Why didn’t Russia use MiG-29 in the Ukraine invasion?

MiG-29K crashed in Goa, India. Photo by Indian Navy.

MiG-29 Fulcrum, designed by the Mikoyan Design Bureau, Russia, is a twin-engine air superiority fighter that was initially optimized for an air-to-air combat role. It was inducted in the Soviet Air Force in 1982 and other air forces from 1986 to 1991.

The aircraft has twin RD33 turbofan engines capable of delivering enough thrust to make it a Mach 2 aircraft at altitude. The downside is it has an R-60 infrared (IR) homing missile with a range of 8 km; for the latter, it has two Vympl R-27 Air-to-Air Missiles in two range versions of 40 km and 80 km and a shorter range R-73 AAM effective up to 30 km. MiG-29 has seven hardpoints- 6 underwings and one under the fuselage.

The MiG-29M2, also known as MiG-35, is equipped with IR Search and Track (IRST) Sensors to detect track and engage targets emitting IR radiations. The MiG-29M2 still carry Soviet-era N019 Topaz pulse doppler radar, also knowns as Zhuk-ME radar, as the Zhuk -AME Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar is still under development.

Indian Controller and Auditor General (CAG) has reported that the Indian Navy has identified 21 design issues with MiG-29K, a derivative of MiG-29. Out of 21 problems, 17 are with MiG-29’s engine related. Indian Air Force and Indian Navy have already experienced multiple crashes related to the MiG-29K engine problem.

The Su-27 has a 6 to 0 kill ratio against MiG-29 in Ethiopia and Eritrea war. Serbia lost multiple MiG-29 against NATO warplanes in the Kosovo war. Israel shot down several Syrian MiG-29s in 1989. Although India has 60 MiG-29UPG, the Indian Air Force felt that the MiGs are unreliable enough to send in Kashmir Skirmish. In general, Russian fighter jets lack beyond visual range combat capability with no targeting pod, and a limited number of IRST fitted into the aircraft.

Russia invaded Ukraine on the early morning of 24 February. Russia used Su-24, Su-25, Su-30SM, Su-34 and Su-35 in Ukraine Invasion.

Ukraine’s air force has about 56 operational MiG-29 fighter aircraft at the beginning of the Ukraine invasion.

Sending MiG-29 against Ukrainian MiG-29 would not make any sense for Russia since both sides have identical fighter jets and lack beyond visual range combat capability and targeting pod. Russia decided to use Su-30SM, the latest in Russian inventory and have some BVR capability with its NIIP BARS radar and Su-24, which has a targeting pod to drop bombs on a ground-attack role.

The Russians have sidelined the MiG-29 since they’re relying on a bigger, longer-ranged, more upgradeable fighter (various Su-27 variants), and just can’t afford to keep upgrading the MiG. Russian knows the limitation of MiG-29 in actual combat. MiG-29 is outdated, even Russian or Chinese standard. Hence Russia didn’t send MiG-29 to Ukraine Invasion.

Modern air combat is more about electronics than speed and manoeuvrability, which helps explain why Ukraine has had so much success with its technically advanced Turkish Bayraktar TB2 drones despite their clunky handling and slow speed.

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