Luftwaffe MiG-29 experience
| Following the re-unification of
Germany, Luftwaffe inherited a number of East Germany's MiG-29 fighters.
It was decided to incorporated these fighters into the Luftwaffe and make
them as much "NATO-compatible" as possible. These aircraft were later used
for a number of training exercises, including simulated air combats
against American F-16 fighters. Many weaknesses and advantages of the
MiG-29 were discovered. The wild interest in the West toward MiG-29 was
caused by the results of these exercises in which MiG-29 proved to be a
far superior fighter in close combat than any Western type. Many people
continue to argue about advantages and flaws of MiG-29 and, of course, I
can add a few dozen kilobytes of my own thoughts to that argument.
However, fortunately for you, I am not feeling particularly patriotic this
night and so I decided to quote Luftwaffe's Oberstleutenant Johann Koeck,
who for many years was an F-4 pilot and who has first-hand
experience flying MiG-29 as the commander of Luftwaffe's MiG-29 squadron.
If anyone is qualified to compare MiG-29 to Western fighter aircraft it
would be Johann Koeck. I organized his evaluations of the aircraft's
performance - everything from dogfighting to maintainability - into two
categories: flaws and advantages. It is rather important to keep in mind
that Germany operates some of the earliest models of MiG-29 - not even the
baseline Fulcrum-A but downgraded versions of the MiG-29s employed by
Soviet air forces. The MiG-29 was upgraded at least six times during the
past decade, as you might have noticed from the title page, and today's
MiG-29s are far superior to the ones operated by Luftwaffe. I should also
mention that Mikoyan OKB designers concentrated their work on all of the
problems established by NATO's evaluation of MiG-29. Strange as it may
sound, NATO proved to be of invaluable assistance to MiG in designing such
latest variants of Fulcrum as MiG-29SMT.
"The East German JG3 took delivery of its first MiG-29 in 1988, and by 4 October 1990 had 24 on strength, equipping two squadrons. A follow-on batch were on order, but were never delivered. With the re-unification JG3 became Evaluation Wing 29 on 1 April 1991. On 25 July 1991 the decision was taken to keep the aircraft and integrate them into the NATO air defence structure. JG73 was activated in June 1993, and the MiG-29s assumed a National (Day Only) QRA(l) commitment over the former East Germany. The MiG-29s moved to Laage in December 1993 and on 1 February 1994 the unit gained a NATO QRA(l) commitment. The two aircraft on QRA were assigned to NATO, while the rest were assigned to national tasking. All will be NATO assigned when the F-4s move to Laage to complete the wing."
"The employment of the MiG-29 suffers from severe inherent constraints. The most obvious limitation is the aircraft’s limited internal fuel capacity of 3500-kg (4400 kg with a centreline tank). We have no air-to-air refuelling capability, and our external tank is both speed and manoeuvre limited. We also have only a limited number of tanks.
"But if we start a mission with 4400-kg of fuel, start-up, taxy and take off takes 400-kg, we need to allow 1000-kg for diversion to an alternate airfield 50-nm away, and 500-kg for the engagement, including one minute in afterburner. That leaves 2500-kg. If we need 15 minutes on station at 420 kts that requires another 1000-kg, leaving 1500-kg for transit. At FL200 (20,000 ft) that gives us a radius of 150-nm, and at FL100 (10,000 ft) we have a radius of only 100-nm.
"Our navigation system is unreliable without TACAN updates and is not very accurate (I’d prefer to call it an estimation system). It relies on triangulation from three TACAN stations, and if you lose one, you effectively lose the system. We can only enter three fixed waypoints, which is inadequate. We also can’t display our ‘Bullseye’ (known navigation datum, selected randomly for security). For communications we have only one VHF/UHF radio.
"The radar is at least a generation behind the AN/APG-65, and is not line-repairable. If we have a radar problem, the aircraft goes back into the hangar. The radar has a poor display, giving poor situational awareness, and this is compounded by the cockpit ergonomics. The radar has reliability problems and lookdown/shootdown problems. There is poor discrimination between targets flying in formation, and we can’t lock onto the target in trail, only onto the lead. We have only the most limited autonomous operating capability.
"We don’t have the range to conduct HVAA attack missions - and we’re effectively limited from crossing the FLOT (Front Line of Own Troops). Our limited station time and lack of air-to-air refuelling capability effectively rules us out of meaningful air defence missions. Nor are we suited to the sweep escort role. We have a very limited range, especially at high speed and low altitudes, and are limited to 540-kt with external fuel. We have navigation problems, Bullseye control is very difficult and we have only one radio. So if I talk, I ‘trash’ the package’s radios!
"The only possible missions for NATO’s MiG-29s are as adversary threat aircraft for air combat training, for point defence, and as wing (not lead!) in Mixed Fighter Force Operations. But even then I would still consider the onboard systems too limited, especially the radar, the radar warning receiver, and the navigation system as well as the lack of fuel. These drive the problems we face in tactical scenarios. We suffer from poor presentation of the radar information (which leads to poor situational awareness and identification problems), short BVR weapons range, a bad navigation system and short on- station times."
"But when all that is said and done, the MiG-29 is a superb fighter for close-in combat, even compared with aircraft like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18. This is due to the aircraft’s superb aerodynamics and helmet mounted sight. Inside ten nautical miles I’m hard to defeat, and with the IRST, helmet sight and ‘Archer’ I can’t be beaten. Period. Even against the latest Block 50 F-16s the MiG-29 is virtually invulnerable in the close-in scenario. On one occasion I remember the F-16s did score some kills eventually, but only after taking 18 ‘Archers’. We didn’t operate kill removal (forcing ‘killed’ aircraft to leave the fight) since they’d have got no training value, we killed them too quickly. (Just as we might seldom have got close-in if they used their AMRAAMs BVR!) They couldn’t believe it at the debrief, they got up and left the room!
"They might not like it, but with a 28deg/sec instantaneous turn rate (compared to the Block 50 F-16's 26deg) we can out-turn them. Our stable, manually controlled airplane can out-turn their FBW aircraft. But the real edge we have is the ‘Archer’ which can reliably lock on to targets 45deg off-boresight.
"I should stress that I’m talking about our Luftwaffe MiG-29s, which are early aircraft. They also removed the Laszlo data link and the SRO IFF before the aircraft were handed over to us, so in some respects we’re less capable than other contemporary MiG-29s. From what we hear the latest variants are almost a different aircraft. I’d like to see our aircraft get some of the updates being offered by MiG-MAPO. The more powerful engines, better radar, a new navigation system, a data link and an inflight refuelling probe. If we got the new ‘Alamo-C’ that would also be an improvement - even a two nautical mile boost in range is still ten more seconds to shoot someone else! We won’t get many of those improvements, though we are getting a new IFF manually selectable radio channels, and improvements to the navigation system, including the integration of GPS. Most of our aircraft will be able to carry two underwing fuel tanks, which will also help."
from Jane's At the Controls: MiG-29, by Jon Lake
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