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Meet the MiG-29: Russia’s Dream Fighter to Battle the U.S. Air Force

Ukraine
MiG-29 fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Sure, the MiG-29 is not exactly the latest and greatest stealth fighter or even the best fourth-generation fighter. And yet, the MiG-29 is respected as one dangerous fighter jet for many clear and obvious reasons: Despite its origins in the final years of the Cold War, Russia’s modern MiG-29 multirole fighter aircraft variants are some of the most up-to-date in Russian service today. The Cold War-era fame of the Soviet Union’s MiG-29 has seen something of a second wind since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, as Fulcrums (as MiG-29s are referred to under their NATO designation) have featured prominently in the air campaigns of both sides, as well as in the enduring saga of Western aid to Ukraine.

Development and Evaluation of the MiG-29

Development of the MiG-29 began in the 1970s, which saw the aircraft’s first flight in November 1977 and entry into service in 1982 as the Soviet Union’s response to the development of the US’ F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter.

Much of what we in the United States and the West know about the Fulcrum was confirmed during the collapse of the Soviet Union, when engineers and researchers in the United States suddenly had the chance to acquire examples of the MiG directly, and the Federal German Luftwaffe inherited several Fulcrums from the now-defunct East German Air Force.

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Moldova found itself in possession of 33 examples of the Fulcrum (many of which were the most modern variant in service at that time) which it could not maintain, which led Chisinau to attempt to sell off the models to the highest bidder. Sensing an opportunity to evaluate the aircraft and to deprive Iran from getting its hands on new Fulcrums (as Iran had expressed considerable interest in them), the United States swept in and purchased the Moldovan Fulcrums.

Evaluation of the American and German-owned MiG-29s revealed that they were in many ways true competitors to NATO aircraft of a similar age and role in terms of turn rate, speed, and short-range missile armament for engagements within visual range.

However, it was quickly revealed that Western fighters had advantages in beyond-visual-range engagements as well as in providing battlefield information to the pilot, a deficiency which precluded German Fulcrums from combat deployments after reunification, despite being the only East German combat aircraft that the united German Air Force held on to.

How Modern MiG-29s Stack Up

First flown in 1998 and having begun serial production in 2004, the MiG-29SMT is the most modern version of the MiG-29 in service with Russia’s Aerospace Forces today.

Propelled by two modernized RD-33 series-3 turbofan engines, this version of the Fulcrum has a max speed of Mach 2.25 and a service ceiling 17,500 meters.

In addition to its 30mm Gsh-301 cannon, the Fulcrum is also outfitted with seven hardpoints which are capable of carrying medium- and short-range air-to-air missiles, guided bombs, air-to-surface missiles, anti-radar missiles, and anti-ship missiles. Russia’s Naval Aviation operates its own version of the Fulcrum known as the MiG-29K, which is designed for carrier operations.

The MiG-29 Fulcrum in Ukraine

The MiG-29 has featured prominently in news about Ukraine, especially as a potential element of Western military aid to Ukraine against Russia’s invasion.

In the first weeks of the Russian invasion, Ukraine lobbied for the United States to facilitate the transfer of Polish, Slovak, and Bulgarian Fulcrums to compensate for Ukrainian Air Force losses and to narrow the advantage enjoyed by Russia in operational aircraft in use over Ukraine.

However, despite reported Polish support for such a plan (which would hypothetically involve backfilling Polish fighter aircraft stocks with U.S.-made equivalents such as the F-16), U.S. policymakers demurred on the proposal, opting instead to provide the Ukrainian Air Force with spare parts to help keep as many existing Ukrainian Fulcrums operational as possible.

While other Russian fighters such as the Su-35 appear to have superseded the MiG-29 on the Russian side of Moscow’s invasion, Ukrainian MiG-29s have seen some success against Russian jets thus far in the conflict, despite suffering some losses in the process.

While the Soviet-designed MiG-29 plays a varying role in the air forces it currently serves, it is unlikely that Russia will retire it soon. As a result, the Fulcrum of Cold War fame will likely remain a topic of interest in the Russian and Ukrainian Air Forces for years to come.

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill as well as in the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

Written By

Wesley Culp is a Research Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. He regularly writes on Russian and Eurasian leadership and national security topics and has been published in The Hill and the Diplomatic Courier. He can be found on Twitter @WesleyJCulp.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Reginald Stoker

    June 27, 2022 at 10:31 pm

    What a load of garbage…

  2. Reginald Stoker

    June 27, 2022 at 10:34 pm

    This guy should stick to what he knows and stay in his policy lane.

    • Mahershal matinek

      June 29, 2022 at 1:15 am

      Crap

  3. Gary Pixler

    June 27, 2022 at 10:41 pm

    Dream fighter BS…USA Jets will make dig food out of them!

  4. Steven Raposa

    June 28, 2022 at 12:44 am

    How is it possible that the USSR or the current country of Russia can produce military aircraft that rival the west? Anything that Russia produces that is not vodka, caviar, or pickles is absolute garbage. Russian-made cars are crap. If Russia does not produce any manufactured consumer goods that are high quality, how can they produce world class fighter aircraft?

    Because they don’t.

    As we see in Ukraine, the Russian army is all hype, and their equipment is garbage.

    Then why does both Russia, and Russia’s enemies, lie about the prowess of the Russian military?

    Russia lies because every crockpot dictatorship likes to pretend it has a great military.

    Military experts in opposing countries lie to justify their jobs, and their bloated military budgets.

    You think that NATO would have the budget it has if they told the truth about Russia’s actual military capabilities?

  5. Frank Lobo

    June 28, 2022 at 2:44 am

    Although the Mig 29 is a decent all weather 4th generation fighter, the age of its electronics and weapons systems are no match to any aircraft in the USAF inventory. The F15 would keep its undefeated record alive, the F16 is too fast and maneuverable and everything else above the F18 is far too superior for this Cold War fighter. I have watched it scream across the skies of the DDR but it cannot hold supersonic speeds for extended periods of time like the American fighters can. They burn way too much fuel also and have limited range because of it.

  6. Alessandro

    June 28, 2022 at 5:25 am

    Gli aerei russi sono tutti un bluff

  7. Jamin

    June 28, 2022 at 5:32 am

    No match whatsoever

    • William Craddock

      June 29, 2022 at 7:56 pm

      The desperately needed operational Polish MIG-29’s vital to Ukraine’s defense could’ve easily been clandestinely transferred to Eastern Ukraine for their defense against Putin’s invading thugs. Confidential lethal transfers and actions which’d been the norm of our far more competent previous Presidential Administrations, seem beyond the risk adverse inabilities of the current Oval Office occupant, publicly proclaiming his fear of upsetting a militarily inept criminalistic Dictator. This includes Pres. Obama taking out Usama Bin Laden in Nuclear armed Pakistan, a clandestine action which VP Biden was against, the raid that also scored us a treasure trove of Al Queda terrorist Intel. The above actions require fortitude, clearly lacking with Biden, who’s oxymoronically our current seat holder at the “Resolute Desk” in the same Oval Office.

  8. less important

    June 28, 2022 at 5:59 am

    Why author this story use NATO ‘s county military air recognition symbols at article front MIG 19 picture for demonstration title:”Meet The MiG-29: Russia’s Dream Fighter To Battle The U.S. Air Force” Why people need combine that NATO country symbol as US opponent when USA is NATO too. Was hard to find correct picture with Rus symbols?

  9. Michael Nunez

    June 28, 2022 at 8:55 pm

    30 years ago maybe but today the Mig-29 is just another target , and like the article pointed out the avionics were always inferior to Western War Birds .

  10. William Craddock

    June 29, 2022 at 7:54 pm

    The desperately needed operational Polish MIG-29’s vital to Ukraine’s defense could’ve easily been clandestinely transferred to Eastern Ukraine for their defense against Putin’s invading thugs. Confidential lethal transfers and actions which’d been the norm of our far more competent previous Presidential Administrations, seem beyond the risk adverse inabilities of the current Oval Office occupant, publicly proclaiming his fear of upsetting a militarily inept criminalistic Dictator. This includes Pres. Obama taking out Usama Bin Laden in Nuclear armed Pakistan, a clandestine action which VP Biden was against, the raid that also scored us a treasure trove of Al Queda terrorist Intel. The above actions require fortitude, clearly lacking with Biden, who’s oxymoronically our current seat holder at the “Resolute Desk” in the same Oval Office.

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