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Russia operates some 400 Mikoyan MiG-29 multi-role fighters, aircraft seen here belongs to German air forces

The MiG-29 was developed to meet a Soviet Air Force requirement for a lightweight multi-role fighter. It was a Soviet response to the American F-16 multi-role fighter. With its stunning maneuverability, the MiG-29 re-established the Soviet Union’s reputation as a producer of capable combat aircraft. This fighter is known in the West as the Fulcrum. The MiG-29 was built in substantial numbers. About 1 600 fighters of this type were built. Most of them (about 900) were exported. After Russia, Ukraine is the next major operator with six regiments (including Fulcrum-Cs). Other operators are Belarus, Bulgaria, Cuba, Eritrea, Germany, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Malaysia, Peru, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Yugoslavia. The MiG-29s serve primarily as air defense fighters. All operators have small numbers of MiG-29UB two-seat conversion trainers.

Incorporating an advanced aerodynamic design, the MiG-29 has a N-019 pulse-Doppler radar (NATO reporting name Slot Back) as its primary sensor; this is allied to an infra-red search and track for passive tracking of targets.

The 9-12 prototype made its first flight in 1977, and the type entered service with Soviet Frontal Aviation in 1986. Replacing MiG-23, the MiG-29 was assigned dual air superiority and ground-ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ roles. Fighter regiments were also tasked with tactical nuclear strike with 30 kT RN-40 nuclear ʙᴏᴍʙs.

The basic MiG-29 has proved itself as a formidable close-in dogfighter. The pilot has a helmet-mounted sight to cue missiles onto an off-boresight target. The very agile R-73 missile remains widely viewed as the best close combat air-to-air weαpσn . However, the MiG-29s primary beyond visual range weαpσn , the R-27 (Western reporting name AA-10 Alamo) is no more than adequate. Furthermore, the RD-33 engines suffer from low maintainability, and the MiG-29 is also handicapped by its lack of range and endurance. The latter parameters were addressed by an improved 9-13 variant allocated the NATO reporting name Fulcrum-C. This featured a bulged and extended spine, which houses both fuel and avionics, including an active jammer. Commonly nicknamed Gorbatov (hunchback), this variant was built alongside the standard 9-12 MiG-29s.

To address the shortcomings of the baseline MiG-29 the design bureau developed two radically-improved variants. Both the MiG-29M and naval MiG-29K fell victim to fierce spending cuts after the Cold ᴡᴀʀ and their further development was halted. MiG MAPO chose to pursue more limited upgrade programmes for more immediate application to Russian and export baseline MiG-29s.

The MiG-29S upgrade was applied to a limited number of Russian 9-13 MiG-29s, the first phase introducing provision for underwing fuel tanks. It remains unclear if further phased improvements were applied. These included a doubling of the ᴡᴀʀload, provision for in-flight refueling and an upgraded NO19MP Topaz radar with simultaneous dual target engagement capability. The radar would have given compatibility with R-77 beyond visual range air-to-air missiles. Such features were subsequently offered for export MiG-29s, along with Western navigation and communications equipment as well as a bolt-on retractable in-flight refueling probe.

The standard export MiG-29S was known as the MiG-29SD for 9-12 airframes and as the MiG-29SE when based on the 9-13 airframe. Malaysia’s MiG-29Ns are effectively MiG-29SDs. While these versions were marketed as air superiority fighters, the MiG-29SM stressed its multi-role capability with TV- and laser-guided air-to-surface weαpσns.