Combat aircraft aren’t some kind of medieval knights on a jousting tournament. They’re not even ‘Spitfires vs Bf.109s’ any more. On the contrary, modern aerial warfare is one of most complex disciplines in the history of humankind.
Again and again, I’m getting the same question, usually in style of ‘who would win a 1-v-1, F-16 or MiG-29‘?
Please people, get it into your heads, finally: that’s not how modern warfare works. Combat aircraft aren’t some kind of medieval knights on a jousting tournament. They’re not even ‘Spitfires vs Bf.109s’ any more. On the contrary, modern aerial warfare is one of most complex disciplines in the history of humankind.
Nowadays, nobody – repeat for emphasis: nobody – is as stupid as to operate single combat aircraft entirely on their own. Even smaller air forces are going to support their F-16s or MiG-29s with at least ground-based early warning/surveillance radars, COMINT/SIGINT (i.e. ELINT) assets, probably also with help of electronic support measures (ESM, like electronic countermeasures: ECM). Combat aircraft – and their pilots – are much too expensive, much too vulnerable, much too much a matter of national prestige – but to get blown up just because somebody there was too lazy, incompetent, or simply incapable of providing them the support they need to ‘work’ (i.e. function as designed and intended).
Moreover, the essence of modern aerial warfare is something called ‘situational awareness’ (SA). SA consists of finding out where is the enemy, what are enemy’s intentions and capabilities, and then killing that enemy – and denying all the same to the enemy. The situation in regards of the SA is such that in every air war since around 1968 one side usually has it, and the other not. The side in possession of the SA (or at least ‘superior SA’) wins, something like 1934% of times. The side without the SA is losing, every time.
Thus, when you ask me ‘who would win a 1-v-1, F-16 or MiG-29’, first thing coming to my mind is to ask you back such stuff like, What kind of support platforms are around? …and only then: what version of F-16? What version of MiG-29? What armament? In what position vis-a-vis each other are they? What’s the local terrain and weather…?…and that’s just the start.
Check what happened the last week over NW Syria.
– Turkish F-16C Block 40/50s, supported by E-7 AWACS and a host of advanced ground-based radars, Koral ECM-systems, armed with AIM-120C-7s, etc…
– Syrian MiG-29SEs, supported by obsolete ground-based radars, minimum ECM-systems (if any), and armed with R-77.
Outcome? 2 Syrian Su-24MK2s, 1 L-39, perhaps also a Mi-25 splashed, all by AIM-120-C-7-shots taken with help of E-7s, launched from within the Turkish airspace. The Syrians never got as far as to at least get any of their MiG-29s near the combat zone – and they’re unlikely to risk doing anything of that kind: you can bet your annual income, they know why.
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Photo credit: U.S. Air Force