MiG game in Africa
The Russian Aircraft Corporation (RAC) MiG company is hoping that new variants will repeat the success of the original MiG-29 in Africa. Jon Lake reports.
The original MiG-29 was exported in relatively large numbers to Africa and it is one of the most numerous fourth generation fighters in service on the continent.
Algeria took most of these, and the aircraft was exported in much smaller quantities to Chad, Eritrea and Sudan, with a total of about 80 overall.
Now MiG hopes that a new generation of aircraft will also find favour on the continent.
That hope has been boosted by a 46-aircraft launch order from Egypt for the new MiG-29M2, which offers a significant improvement in range and air-to-ground capabilities, in particular.
The Egypt order has provided a lifeline for the struggling MiG company, and for the second-generation MiG-29 programme. Since the end of the Cold War, domestic Russian fighter orders were overwhelmingly given to MiG’s rival, Sukhoi (also part of the United Aircraft Corporation or UAC), while many of MiG’s traditional customers turned to western fighter aircraft.
RAC MiG consists of the old Mikoyan OKB (design bureau) and two of its traditional factories – the MiG Manufacturing Complex No1 at Lukhovitsy and the MiG Manufacturing Complex No2, the old Znamya Truda plant in Moscow.
An Indian Navy order for 45 MiG-29K/KUBs allowed the launch of a ‘second generation’ of MiG-29 variants. These were based on the improved MiG-29M (which had the internal Mikoyan OKB model number 9-15), six prototypes of which were built between 1986 and 1991.
The 9-15 featured airframe enhancements and a new three-channel fly-by-wire (FBW) flight control system. It was powered by improved RD-33 series 3M engines. The aircraft was also known as the MiG-29ME and as the MiG-33.
The 9-15 formed the basis of the MiG-29 MRCA offered to meet the Indian multi-role combat aircraft requirement. One aircraft was subsequently converted to two-seat configuration and served as the carrier-borne MiG-29KUB prototype (9-47) with folding wings, bigger flaps and bigger horizontal tailplanes. Another, also configured as a two-seater, became the MiG-29M2 prototype (9-67 or 9-47SM).
The MiG-29M2 and MiG-29KUB formed what was called a ‘unified fighter family’, with a near-common airframe and many common systems.
Both variants had nine external hard points, enhanced air-to-ground weapons aiming software, increased internal fuel capacity, a retractable in-flight refuelling probe, smokeless RD-33MK engines, and an infrared search-and-track (IRST) system with TV and laser channels, integrated with a new helmet-mounted target designation system.
Both types have single-seat variants, with extra fuel in place of the rear cockpit, but retaining the same two-seat cockpit canopy. The single-seat carrier aircraft is the MiG-29K (9-41), while the single-seat version of the MiG-29M2 uses the MiG-29M (9-61 or 9-41SM) designation.
Two prototypes (one single-seat, one two-seat) were built to meet a Syrian requirement before this was cancelled, and the Syrian variant (effectively a land-based MiG-29K/KUB) subsequently formed the basis of the aircraft sold to Egypt in April 2015.
The United States suspended arms supplies to Egypt after the overthrow of the Islamist President Mohammad Morsi by the Egyptian military in July 2013. This prompted Egypt to diversify future arms purchases. Thus, when Egypt needed a replacement for its ageing fleet of MiG-21s, it turned to France and Russia, placing an order for 16 two-seat Dassault Rafale Bs and eight single-seat Rafale Cs in February 2015, and for 46 MIG-29Ms and MiG-29M2s in April 2015.
Egypt was originally hoping to acquire the MiG-35, a more advanced MiG-29 derivative, which added active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, thrust vectoring and other improvements. However, it opted for the Syrian configuration in order to get the aircraft into service more rapidly. In the event, this was a wise move, as the AESA radar and thrust vectoring engines were quietly dropped from the MiG-35 variant selected for Russian service.
The first Egyptian aircraft was spotted at the factory wearing a sand and stone camouflage, with turquoise undersides, in April 2017, though subsequent aircraft wore a more conventional two-tone grey camouflage. Deliveries began in September 2017.
The new variant had greater internal fuel capacity than its predecessor, and could carry a payload of up to 7,000kg on its six underwing hardpoints, but this was partly offset by the engines, which produced 7% more power.
The MiG-29M2 carries a threat warning system in pods mounted under the engine nacelles, but the Egyptian Air Force aircraft do not have the OLS-K electro-optical air-to-ground targeting and surveillance system developed for the second generation MiG-29. Instead, the aircraft can carry a T220/e targeting pod produced by the Precision Instruments System Joint Stock Company. This incorporates a thermal imager and TV camera and a laser rangefinder and designator.
The Egyptian aircraft were fitted with an MSP electronic warfare system, and possibly an Elettronica ELT/568(V)2 self-protection jammer.
The aircraft were delivered with a range of weaponry, including short-range IR-homing R-73 (AA-11 ‘Archer’) and medium-range active radar homing RVV-AE or R-77 (AA-12 Adder ‘Amraamski’) air-to-air missiles. For air-to-ground use, the MiG-29M and MiG-29M2 use Kh-29 ‘Kedge’ missiles and KAB-500 500kg guided bombs, with various guidance mechanisms.
AS-14 Kedge is a supersonic Russian counterpart to the US AGM-65 Maverick and the French AS.30, albeit with a bigger 320kg (700lb) warhead. It is primarily intended for interdiction and close air support missions, and for the maritime attack roles. It has the ability to be used against hardened concrete structures.
The Kh-29TE uses an electro-optical (daylight television) seeker, while the Kh-29L is laser guided, and the Kh-29TD has a thermal imaging seeker.
The KAB-500Kr is the TV-guided version of the 500kg smart bomb, while the KAB-500L employs laser guidance, giving a circular error probable (CEP) of 7-10 metres. The KAB-500-OD has TV/terrain-matching guidance. The weapon is optimised for use against small-sized stationary or slow-moving hardened targets on the ground or sea surface.
In October 2018, during a visit to the Egyptian MiG-29M/M2 base by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian Air Force revealed that Kh-31 (AS-17 Krypton) missiles had been delivered for use on the aircraft. It was not clear whether these were the Kh-31AD anti-ship variant or the Kh-31PD anti-radiation versions of the missile.
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