designated the "9-13SM MiG-29SM".
Another one of these variants featured a bolt-on inflight refueling probe, and was designated "MiG-29SD", where the "D" is believed to have stood for "dozaprahvka (refueling)". This variant was the basis for the "MiG-29Ns" sold to Malaysia in the mid-1990s. The Malaysian MiG-29s were given updates in service, particularly to fit them with Western-type IFF, navigation systems, and landing systems. They retained Russian-built radar, but may have been fitted with an improved version.
The whole subject of the MiG-29S series is thoroughly confusing. There was also a "9-16 MiG-29E" effort that resulted in a prototype or two that remains equally obscure. To make matters even muddier, some of these variants, or at least their designations, would be revived a decade later, as is discussed below.
* The MiG OKB had greater ambitions for the MiG-29 than simply updating the basic aircraft. They wanted to greatly extend its capabilities, and in particular turn it into a true multirole combat aircraft. The first step to build such a multirole MiG-29 was the "9-14 MiG-29M", which first flew in 1985. It was a 9-13 MiG-29 carrying an optional targeting pod for the ground attack role.
This effort was abandoned, as attention had turned to a comprehensive redesign of the aircraft, resulting the first flight of an initial prototype "9-15 MiG-29M" on 25 April 1986. It was followed by a more representative MiG-29M prototype with production specification RD-33K engines, which first flew on 1 November 1989.
The new RD-33K engines provided 5,500 kilograms (12,125 pounds) static thrust and 8,800 kilograms (19,400 pounds) afterburning thrust each. Apparently the engines also had an "emergency" afterburning mode that could increase thrust to 9,400 kilograms (20,725 pounds) for very short periods. The engines also featured greater reliability and easier maintenance.
While the MiG-29M was hard to distinguish from MiG-29S, the airframe was heavily redesigned, the MiG OKB claiming that it was "different in every respect." The LERXs were redesigned and the intake louvres on top of the LERXs eliminated, with the solid intake doors replaced by mesh grille doors. This allowed the fit of a new fuel tank scheme with a large increase in capacity, increasing range by a third. In the time-honored Soviet tradition of "maskirovka (deception)", early MiG-29Ms apparently had louvres painted on the LERXs to camouflage the fact that they were new-model aircraft.
The larger fuel tanks led to a reduction in size of the ammunition box for the 30 millimeter cannon from 149 to 100 rounds, but this was not felt to be much of a penalty. The cannon had proven both accurate and hard-hitting in practice, and did not really require the larger ammunition supply.
The MiG-29M had a swollen spine, not as prominent as that of the 9-13 MiG-29, but enough to lead NATO to think at first that the MiG-29M was just another Fulcrum-C variant. The spine accommodated a chaff-flare dispenser system, and so the MiG-29M was not fitted with the strake chaff-flare dispensers.
The MiG-29M also featured modified wings and tail, with a distinctive small dogtooth between the LERX and the wing, and had a single enlarged ventral dive brake, instead of the ventral and dorsal airbrakes of the 9-12 MiG-29. The result was an aerodynamically cleaner and even more agile aircraft.
The MiG-29M incorporated new airframe assemblies of lithium-aluminum alloy and composite materials to reduce weight, simplify manufacture, and increase the useful internal volume of the aircraft. Unfortunately, despite the great expense of the lithium-aluminum alloy assemblies, they did not give the MiG-29M the hoped-for weight reductions. The MiG-29M was still significantly heavier than the 91-2 MiG-29, and so the landing gear was reinforced, while the single drag chute was replaced by twin drag chutes, released from a new "beavertail" fitting between the engine exhausts. Two side-by-side chutes were used instead of one big chute as a larger chute would have dragged on the runway.
* The MiG-29M's systems were substantially updated. It had improved IFF and active jammer systems, as well as an electronic FBW control system. The FBW system was based on analog electronics, probably because a fully digital system was a bit ahead of Soviet capabilities at the time, but the MiG bureau played up the simplicity, reliability, and resistance to electromagnetic interference of the analog system. The FBW system provided triple redundancy for roll and yaw control and quadruple redundancy for pitch control, while still allowing the pilot to "redline" the aircraft.
Cockpit systems were modernized to reduce pilot workload. The cockpit included two monochrome CRT displays and much more capable HOTAS controls, while the pilot was given an improved helmet-mounted sight. The pilot's seat was raised to provide a better view, and as a result the canopy was distinctively bulged compared to earlier MiG-29s.
The MiG-29M featured a Phazotron "N-010 Zhuk-M" multi-mode radar system. The N-010 features a flat slotted planar antenna instead of a dish antenna; about 25% greater range; much improved processing power and software; and several new modes, including terrain-following and new air-to-ground capabilities. The N-010 radar was fitted into a smaller, reprofiled nose radome. The IRST / laser rangefinder was to be replaced by an improved system that also incorporated a boresighted TV camera and a laser target designator, but it does not appear this piece of gear was ever actually fitted.
The sensor system enhancements made the MiG-29M a true multirole aircraft. It was fitted with a total of eight stores pylons, four under each wing, as opposed to the total of six of previous MiG-29 variants. The wings were strengthened to permit a total warload of 4,500 kilograms (9,920 pounds). The two inboard pylons on each wing could carry a maximum of 1,000 kilograms (2,200 pounds) each, while the two outboard pylons could carry up to 500 kilograms (1,100 pounds) each.
In addition to stores carried by the earlier variants, the MiG-29 could carry "smart" weapons. Typical smart munitions included the TV-guided "Kh-29T" and laser-guided "Kh-29L" missiles, both designated "AS-14 Kedge" by NATO and basically the same weapon with different seeker heads, or the TV-guided "KAB-500Kr" or laser-guided "KAB-500L" 500-kilogram (1,100 pound) glide bombs.
The MiG-29M could also carry the advanced "R-77" (NATO "AA-12 Adder") air to air missile, sometimes referred to as the "AMRAAMski" as it is comparable to the US AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. The R-77 has a range of about 100 kilometers (60 miles) and a fully active radar seeker for "fire and forget" operation.
The development of the MiG-29M coincided with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and though six MiG-29M prototypes were flown, the type did not enter production for the Russian Air Force, as the service remained more or less fixated on the Su-27 during the Yeltsin era. The MiG-29M effort sputtered along on various hopes into the mid-1990s, and then finally died. Attempts to develop an export version, the "MiG-29ME", were not successful.
Interestingly, while some OKB officials tried to play up the MiG-29ME as a "MiG-33", these efforts were loudly and publicly denounced by Belyakov, who took pride in the MiG-29. This was in sharp contrast to the dubious "designation games" played with excessive enthusiasm by the rival Sukhoi organization.
* The MiG OKB also developed a carrier-based advanced MiG-29 variant, the "9-31 MiG-29K", in parallel with the MiG-29M. The 9-31 MiG-29K could be considered a "navalized" MiG-29M, differing in the fit of ruggedized landing gear; an arresting hook; new, extended, hydraulically-folding wings, with a double slotted flap system to improve low-speed landing; corrosion protection, including navalized RD-33K engines; and a retractable inflight refueling probe. Production aircraft were to have a fully automatic carrier landing system.
Work on the MiG-29K began in 1984. The initial development prototype was modified from an older MiG demonstrator and designated the "MiG-29KVP". It lacked folding wings and double-slotted flaps, and may not have had ruggedized landing gear. The MiG-29KVP was used to demonstrate arrested landings, as well as "ski-jump" takeoffs, as the Soviets were having troubles developing catapult systems for the carriers they were building. Tests were apparently mostly conducted on a land-based replica of a carrier deck in the Crimea, as it could not risk a true carrier landing without reinforced landing gear. The first flight of a true MiG-29K prototype was on 23 June 1988, and it was followed by a second prototype.
The fall of the USSR meant the MiG-29K also didn't enter production. A two-seat trainer designated the "9-62 MiG-29KU", with a stepped independent rear cockpit for the flight instructor to provide an adequate view on steep carrier landings, is believed to have reached mockup stage but was not built.
* The failure of the MiG-29M and MiG-29K to enter production meant lean times for the MiG OKB, whose fortunes seemed to be on a steady decline in the new Russia. Outside observers wondered of the great name of MiG might be headed for extinction, as it steadily withered during the 1990s while the Sukhoi organization was awarded new fighter contracts.
The pendulum appears to have swung back, however, and now the new "Rossiskaya Samoletostroitelnaya Korporatsiya MiG (RSK MiG)", as the revitalized organization has been refashioned under their new leader, Mikhail Korzuev, appears increasingly energetic, has been promoting a range of improved MiG-29 variants.
* While a ground-up redesign like the MiG-29M was out of the question, major improvements could be made with less drastic measures that could be implemented in either new-build aircraft or as upgrades to existing aircraft. The Russian Air Force wanted to upgrade upgrade over 400 existing MiG-29s, providing a strong incentive.
The result was the "9-17 MiG-29SMT", which can be considered a revival and extension of the various MiG-29S upgrade efforts of a few years earlier. The MiG-29SMT features a glass cockpit based on that of the MiG-29M, but with twin 15 by 20 centimeter (6 by 8 inch) full color flat panel LCDs, instead of the smaller monochrome CRTs using the MiG-29M, as well as two smaller monochrome LCDs.
Modern HOTAS controls were implemented as well, and the MiG-29SMT also features a MIL STD-1553B compatible digital databus to link the cockpit and the avionics systems. An advanced navigation system, using laser gyros and a satellite positioning system receiver, has been fitted, as well as built-in diagnostic systems to ease maintenance.
To deal with the range issue, the MiG-29SMT features a particularly swollen "hunchback" spine, and can also be fitted with a bolt-on inflight refueling probe. The spine terminates in a beavertail like that of the MiG-29M, which can accommodate one or two parachutes as required by aircraft load.
The MiG-29SMT retains the top-and-bottom airbrake scheme of the 9-12 MiG-29, though the dorsal airbrake is larger, and also retains the old scheme of chaff-flare dispenser strakes. While there are no other major modifications to the airframe, old MiG-29s upgraded to the MiG-29SMT specification would be refurbished to give them 20 years of airframe life.
Unrefueled range of the MiG-29SMT is cited as 2,200 kilometers (1,370 miles) without external tanks, almost half again as great as that of 9-12 MiG-29. Multirole capabilities are provided by an improved N-019M Slot Back radar, with greater range, wider field of view, and the ability to track ten targets at once. It appears that the MiG-29SMT can carry an external targeting pod, and can certainly carry reconnaissance pods. The MiG-29SMT can use all the advanced weapons that were qualified for the MiG-29M, with a total external stores load of 4,000 kilograms (8,800 pounds) on six stores pylons.
Although much has been loaded onto the MiG-29SMT's airframe compared to the original 9-12 MiG-29, the new variant's performance has not suffered and in fact appears to be improved, thanks to new, more powerful Klimov RD-43 engines with over 10,000 kilograms (22,000 pounds) afterburning thrust. However, it appears that most of the MiG-29SMTs built so far still have some variant of the RD-33, due to delays in engine production, but the two types of engines are mechanically compatible and engine upgrades should be straightforward.
Initial flight of the first MiG-29SMT prototype was on 29 November 1997, with Marat Alykov at the controls. This machine was a modification of a company prototype that had already been used in the MiG-29S effort, and did not include all the features expected for the "production" MiG-29SMT.
The first full-standard MiG-29SMT, also a conversion of a company demonstrator, performed its first flight on 14 July 1998, piloted by the MiG organization's new chief test pilot, Vladimir Gorbunov. This aircraft was demonstrated at the Farnborough Air Show in the UK in 1998.
* RSK MiG followed up the MiG-29SMT with a similar effort to produce a a second-generation two-seater, the "9-51T MiG-29UBT", essentially a company 9-51 MiG-29UB fitted with improvements developed for the MiG-29SMT.
The MiG-29UBT features a swollen spine to provide more fuel, with the larger dorsal airbrake and the beavertail of the MiG-29SMT, and also can be fitted with a bolt-on inflight refueling probe. The front-seater's cockpit layout is very much like that of the MiG-29SMT, but although the back-seater still has flight controls, the rear panel layout features a large CRT to display TV or infrared camera imagery provided by external pods.
While the MiG-29UBT can be used as a trainer, its focus is clearly for roles such as precision strike, with the back-seater targeting and guiding smart munitions while the pilot flies the aircraft. No radar system was fitted to the MiG-29UBT demonstrator, but RSK MiG clearly intends to fit any production aircraft with an advanced combat radar system in a modified nose.
* Russia's financial problems have made funding MiG-29 upgrades difficult. If the Russian Air Force has plans to upgrade their existing MiG-29s to the MiG-29SMT, they are now in a hazy state, and there is no evidence that the MiG-29UBT has fared any better.
RSK MiG hasn't given up, however. Russian Air Force pilots have given glowing reports on evaluations of the MiG-29SMT, and the update price is a quarter of that of a new fighter, while operating costs are less than two-thirds of a 9-12 MiG-29.
RSK MiG is promoting the MiG-29SMT as part of range of updates of increasing sophistication:
* Along with upgrades, RSK MiG is also pushing new-build variants for export sales, and indeed has achieved some success with this effort, achieving a sale of a batch of "9-41 MiG-29Ks" to the Indian Navy for use on the carrier ADMIRAL GORSHKOV, which India has purchased from Russia.
The 9-41 MiG-29K can be described as a MiG-29SMT with the navalization features of the earlier 9-31 MiG-29K, such as longer, folding wings, though these appear to be somewhat different from those of the older MiG-29K; arresting gear; and RD-33-3M navalized engines, with corrosion protection. Both the prototypes for the 9-41 MiG-29K were actually modifications of the two old 9-31 MiG-29K prototypes, however.
The 9-41 MiG-29K apparently features folding tailplanes and a folding nose radome to further reduce the aircraft's storage footprint. Production aircraft may use the new, uprated RD-33-10M turbofan with 10,500 kilograms (23,150 pounds) thrust.
The variant also features a digital FBW system; N-010 Zhuk-M radar; state of the art Geofizika OLS-M optical-infrared imager and laser targeting system; helmet-mounted targeting system; radar homing and warning system; and eight stores pylons. India will fit an inertial navigation system, IFF, and countermeasures systems to their own specifications.
India also intends to buy a number of two-seat "9-47 MiG-29KUBs" as part of the order, essentially a navalized MiG-29UBT, fitted out in much the same way as the 9-41 MiG-29K with folding wings, arresting gear, and so on.
* In parallel with the 9-41 MiG-29K and the 9-47 MiG-29KUB, RSK MiG is also developing land-based counterparts in the form of the "MiG-29M1" single-seater and "MiG-29M2" two-seater. These aircraft are the same as their naval equivalents, except that they have lighter landing gear, and a drag chute instead of an arresting hook. They will retain folding wings, though customers can lock the wings open if desired.
The MiG-29M2 is a higher priority than the MiG-29M1, as RSK MiG is competing for a Malaysian requirement for a two-seat multi-role fighter. Initial flight of a prototype of this type, originally designated the "MiG-29MRCA (Multi-Role Combat Aircraft)", was on 26 September 2001. This machine was rebuilt from the fourth MiG-29M prototype. The MiG-29M1 remains a "paper plane" for the moment.
Finally, RSK MiG unveiled a demonstrator with vectored-thrust nozzles at the Moscow MAKS airshow in 2001. This aircraft, a modification of the sixth MiG-29M prototype, is designated the "MiG-29OVT (Otklanyayemi Vektor Tyagi / Deflected Thrust Vector)", and its RD-33 engines are to fitted with Klimov-designed nozzles that can rotate up to 15 degrees in any direction. It also has wingtip launch rails for short-range AAMs.
The demonstrator was fitted with dummy vectoring nozzles at MAKS. Initial flight of the MiG-29OVT with functional vectoring nozzles is expected in 2002. The vectoring nozzles may be fitted to the MiG-29M1 and MiG-29M2, but not to their naval counterparts, as the nozzles are not judged robust enough for carrier service.
* The Soviets heavily exported the MiG-29, and the Russian Republic has tried to continue that tradition. Exact export quantities are somewhat unclear, with different sources giving contrary information, but a rough outline can be constructed.
Of course, many Eastern European nations received the MiG-29:
The Czech Republic did not feel it was worthwhile to try to support an aircraft they possessed in such small numbers, and sold them to Poland. They are now committing to the SAAB 39 Gripen as their first-line fighter. The Slovak Republic, in contrast, liked the MiG-29, and obtained five more, including one MiG-29UB, in the mid-1990s.
These MiG-29s have not only been used for adversary training, they have been assigned first-line operational roles, as the Luftwaffe had nothing really comparable to them. Some of the German MiG-29s were also loaned to friendly nations, such as the US, for evaluation. The Luftwaffe MiG-29s have received a series of upgrades, as described later.
The Russian Republic of course retains hundreds of MiG-29s, and the type is also operated by many of the other "successor states" of the Former Soviet Union:
Other nations that obtained MiG-29s include:
RSK MiG has tried, with some success, to discourage sales of MiG-29s from one foreign user to another by tactfully saying that sales of spares for such aircraft would not be guaranteed. As a result, the buyers of such used MiG-29s tend to be foreign users who already have MiG-29s and have established themselves in the spares pipeline.
* Of course, with so many old MiG-29s in foreign hands, the need for upgrades is obvious. Luftwaffe MiG-29s led the way in being updated for compatibility with NATO operations.
A collaboration was formed in July 1993 between MiG and their Russian partners with Daimler-Benz Aerospace (DASA) to refit the German MiG-29s with Western IFF and navigation systems, particularly GPS, and also improve aircraft reliability. The first modernized Luftwaffe MiG-29 was delivered in 1995. These modest updates are designated the "MiG-29G" for the single-seater and "MiG-29GT" for the two-seater.
The work for the Luftwaffe led to the establishment of a new unified service organization, the "MiG Aircraft Product Support (MAPS) Group", which is now promoting similar upgrades for MiG-29 operators in Eastern Europe.
Western firms have promoted their own upgrade programs. Romania is now modernizing their MiG-29s under the "Sniper" program, being conducted by DASA, Elbit, and Aerostar. RSK MiG has been even unhappier about such "unauthorized" upgrades, although the Russian organization is collaborating with DASA in MAPS.
* While the MiG OKB was working in a "step forward step back" fashion on second-generation MiG-29 concepts in the late 1980s and through the 1990s, they were also working in fits and starts on a true next-generation fighter under the "Multirole Tactical Fighter (Mnogofunktsionahll'nyy Frontovoi Istrebitel / MFI)" program.
The MFI program had been initiated in 1986 to counter Western efforts to develop next-generation fighters, such as the US "Advanced Tactical Fighter (ATF)", which would become the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor. The MiG MFI design team was originally led by Grigoriy Sedov and later by Yuri Vorontnikov.
Initial MFI prototype construction began in 1989, with the prototype, the "MiG 1.44", finally rolled out in early 1994. It performed taxi trials later that year, and then the program finally bogged down to a halt and remained in darkness for the next several years. Rumors circulated in the West about the secret "MiG 1.42", along with speculations about its features.
However, work on the MFI was only dormant, not dead, and the type was finally unveiled in January 1999. The designation was announced as the "MiG 1.44", the MiG 1.42 code apparently having been only for the overall development program.
The MiG 1.44 looks something like a child of the MiG-29 and the Eurofighter
Typhoon. The MiG 1.44 shares the Typhoon's canard layout, an unusual
configuration by Russian standards, and the twin underslung engines. In
general style, however, it clearly says "I am a MiG!", and by no means a
MIKOYAN MIG 1.44:
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
spec metric english
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
wingspan 16.4 meters 53 feet 10 inches
length 21.7 meters 71 feet 2 inches
normal loaded weight 28,000 kilograms 61,730 pounds
max speed at altitude 2,500 KPH 1,550 MPH / 1,350 KT
range 4,500 kilometers 1,553 MI / 2,430 NMI
_____________________ _________________ _______________________
The MiG 1.44 is made of steel alloy, aluminum-lithium alloy, and composites. Its lines reflect some degree of "stealth" design. A production version could be coated with "radar absorbing material (RAM)" to improve stealth. However, stealth is a relatively low priority in its design, ranked under performance and agility.
The MiG 1.44 is powered by twin Lyul'ka-Saturn AL-41F afterburning turbofans with an afterburning thrust of 17,840 kilograms (39,340 pounds) each. The engines give the MiG 1.44 a "supersonic cruise" capability. Some reports indicate that they have thrust-vectoring nozzles as well. The MiG 1.44 has twin-wheel nose gear that retracts backward, while the single-wheel main gear retracts forward.
In the production version, stores were to be carried in a weapons bay in the center fuselage, though the MiG 1.44 demonstrator does not have this bay. Munitions could also be carried on external stores pylons. The demonstrator is fitted with a GSh-301 30 millimeter cannon. Although advanced avionics have been considered for the production aircraft, the demonstrator lacks most combat avionics systems, though it does have an advanced FBW flight control system.
* The MiG 1.44 now appears to be a dead end. In 2001, the Russian government announced a next-generation fighter effort under the "Future Air Complex for Frontal Air Forces (Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsyi / PAK-FA)" program, specifying an aircraft that could compete with the US F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for service beginning in 2010.
A group of Russian industries led by Sukhoi and another group led by MiG and Yakovlev competed for the PAK-FA contract, and in late April 2002, the Russian government announced that the Sukhoi group had won the award. The government specified that MiG and Yakovlev would get workshares in the program, but the loss of the competition was still clearly a blow to MiG.
It may not have been a major blow. The VVS does not actually seem to be interested in procuring the PAK-FA in numbers any time soon, with upgrade of their existing aircraft remaining their top priority. Some observers believe the PAK-FA effort is being conducted by the Russian government to keep their aircraft industry up to date and attract foreign investment. The MiG organization may have lost this battle, but it is by no means certain they have lost the war.
* The current state of the MiG-29's evolution is confusing. The old Soviet state took secrecy to the point of lunacy, and although the new Russia is trying to be more open, things remain a bit disorganized and the stories coming out of Russia tend to reflect that condition. As a result, it is proper to view any current plans for the aircraft's modernization with a certain amount of skepticism.
Trying to untangle all the threads in the MiG-29 story was very much a headache. I managed to straighten them out to the extent that it all now makes some sense to me, but that's not the same as saying that I'm sure I've really got the facts completely right. Hopefully things will settle out and become clearer in a few years.
This is my first MiG writeup. I've long liked the MiG-29, and I was inspired to write about it when I bought a 132nd-scale diecast model of it from Postage Stamp Planes. It was a cheap item and I couldn't pass it up.
As it turned out, once I'd waded through the MiG-29's history, the model was a bit peculiar. It was MiG-29UB with AAMs, a configuration which has likely never been flown. It was also fitted with a mixed load of AA-8, AA-11, and AA-10 AAMs, which was a bit of an unusual configuration, though not outside the realm of possibility. The AAMs were very nicely done for the small scale, and the whole thing is still a pretty little piece and a nice buy for the price.
* Sources include:
* Revision history:
v1.0.0 / 01 mar 02 / gvg
v1.0.1 / 01 may 02 / gvg / Minor update.
v1.0.2 / 01 jun 02 / gvg / Added comments on the loss of PAK-FA.