Aviation has been in my blood and having spent two decades in Air Force I would say my first love is fighter jets. In the 70s and 80s, the Americans had launched the F15 /16 and the Russians were looking for a comparative plane. The Russians produced the MIG 29. The cold war was a reality and produced two fighters that actually never participated in a direct face-off.
Which was the better aircraft? It’s a question that is not easy to answer. Is it the F 16 more sophisticated or the old rugged Soviet MIG- 29? The comparison is of great interest and we come across 2 different aircraft. The F16 was always designed as a light cost-effective multirole jet to the more expensive F-15. In contrast, we have the MIG 29 which was a typical air-superiority fighter not overly concerned with avionics.
In the West, the 29 appeared with outstanding performance with a lot of mystery. Nobody at that time knew about the capability of the plane and many wondered if the 29 was really all that good.
The Cold War was in full swing and though the American and Russian planes never went into combat against each other yet they preyed on the mind of both nations. It was a question of ego and both nations had the concept that my plane or weapons systems should be bigger and better and this led to a tremendous arms race. In the 50s and 60s, the race between the two nations began and the Russians had the MIG-15 to the American F 86. Both planes went into combat in the Korean War and at that time the Americans had a slight edge.
The Russians brought improvements and soon had the MIG21 and 23. The Americans brought in the Phantom F4 and very soon the F15 appeared on the scene and that time the Russians didn’t have a comparative plane because the 23 was inferior to the 15 and 16.
A lot of research and the MIG 29 came on the scene. The Americans didn’t know much about this plane at the time it appeared on the scene in 1980, three years after the American 15 and 16 were operational.
As was the practice NATO gave the name Fulcrum and the Russians called it the MIG 29. The MiG 29 came in two versions A and B. The A version could carry the nuclear bomb and it was kept by the Soviet Air Force. The second version was exported to 29 countries from Poland to Burma. Over 629 of these planes were built and as on date near 793 planes are still in service. India was one of the earliest nations to buy the MiG 29 and it is still in service. It was used the Kargil conflict in 1998 with a lethal effect.
Even now with the tension growing with China the Indian Air Force has again asked for a substantial number of 29s from Russia and they are on their way.
But in numbers, the 29 is way behind the 15 /16. As of date more than 3000, F 15/16 are operational all over the world, and it shows that the American aircraft has a greater market.
The MIG 29 is a simple air superiority fighter but at $23.7 million it is $12 million cheaper than the American plane. A comparison between the two planes is most interesting. The 29 has a range just about 1100 miles compared to the 15/16 which is over 4000 but then the 29 was never meant for long-range action. However, it is a force in terms of the rate of climb, because it has two engines compared to the single-engine of the15/16. The Russian plane has a speed of 2.25 Mach to the American planes 2.05 so there is not much of a difference there.
The MIG has a higher ceiling of 18,000 m to the American planes 15,000 but in terms of sophistication with ECM and ECCM, the American plane is superior. The maneuverability of the MIG 29 is absolutely fantastic and you can carry out astonishing aerobatics and there is something called the Cobra maneuver which the MIG can perform with ease. This is one of the most dazzling manoeuvers of the 29 and I can vouchsafe for it.
It is a maneuver in which an airplane flying at a moderate speed suddenly raises the nose momentarily to the vertical position and slightly beyond, momentarily stalling the plane and making it a full-body air brake, before dropping it back to normal, during which the aircraft does not change effective altitude.
People will generally get a feeling that the MIG 29 scores over the F-16 but there is a catch and that comes to serviceability. It needs an overhaul every 2500 hours compared to 6000 for the American plane and as I have already pointed out in terms of radar and ECM the F-15/16 is way ahead of the Russian plane.
The MIG 29 comes with a single canon GSH 3130 MM And four pylons for carrying rockets and missiles. The Russian MiG 29A which was not exported can carry a single nuclear bomb.
The Americans were keen to get their hands on a MIG 29 and they got it in a very bizarre manner. They bought 21 MIG 29s in flyaway conditions from Moldovia. Russia could not stop the sale and the 29’s made their way to America and were used by the US Air Force. They stripped the planes and got all the tech data. The Americans pulled off a coup by getting these planes. These are now scattered in American museums across America.
MIG 29 has seen plenty of combat experience outside Russia. India bought 66 planes and they were used in the Kargil war and Yugoslavia used them in the Kosovo war. They were used in the war between Iraq and Iran and then finally it came into combat against the very plane it was supposed to match in the Iraq war the F-16. The Americans claimed to have shot down 6 MIG 29s but the Russians also claimed several kills which were denied but that’s part of the game. Never agree to your losses and exaggerate the loss of the enemy. The Indians didn’t lose a single plane in the Kargil conflict.
On a personal level, I have a lot of love for MiG 29. it’s a wonderful plane and you can do some wonderful aerobatics with it. It’s a simple air superiority fighter. I just wrote this article for the heck of it because in the recent conflict with China, the Indian government has asked for more of the MIG 29s and they are on their way.