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The Five Most Capable Combat Jets of the Third Generation - Part One: MiG-25 Foxbat

July 18th - 2018

The MiG-25 Foxbat has proven itself to be a lethal platform whenever deployed - with its capabilities and its performance record making it perhaps the most capable combat aircraft of the third generation. The Foxbat was fastest combat aircraft ever to enter service at Mach 3.3, faster than any cruise missile in service today, and could operate at 20,000 feet - well out of range of all other third generation and most fourth generation platforms. A combination of its speed, able to outrun air to air missiles such as the AIM-7B and AIM-9, and its altitude made the MiG-25 all but invulnerable at range against other third generation fighters. It is also one of the only third generation platforms to have bested a fourth generation fighter in combat, downing a U.S. Navy F-18 at the opening of Operation Desert Storm and compensating for the vastly superior training of U.S. pilots relative to those of the Iraqi Air Force with its potency as an air to air combat platform.

Demonstrations of the survivability and potency of the MiG-25 were manyfold. Shortly before the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War Soviet operated Foxbats performed several reconnaissance flights over heavily fortified Israeli territories in the Sinai peninsula, with their speed and altitude rendering them all but invulnerable to Israel's American made air defences and F-4 Phantoms and advanced MIM-23 Hawk air defence systems. This development was met with much apprehension in the Western Bloc, as with Israel fielding the most advanced Western technologies at the time there was little to stop Soviet Foxbats from carrying out similar operations over other fronts such as Europe and Korea. The following decade during the Iran-Iraq war Iraqi MiG-25s proved completely invulnerable to Iran's F-4 and F-5 jets and MIM-23 missile systems, and Iran could rely only on its elite fourth generation F-14 Tomcat to counter the Soviet built jet. Even for the F-14, which remains the most advanced interceptor ever built outside the Soviet Union, neutralising the MiG-25 proved a considerable challenge. The 190km range of the Tomcat’s Mach 5 AIM-54 Phoenix missiles proved an invaluable asset in countering the Foxbat.

In Syria’s numerous clashes with the Israeli Air Force in the 1980s, though the country fielded just 12 MiG-25 interceptors of its fleet of several hundred MiG-23 and modernised MiG-21 fighters, they were responsible approximately half of downings Israeli aircraft by the Syrian Air Force. Equipped with R-40 infra red guided missiles, they proved by far the most lethal platforms in Syrian service even after the induction of the MiG-29 - and represent the country’s foremost platform in air to air combat until today. In the 1990s Iraqi MiG-25s also proved to be by far its most survivable platform, with their their speed allowing them to launch hit and run attacks against U.S. F-15 air superiority platforms - then the most capable Western fighter ever built. Ultimately the Iraqi command’s micromanagement of its Air Force, the relatively poor training of Iraqi pilots and most of all their lack of modern missile systems prevented them from successfully neutralising F-15 fighters at range. Iraqi Foxbats’ success in avoiding the retaliation of the United States’ foremost air superiority by outrunning its missiles on numerous occasions was however a feat in itself and demonstrated the platform’s survivability.

The MiG-25 was the leader of its generation in air to air combat, and though it lacked the advanced avionics of the MiG-23 and F-4 it more than compensated with its phenomenal speed and altitude. Strike and reconnaissance variants such as the MiG-25RB also proved extremely potent. The Foxbat remains in service in the Algerian, Syrian, North Korean and Libyan air forces today. Due to severe neglect which resulted in a gross lack of training, maintenance and modernisation, Libya's fleet was unable to operate effectively during the country's war with NATO powers and Western backed insurgents in 2011. Western aircraft spared the entire fleet, which were grounded. With dozens of interceptors in service - in better hands they otherwise could have proven a highly potent asset and seriously hindered the Western bloc's ability to enforce a no fly zone over the country. Ultimately the MiG-25 is not only a lethal asset today, almost 20 years after entering service, but its heavier derivative the MiG-31 - often referred to as the Super Foxbat - is set to remain in service for decades to come and remains one of the most capable fourth generation platforms in service

Continued in Part Two

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