Dubai Air Show

MiG-29 has grown into multirole uses

 - December 11, 2006, 7:30 AM

Regarded as a prime example of Russian expertise in fighter design, the MiG-29 has become a classic much admired for its ability to perform extreme maneuvers–not least on the international airshow circuit. However, as perceptions of potential threats have changed, so too the MiG-29 has developed from a dedicated fighter/interceptor into a multi-role combat aircraft with a much enhanced capability for attack against ground and naval targets.

This progression is reflected in the MiG-29SMT model that is being demonstrated here at Dubai 2005. With a maximum takeoff weight of 44,761 pounds, this model is powered by RD-33 series 3/2 engines, which give it a maximum operational ceiling of more than 58,000 feet. It has a maximum 9g capability but can carry a combat payload of more than 11,000 pounds.

But statistics tell only a part of the story. The airframe of the MiG-29SMT has been strengthened to cope with these developments, while the aircraft features a radical avionics upgrade that includes the Zhuk-ME advanced multimode Doppler radar, a multichannel navigation system, new multifunction displays and an open architecture based on MIL-STD-1553B.

This will enable customers to specify avionics produced by Western companies. The aircraft’s operational radius and combat endurance can be increased by the use of in-flight refueling made possible by a new fuel system.

The new-generation Zhuk-ME radar is particularly suited for the engagement of surface targets out to a range of some 65 nm, as well as for the simultaneous tracking of up to 10 targets, and to attack four. The MiG-29 is in service with more than 25 countries worldwide and MiG is confident that the SMT variant will stimulate further sales.

First deliveries were made last year and negotiations expected to result in sales to other countries are in progress. Moreover, some special modifications have been introduced to ease the operation of the MiG-29 in NATO environments, such programs having been developed for Slovakia, Hungary and some other European countries equipped with the fighter.

In the Soviet days, Russia had a poor reputation for support services, but today MiG operators are offered help in the development of service centers in country while a new system of integrated logistic support has been developed. Meanwhile, on-condition maintenance principles are being applied.

All Russian-built MiG-29s are produced at four sites located near the design bureau, thus easing the supervision of upgrades and special modifications. But in addition to specific upgrades, work is in progress on the implementation of life extension programs.

Although the SMT is the most advanced version of the MiG-29 currently available, the OVT version with its thrust vectoring controls enables the aircraft to perform unique maneuvers in both vertical and horizontal planes. The resultant double somersault and “boomerang” maneuvers are exciting to watch but could also provide critical advantages to a pilot faced with close-in combat.

As the MiG-29 is a light fighter it does not compete directly with the heavier Sukhoi designs and in the same way it would be invidious to compare the Russian fighter with its Western counterparts. But it is noteworthy that the MiG-29 has won several orders in open competition (such as in India where the MiG-29K was selected over the Dassault Rafale as a carrier-based fighter). And in some cases, orders have been placed for both the Russian and a Western fighter, each to play a particular role (such as Malaysia which bought both MiG-29s and Boeing F/A 18s).

The type of weapons carried could swing the deal. For example, the close-in combat performance of the MiG-29 is enhanced by the use of a helmet-mounted target designation system firing R-73 missiles and no competing Western country has an in-service supersonic antiship missile such as the Kh-31A.