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MiG-29: The Fighter Jet Ukraine Wants (And America Has)

Russia's MiG-29
Russia's MiG-29 fighter. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

MiG-29: Why the World Keeps Asking Questions about this Old Soviet Warplane – For those paying close attention in recent months to the ongoing war in Ukraine, they may have heard tales of the famous “Ghost of Kyiv,” a Ukrainian fighter pilot who gained great esteem for his dogfighting prowess against Russian pilots in the skies over Ukraine.

Utilizing an upgraded MiG-29 “Fulcrum,” the pilot is said to have brought down a (highly contested) score of Russian aircraft. And as Ukraine has tried to procure more of these planes, interest has been intense as to how capable they are. We present the below as a short history of the MiG-29.

MiG-29, Explained 

The use of the MiG-29 in Ukraine by both Russian and Ukrainian forces has brought with it renewed interest in the fighter. With origins in the Soviet Union, the MiG-29 was originally intended as an air superiority fighter to match the then-new F-16 Fighting Falcon. Development began in the 1970s with the first flight occurring in 1977. The fighter finally entered service in the mid-1980s, not long before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. During its production time, 1,600 were produced with 900 sent abroad from Russia for export.

In addition to exports, many post-Soviet states inherited small fleets of MiG-29s following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This included countries such as Belarus, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Romania and, of course, Ukraine. Moldova came into possession of 33 Fulcrums and—unable to maintain the fleet—sold them to the United States (the purchase keeping them from falling into Iranian hands). This sale allowed the US to study the fighter closely, identifying its weaknesses and strengths.

In addition to the countries mentioned above, other countries flying or having flown the MiG-29 include Algeria, Bangladesh, Cuba, Eritrea, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Myanmar, North Korea, Peru, Serbia, Syria, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yemen, making the Fulcrum a truly international fighter jet.

MiG-29, The Upgrades 

Despite its original release being roughly four decades ago, the MiG-29 has remained relevant through a number of important upgrades. Although originally a strict air superiority fighter, these upgrades move the craft much more in the direction of a multi-role fighter with meaningful air-to-ground capabilities.

Russia’s newest SMT upgrade includes an expanded suite of Kh-29, Kh-31 and Kh-25 air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles on top of the standard 30-millimeter Gsh-301 cannon. It has six external hardpoints and updated avionics, as well as electronic countermeasures and an antenna array much better suited for detecting ground targets. The new lightweight frame has allowed for increased maneuverability and combat range. This latter fact—increased range—boosted the jet’s range from 1,500 kilometers to 2,000, a 33% boost.

The new MiG-29SMT is powered by two modernized RD-33 series-3 turbofan engines, giving it a maximum speed of roughly Mach 2.25 with a ceiling of 57,500 feet. An altered version of the Russian SMT, the MiG-29K has also been designed for carrier operations. Though it is unclear whether or not Russia’s sole aircraft carrier will ever be operational again, sixteen of these new MiG-29Ks were recently purchased by the Indian Navy for the INS Vikramaditya carrier (the former Soviet Admiral Gorshkov).

Belarus MiG-29

Image: Creative Commons.

With the continued use of the upgraded MiG-29 Fulcrums in the war in Ukraine, it seems this plane has gained a new lease on life, at least in the European and Eurasian theaters. Indeed, the United States has spent the spare parts necessary to get derelict or damaged Fulcrums back up in the air in the fight against Russia.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Terrance J Stodolka

    June 10, 2022 at 11:58 pm

    Alex, thank you for a clear report on the MIG-29 and how and why Americans believed it better to be here than fall into some nuts government hands. That would just cause harm like Syria or Libya.

  2. Manuel

    June 11, 2022 at 12:25 am

    Ghost of kiev is a proven face/ Clip from a game.

    #factcheck

  3. Hunsen Abadeer

    June 11, 2022 at 7:15 am

    How do I take you seriously when you start with “the ghost of Kiev” nonsense. garbage click bait website

    • John Rondón

      June 11, 2022 at 7:16 pm

      El fantasma de kiev es solo eso,un fantasma 😁

  4. MonkeyNuts

    June 11, 2022 at 9:33 am

    Ghost of Kiev??? You should not be writing aviation articles. The MIG 29 was also flown by Iraq.
    Alex, go write something else with your crayons.

  5. Dixie Normous

    June 11, 2022 at 9:35 am

    What possible benefit could be gained from helping Ukraine? Mr.Putin has already won the alleged war, even though it was really just a debt collection mission. The shell of Ukrainian government survivors will only be able to find back the democRat payola to the FJB lackeies, give us a break!

  6. William Ridenour

    June 11, 2022 at 10:17 am

    The issue is whether those technology upgrades “apparently” in use by the Russians are available to the USA. If not, then Ukraine pilots will be at a severe disadvantage. And I seriously doubt whether the Russians…out if a sense of charity ajd friendship…gave these upgrades to their friends the Americans.

  7. Eric

    June 11, 2022 at 3:36 pm

    So nothing about how crappy the design is? They’re notoriously unreliable, require extensive maintenance and have a tendency to smoke really bad leaving huge contrails and making them easy to spot from miles away. (Which is no doubt why poland sought to donate them)

  8. A. K. Albarazi

    June 11, 2022 at 4:21 pm

    Ghost of Kiev?.. And you call yourself a Writer?.. The ghost of Kiev is nothing but a GAME and it was proved a LONG ago to be nothing but a GAME

  9. Carlis Campani

    June 11, 2022 at 5:15 pm

    The best piece of this joke-like “article” is the mention of the fake “Ghost of Kiev”, whose existence has since been officially denied. Was the inspiration for this “article” some humorous program on NATO TV?

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