Continued From Part I

‘Its’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ -Mark Twain

MiG-29 In Actual Air Battles

For a fighter so loved by pilots, and with such formidable close combat capability, MiG-29 has done poorly in actual air battles.

Two Syrian MiG-29 were shot down by Israeli F-15s in air combat in 1989; and two more were reportedly shot down in 2001.

During the Gulf War (1990-91), five Iraqi MiG-29s were shot down by American F-15s.

During the bombing campaign over Kosov in 1999, sixteen MiG-29s of Serbian Air Force engaged in air battle with F-15s and F-16s. Five MiG-29 were shot down without causing any loss to the adversary.

The MiG-29 losses were not because the fighter was inferior, but because the men manning the machines, the MiG-29 pilots, were inferior, were poorly trained, had low skill.

India’s Upgraded MiG-29UPG

Realizing that future air battles will be tilted towards BVR battles where MiG-29 is weak, India decided to upgrade its MiG-29 fleet to UPG fit, to give it better BVR capability and to convert it from an air superiority fighter to a multi role fighter.

Upgraded MiG-29 UBG In BVR And Close Combat

In BVR battle, MiG-29 was outclassed by western fighters. But MiG-29UPG will have radar, IRTS, and BVR and close combat missiles that match the adversary’s:

Phazotron Zhuk-M all-weather multimode airborne radar. In air to air mode, it can detect targets at 120 km, track up to 10 targets and attack four targets simultaneously. In air-to-surface mode it can detect a tank 25 km, a bridge 120 km, and a naval destroyer 300 km away. Two surface targets can be tracked simultaneously.

OLS-UEM IRST sensor with laser, thermal-imaging, and television capabilities. Detects airborne targets at 15 to 55 km at +/- 90-degree in azimuth and +60-degree to -15-degree in elevation. It allows ‘silent’ search for and attack on targets, that is, without the target knowing that it is being tracked.

Astra all weather BVR air-to-air missile, speed 4.5 Mach, ceiling 20 km. It can engage targets at distance of 10 km to 110 km and can be launched in autonomous or buddy mode, with Lock-On-Before Launch (LOBL) or Lock-On After Launch (LOAL). It has good Electronic Counter-Countermeasure (ECCM) that enable it to function in Electronic Countermeasure (ECM) environment.

R-77 RVV-AE (AA-12 ‘Adder’) medium range, active radar homing, air-to-air missile. Operating altitude 5m to 25 km, speed 4.5 Mach, maximum turn rate of up to 150° per second, maximum range 80 km, guidance inertial with mid-course update, and within 20 km of its target switch to active radar homing.

R-74 Close combat IR missile with ±60° off-boresight and improved IRCCM (Infrared Counter-Countermeasures). It will be replaced by the next generation ASRAAM (Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missile) which can be launched in LOBL or LOAL modes. Speed over Mach 3, range 50 km, 50g manoeuvrability. ASRAAM outperforms all existing short-range close-combat missiles.

Kh-35, all-weather, subsonic, anti-ship missile. Range 130 km, speed 0.8 Mach, guidance inertial and from 20 km from target inertial and active radar. Low signature, approach target at extremely low altitude from 20 km.

Other Major Improvements In MiG-29UPG Are:

Weapons load increased to 4,500 kg on six underwing and one ventral hard points like the MiG-35
Secure datalink system to enable guidance from AWACS and ground radar.
New RWR which can identify the type of enemy radar and cue the AESA jammers with high ERP (Emitted Radiated Power) for effective electronic countermeasures (ECM).
Enhanced HOTAS (hands on throttle and stick) design.
Glass cockpit with new Head Up Display (HUD).
Two wide-screen multifunction colour displays (MFD). MFD is a small-screen LCD surrounded by multiple buttons that are used to display the desired information to the pilot.
Increase of 40% in range to 2,100 km on internal fuel
inflight refuelling by retractable probe
maintenance cost reduced by about 40%.
Life increased to another 15 years of use

Why Not More MiG-29UPG

If MiG-29UPG is such a great fighter, why not more of them rather than the costlier Western fighters like the Rafale? Because MiG-29UPG still does not match up with modern jet fighters in BVR air-battle and in attack on surface

targets. Its shortfalls in BVR air-battle role have already been pointed out. In attack role, its weapons load, 4,500 kg, is about half that of Rafale – 9,000 kg, F/A 18 – 8050 kg F 15 E – 10,500 Kg. And its range/radius-of-action is less than that of the western multi role fighters.

If MiG-29 is upgraded to match present day Western fighters like Rafale, it will cost nearly as much as Rafale. Moreover the fifth generation fighters like America’s F 22 and F 35, China’s J 20, Russia’s Su 57 have stealth, advanced avionics, and integrated computer systems that can network with other systems in the battlespace for situation awareness.

Also, MiG-29UPG’s airframe life and engine life, about 4,000 hours, is less than Western fighters about 6,000 hours. Its airframes deteriorate rapidly later in life and requires extensive and expensive maintenance to keep it flying. And its serviceability and therefore availability is less than that of the Western fighters.


From 1990s-to early 21st century, MiG-29 was among the most potent air superiority fighters, and better than any fighter in close combat. But its Beyond Visual Range (BVR) battle abilities were much less than the Western fighters. The future air battles are tilted towards BVR battles. Therefore, India has decided to upgrade its MiG-29 fleet to MiG-29 UBG multirole fighter from air superiority fighter. MiG-29UPG will be a potent attack aircraft while still retaining good capability as air defence fighter, so it can be used for point defence. The main attraction of MiG-29 UBG is its lower cost: about one third the cost of Western fighters like Rafale. Its main shortcomings are in radar, avionics, secure data links, and computer systems integrated with other elements in the battle airspace, like AWACS and ground radars. And in lower airframe and engine life and lower reliability and serviceability/availability.

New MiG-29 airframes are lying unused in Russia. Therefore, MiG-29UPG will be available in shorter time frame and at lower cost and will help to ameliorate the declining fighter strength of the Indian Air Force (IAF). That will give breathing time to the government and the IAF to select fourth generation fighters to meet its present needs. And to study where and when fifth generation fighters fit in with its future needs.

Our discussion here is bookish. Indian Air Force (IAF) was the first international customer of MiG-29. It has operated these fighters for over thirty years. IAF has twice participated in exercise Red Flag in the US with its Su 30 Mk 1 and Jaguar fighters. We should leave it to the professionals of the IAF to decide, based on the organisation’s wide experience, where MiG-29 UBG fits in vis-à-vis the more expensive Western fighters.