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Here’s why ‘who would win a 1-v-1 air engagement, (Turkish) F-16 or (Syrian) MiG-29?’ is a No Go Question

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.

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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.

Check out Helion & Company website for books featuring interesting stories written by The Aviation Geek Club contributor Tom Cooper.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

This print is available in multiple sizes from AircraftProfilePrints.com – CLICK HERE TO GET YOURS. F-16C Fighting Falcon 192nd FS / 192 Filo, 2005

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Traveller45 Mar 12 2020 - 12:57 AM
This discussion is not new. I am well aware of all that. At the same time aerial combat still requires combat. It's not such a foregone conclusion as all that. Also, why do nations such as Serbia of Milosevic, in his day in Kosovo 1998, go to the expense of maintaining MiG 29 armed and ready in camouflaged mountain bases with huge steel doors, and likewise later Saddam, if they won't use them to save their rearside? "Keep them intact" like the Kaiser did with his fleet? For what?
Tom Cooper Mar 12 2020 - 1:08 PM
Iraq of 1991 depended on its KARI IADS for air defence. This was custom-tailored for countering local threats (foremost that of Iran, to a lesser degree that of Israel). Unsurprisingly, it was overwhelmed and then knocked out within 48 hours when facing a massive aerial offensive. That, plus the fact the type (and its entire weapons system) was compromised by Adolf Tolkachev already before entering service, resulted in a situation where Iraqi MiG-29s were all the time fighting a lost battle. Similarly, Serbia of 1999 was barely able to keep its MiG-29s flyable. No matter how skilled their pilots were (they were definitely courageous and experienced on the type, but flew only around 40 hours a year), their radars, RWRs etc. all malfunctioned after take-offs. That much about these two topics. Nowadays, one could ask why are Assadists keeping their MiG-29s in flyable condition: yes, it's like the Kaiser Willhelm's fleet. A matter of 'national' prestige.
Nefarius Mar 12 2020 - 2:35 PM
Hi Tom, all you say is right, maybe the question should be re-phrased. Something like what should happen for an F-16 to get in a dogfight with a MIG-29 without missiles, support and balanced characteristics in power, fuel supply, pilot training, etc... and in your personal opinion which would come home after the encounter.
Tom Cooper Mar 12 2020 - 4:05 PM
That would mean that plenty of things went wrong - on both sides. Indeed, so many, that it's extremely unlikely. This is also why nothing similar has ever happened even once in the last 30 years of air warfare.
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