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Eastern Europe and Central Asia , Aircraft and Anti-Aircraft

40 Years of the MiG-29

October 06th - 2017

The Soviet MiG-29 multirole fighter has during its service become one of the most prolific fighters of the fourth generation. First flight tested on October 6th 1977, the MiG-29 would enter service in the USSR in 1985 as an equivalent to the United States' F-16. Prized for its high manoeuvrability, reliability and low maintenance the MiG-29 has served in the air forces of over 30 states, with over 1,600 being produced. The naval variant, MiG-29K, also serves in the Navies of Russia and India.

While the MiG-29 had the potential to become as successful a platform as the F-16, of which over 4,500 were produced, political constraints ultimately would limit the fighter program's development and sales. While the Soviet MiG-21 had exceeded any U.S. fighter to become by far the most produced supersonic jet fighter in history, a title it still maintains, the USSR faced a far less advantageous position in its international relations when the MiG-29 entered service. A strained budget and the loss of several major allies which had formerly been major clients for its fighters - China, Indonesia and Egypt among them - meant that the MiG would never enter service in as large numbers as it could have under better political circumstances. Larger production meanwhile would have further driven down costs and increased funds available for investment in research and development. The collapse of the USSR just six years after the first MiG-29 fighters entered service, and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact meant that thousands of MiG-29 fighters set to enter service in Europe and Central Asia would be cancelled. The Russian military budget during the 1990s meanwhile was highly strained, forcing the Air Force to prioritise its air superiority program, the Su-27, over further developing the lighter complementary MiG-29. While the Su-27 has been developed into the Su-34, Su-35 and numerous Su-30 variants for the Russian Air Force, the MiG-29 has seen few similar adaptations. Variations tended to be rather minor, though they did lead to some significant improvements such as the MiG-29SMT with its longer range and superior beyond visual range combat capabilities. The MiG-35 set to enter service in 2018 is the first major modernisation, coming a full 33 years after the MiG-29's first entry into service, and is set to substantially improve combat capacities while requiring only a fraction of the maintenance of the original platform.

The MiG-29 remains a formidable platform until today - to the extent that the U.S. Air Force went to great lengths to avoid combat with it during the Gulf War with anything other than their F-15 dedicated air superiority fighters, the US equivalent to the Su-27, against which the lighter MiG had little chance. Ethiopia notably made use of a similar strategy against Eritrean MiG-29s, one which Israel would then adopt against the Syrian MiG-29 fighters. The MiG-29 remains a formidable platform when in the right hands, of which the disordered Iraqi, Syrian and Eritrean Air Forces would hardly qualify. It its a platform which hostile air forces have proven to be highly weary of facing.

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