Why the Soviet answer to the F-16 failed – MiG 29 story

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This interceptor and multirole fighter plane combine impressive maneuverability and speed. This is the story of one of the greatest fighters ever built, just at the wrong time, and at the wrong place.


The Soviets built a new training center called 1521 in the Airbase Mary called the ‘Soviet Top Gun Program,’ and the other was the development of a slew of fourth-generation fighters.

Just as the Americans were afraid of the MiG-25s, so were the Soviets when they found out about the FX program and the US’ next-gen fighters. Thus, their response was to develop a program that could build a light and heavy fighter that would share design features but would share different missions. 

This would be the Advanced Light Frontline Fighter project and MiG was adamant to create another legend.

Ambitious Project

The requirements issued by the Soviet government for this new fighter were ambitious. The new fighter had to fly over Mach 2 to present extraordinary maneuverability for dogfighting and utilize BVR capabilities that would counter the new US missiles and their powerful radars.

Birth of a Legend

Engines that were used are the Klimov RD-33 and MiG opted to go for a two-engine option, giving the aircraft enough power even though it’s classified as a light fighter. The thrust-to-weight ratio is also greater than one, making it crucial in boosting agility in dogfighting.

The aircraft design implemented wing extensions that would go all the way to the canopy, humping behind the cockpit to house extra fuel and electronics. 

Two vertical stabilizers allow for better control maneuverability and the engines were then separated into two gondolas on the underside of the fuselage to increase survivability, ease of maintenance, and replacement.

Under the Hood

The Soviets also equipped the aircraft with a new infrared search and track system, mounted in front of the canopy and allowing the pilot to track in real-time, as well as fire infrared-guided missiles on the enemy jets without using the radar.

It was also the first aircraft to use composite materials under its construction, as well as the helmet-mounted aiming system which allows pilots to lock unto enemy jets, and launch a missile just by looking.

New R-73 missiles would also make it more efficient in combat since they’re extremely agile in thrust vectoring systems and could be launched off-board while maneuvering where the pilot could take evasive action at the same time.

So, What Happened?

The MiG-29 was never a bad jet, only that it was never properly developed for its role. While the Soviets were careful not to leak to the West information about this aircraft, one man destroyed it all.

Phazotron engineer Adolf Tolkachev sold the CIA information about the all-new Soviet electronics and missiles including the radar for the MiG-29. The Soviets later redeveloped a modernization of the MiG-29a into MiG-29s, and made other variants such as the MiG-9m and the MiG-29k. 

However, they came at the wrong time after the Chornobyl disaster in 1986, and with the Soviet economy dwindling, these projects were at the bottom of the priority list, and were soon canceled.