MiG-29 Jets: Why India & Dozens Of Other Air Forces Continue To Bet Big On A 50-Year Old Aircraft?

Africa’s largest country, Algeria, has received its first batch of MiG-29M fighters last month, for which a contract was signed to procure 14 MiG-29M/M2 variants in 2019 during the international military fair – MAKS.

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These advanced medium weight multirole fighters came to the country unassembled, where they were subsequently built in Algeria’s aviation facilities.

But what is special about these MiG-29s, which are considered old and obsolete according to the modern standards, pushed the country to make this purchase?

The first MiG-29 was rolled out and inducted into the Soviet Air Force almost 40 years ago to counter the American F-15 Eagle and F-16 Falcon. It was a superb and successful design and made its way into service with the Air Forces of more than 25 countries, even including the United States itself (which used for evaluation and testing and preventing their sales to Iran).

India was the first export customer of these jets.

While the airframe design is almost half a decade old, the jet still continues to overwhelm its American-made rivals over the battlefields in the Middle-East. Just like the F-15s and F-16s developed into their modern versions upgraded with newer generation avionics, so did the Russians, upgrading the MiG-29 to the newer standards.

The MiG-29 is highly respected due to its agility, maneuverability, and reliability.

The aircraft represents an extensive modernization of the most advanced medium weight fighter of the Cold War era, the MiG-29A, and unlike other modernized variants such as the MiG-29SMT recently delivered to Syria or the MiG-29UPG on order from India (stated as the most advanced MiG-29 variant by Mikoyan), they use new airframes with advanced composite materials and a distinctively different appearance.

The MiG-29M also has a highly capable twin-seat variant, the MiG-29M2, which is expected to be received as part of the order. Unlike the older twin-seat variants of the MiG-29s, the MiG-29M2 does not make compromises to sensor suite to accommodate an extra crew member and is designed for high-end combat rather than exclusively for training.

Interestingly, the MiG-29M was developed from the carrier-based MiG-29K variant of the aircraft family. Having a tougher and revised design, the new airframes were constructed from a lightweight Aluminium-lithium alloy to increase the thrust-to-weight ratio.

The air intake ramps’ geometry was revised, the upper intake louvers were removed to make way for more fuel in the LERXs, mesh screens introduced to prevent foreign object damage (FOD), and inlet dimensions were enlarged for higher airflow.

File:Bangladesh Air Force MiG-29 (crpped).jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Bangladesh Air Force MiG-29

Main sensor upgrades consist of the Zhuk-ME pulse-Doppler airborne radar, along with revised IRST systems, a helmet-mounted target designation system, and electronic countermeasures. The new radar is capable of detecting air targets at ranges up to 120 km, track-while-scan of ten targets while engaging four targets at a time.

The aircraft is also fitted with the new RD-33MK engine, which has 7% more thrust than its predecessors. For air-to-air combat, its weapons package includes the R-77 and R-27 beyond visual range missiles,  R-73 short-range missiles, and is fitted with a 30mm Gsh-30-1 cannon (which is also fitted in the Flanker family of aircraft).

For air-to-surface operations, it can operate the Kh-29, Kh-31, Kh-35 missiles, and various precision-guided bombs.

The Algerian Air Force currently operates 32 MiG-29 variants already and would have no issues in assimilating the aircraft into its inventory. It also operates the Su-30MKA aircraft, which is an Algeria-specific variant of the Su-30 based on the Indian Su-30MKI.

It was also reported that the country might be the first official export customer for Russia’s 5th-generation Su-57 fighter jet.