MiG-23 Flogger: Russia’s Flying Disaster? – Developed in the late 1960s in response to the United States military’s McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom II and Republic F-105 Thunderchief, the Mikoyan MiG-23 (NATO reporting name “Flogger”) succeeded the widely-used MiG-21. It offered a greater payload, range, and firepower with beyond visual range intercept capability from more powerful onboard sensors. The Model 23-11 prototype first flew in 1967, and production commenced just two years later.
Compared to the MiG-21, the Flogger had great promise – its advanced radar and fire control system could fire missiles at targets beyond visual range, while its variable “swing-wing” geometry, was similar to that of the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark.
MiG-23 – A Poor Reputation?
As the first swing-wing fighter to enter service with the Soviet Union, the MiG-23 wasn’t without issues. It was reported to be difficult to fly and expensive to maintain, while its engines had a short service life.
It has been suggested that those factors contributed to the decision among Warsaw Pact nations to continue to operate the older MiG-21 alongside the newer MiG-23.
All that resulted in a rather poor reputation, and western observers believed it was merely a “serviceable” and “highly utilitarian” aircraft at best. However, in retrospect, that assessment may have been on the harsh side, and the MiG-23 has in recent years earned some respect as an impressive design that could match some of the western aircraft of the era.
It has been noted that performance-wise, the F-111 was capable of reaching a top speed of 1,650 mph whereas the MiG-23 topped out at 1,553 mph. Moreover, the Flogger had a range of just less than 1,600 miles, while the Aardvark could cover 3,660 miles without refueling.
However, the aircraft’s robust landing gear allowed the MiG-23 to operate from short, remote runways. In addition, MiG-23 pilots could select the wing sweep for low-speed take-off and landing or for supersonic flight. It was actually a compact aircraft that was just about two-thirds the size of the F-111, and employed a single-seat cockpit rather than the two-side by side cockpit of the F-111.
Despite all of this, many experts rightly point out its combat record and consider the MiG-23 a terrible aircraft. As one expert put it:
“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 over the course of 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.”
And yet, the Flogger was a relatively affordable aircraft, and it proved to be reliable in other instances. This was clearly the Soviet Union’s best combat jet but proved serviceable.
MiG-23 Export Models
Multiple variants of the MiG-23 had been produced, including the MiG-23MS, which was designed for foreign export and was less capable than domestic Soviet versions. Clearly, the masters in Moscow didn’t want their client states to be armed with anything as powerful as the Soviet Union possesses.
The MiG-23MS was equipped with a less sophisticated radar housed in a smaller radome. First delivered in 1973, it was given the NATO code-name “Flogger-E.”
By the end of the Cold War, more than 5,000 MiG-23s of all types were built, and the aircraft was only pulled from front line service with the Russian Air Force in 1999, while some aircraft remain in service with former Soviet partners including Angola, Ethiopia, North Korea and Syria.
Now a Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military hardware, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes.
April 28, 2022 at 8:02 pm
Maybe it was a better fighter bomber in its Mig 27 variant . Don’t know just asking.
I think the Israeli pilots could make mincemeat out of anything flying US aircraft.
The F15 is probably my favourite Fighter of the modern age and the F18 a close joint second with the Eurofighter Typhoon.
In fairness the Russians came back with a vengeance with the Mig29 and Su27 but seem to be struggling trying to get an F22 equivalent right
Here’s hoping they don’t until Putin is long gone.
April 28, 2022 at 8:29 pm
April 28, 2022 at 11:33 pm
I think this review of the capabilities of the MiG-23 is somewhat disingenuous. Comparing it to a generation newer aircraft (F-14/15/16s) and/or against an air force with vastly superior training and technical support (the IAF) when flown by the less sophisticated air forces of Libya, Syria, and Egypt, is not discussing apples-and-apples.
A better comparison is the export models (MiG-23MLs) being flown by Cuban pilots on behalf of the Angolan Air Force AG against SAAF Mirage F.1s, which were sorely put to the test.
In fact, the SAAF would would have to not only engage in a crash course to develop a better AA missiles, but also take their Mirage IIIAZ/EZs off-line and working with the IAF (and their experience with their own Nesher and Kfir updates) who helped the South Africans create their own “Cheetah” versions to regain air superiority over SWA/Nambia and Southern Angola in their support of UNITA.
Those same MiG-23MLs have undergone LEP (work done by Ukraine) at least once and are supposedly now equipped to fire the R-77 missile.
April 29, 2022 at 1:12 am
What’s the point of comparing F-111 with Mig23? Only shows the lack of depth as someone who is portrayed a military analyst.
April 29, 2022 at 4:14 am
Agreed..but what do I know..just a former IAF member,grin
April 29, 2022 at 8:42 am
Compare MiG-23 and F-15? A worthy comparison 🙂 I think we should compare the F-35 and MiG-15, then the victory of the F-35 will look even more convincing 🙂 Although, the Bandera Nazis don’t even have such rubbish 🙂
April 29, 2022 at 9:56 am
Woah, Alex, are you feeling alright? Did you catch Novichok? Where are the reams and reams of rubbish you usually write?
Only a single sentence, and one that is on-thread, too? Are you sure you are feeling alright? I think we should get Sveta to check you up. She’ll miss a few clients, but that’s OK, your health is all that matters! 🙂
April 29, 2022 at 10:56 am
The moron runs after me on all topics. Little, beggar, pissed Bandera Nazi 🙂
It’s wonderful to watch how a young Bandera Nazi is turned inside out. Soon you will meet your Bandera in the same boiling pot, bastards 🙂
April 29, 2022 at 1:21 pm
It’s sport to me Alex, to deny your last say, your lies being the last thing anyone here ever reads.
Wasting your time brings me great joy!
April 29, 2022 at 5:00 pm
What a stupid way to compare the mig 23 and who has used it
Know what? We ought to compare north and south Korean military’s obviously they too of course are simply of the same capabilities no no one of them totally doesn’t have a serious advantage and it’s supported by so many different nations, oh I don’t know maybe like the IAF? UGH
April 29, 2022 at 6:20 pm
The MiG-23 is generally similar in performance characteristics to the F-4, however the radar and fire control are inferior, pilot visibility (except forward) is poor, reliability is poor, range is relatively short, and most importantly, the wing sweep (unlike the F-14) is manual and cannot be changed under Gs. These faults are much less of a problem in bombing/ground attack where the MiG-23 and MiG-27 perform well.