Satellite images of Russian airfields in Millerovo and Kursk demonstrate that Russia is conserving MiG-29 aircraft. They have not been used for years, and their condition may be useless.
The serious losses suffered by the Russians in their invasion of Ukraine are forcing them to remove old and disused military equipment from their warehouses.
In recent months, old T-62 tanks have been taken out of storage to compensate for the heavy losses of T-72, T-80 and T-90 in Ukraine. Images of old rusty AKM assault rifles being handed out to recruits in the “partial mobilization” decreed by Putin in September.
The Ukrainian Military Website Mil.in.ua announced today that Russia is withdrawing MiG-29 fighter jets from its storage bases in Millerovo and Kursk, to repair them and return them to active service. In its Military Balance last year, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) indicated that Russia in 2021 had 87 active MiG-29s, divided between the Air Force and the Naval Aviation.
Satellite images of Russian airfields
Satellite operators continue to monitor the progress of the war in Ukraine. After they observed Russia’s crimes against the civilian population in the spring and the abandonment of the Zmiyiny Island by the aggressor’s troops, now they switched to military facilities on the territory of Russia.
Recently, satellites have helped track aviation’s movement at an airfield beyond the Arctic Circle. The MilitaryAviationInUa Twitter page has published images of the Millerovo airfield in the Rostov region, taken by Sentinel-2 reconnaissance satellites and Maxar devices. They clearly show that the MiG-29 aircraft, stored there for the last few years, have disappeared somewhere.
The same can be seen in the photos of the airfield in Kursk. MiG-29 SMT fighters were removed from storage here. Experts believe that Russia will soon use these aircraft against Ukraine, despite the significant risks associated with their operation.
Why didn’t the Russians use the MiG-29 before
Experts are constantly monitoring the situation at Russian airfields using satellite images. For example, on October 17, a page of experts from OSINT Evergreen Intel, concerning images of identical satellites, calculated the amount of equipment in Millerovo on October 5.
At that time, 19 Su-25, 18 attack helicopters of various modifications, 13 MiG-29, 4 Su-30, 2 Su-24, 2 Su-27, 1 Tu-134 and 1 An-26 were located at the airfield. But until now, the MiG-29 was not taken into account, because these aircraft, mainly produced in the late 1980s, even Russia did not dare to take off into the air.
The MiG-29 SMT variant was developed in the late 1990s. But according to experts, it also has significant technical problems due to the corrosion of the tail. However, it seems that the problems of Russian aviation are so serious that the command decided to use them as well.
The Russian Air Force wanted to upgrade its existing fleet to the modernised MiG-29SMT configuration, but financial difficulties have limited deliveries.
MiG-29: a fighter with corrosion problems due to poor maintenance
The MiG-29 made its first flight in 1977. It was a very modern aircraft, but most Russian MiG-29s have been rendered inoperative due to poor maintenance. On February 6, 2009, the official Russian outlet Sputnik News acknowledged that 70% of the Russian Air Force MiG-29s (at least 200 aircraft) were not airworthy, especially due to corrosion problems that possibly caused several serious accidents. In March 2009, the Russian Ministry of Defense reported that 190 of its 291 MiG-29s had corrosion problems, and 91 needed to be repaired. Because of these problems, Russia began modernizing part of its MiG-29 fleet to the MiG-29SMT version. Still, budget problems made deliveries difficult and the Russian Air Force had to take advantage of 35 MiG-29s rejected by Algeria.
Stored MiG-29s have disappeared from Millevoro and Kursk
According to Mil.in.ua, a part of the stored Russian MiG-29 fighters were parked at the Millerovo airfield in the Rostov region for a long time. From 2009 to 2014 that airfield was inactive, but on January 1, 2014, the 31st Fighter Aviation Regiment was re-established there. On February 25, 2022, the day after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ukrainian Air Force attacked that base with a Tochka-U ballistic missile, managing to destroy two Russian Su-30SM fighters.
Satellite photos showing Russian MiG-29s in storage at Millevoro Air Base. On the right are images from the Sentinel-2 satellite in which it is observed that between September 30 and October 15, the fighters stored at that base have been removed from there. Click on the image to see it enlarged (Photo: Mil.in.ua).
As for the Kursk Air Base, the Ukrainian source indicates that the MiG-29SMT fighters, which have not been used in recent years, were removed from storage at that airfield. Sentinel-2 satellite images released by Mil.in.ua show that the planes in Kursk and Millevoro no longer appear at those bases in the photos taken this weekend. It is likely that the planes have been recovered, but after the corrosion problems that the MiG-29s experienced when they were in service, it is worth wondering if the fighters in storage will be airworthy or need repairs.
Satellite photos showing Russian MiG-29s in storage at Kursk Air Base. On the right are images from the Sentinel-2 satellite in which it is observed that between July 5 and October 16, the fighters stored at that base have been removed from there. Click on the image to see it enlarged.
Russia has already lost 162 combat aircraft in this invasion
According to Oryxspioenkop.com, Russia has already lost 162 aircraft in Ukraine. These losses do not include any MiG-29, which indicates that this model was probably either not used by the Russians in the invasion or was used on a small scale. Ukraine does maintain some MiG-29s in service. Russian losses include fighters such as the Su-30SM (17 lost in total), the Su-35S (24), the MiG-31BM (5) and the Su-25 (23), Su-24 (28) and Su-34 (25) attack aircraft. In total, Russia has already lost 27 transport aircraft in this invasion.
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