Military Aviation

Syrian MiG-29 Fulcrum Fleet is in bad shape, here’s why

Syrian MiG-29-fleet is in very poor condition, as obvious from the recent crash of the jet flown by Col. Yunes al-Makdid, near Shayrat AB.

Since several media outlets are spreading fake news on the Syrian Arab Air Force (SyAAF) MiG-29s, here are few words in this regards.

All the reports about Syrian MiG-29s ‘now/recently’ receiving R-77s from Russia and thus obtaining some kind of a new, special, previously non-available capability – are nonsense. Fake news.

The Syrian MiG-29 fleet was overhauled and upgraded by ‘The Works’ (central overhaul facility at Nayrab AB, which is the military side of Aleppo International Airport), back in 2011-2012. You’ve seen photos shot by ‘Luftwaffe A.S.‘ at the time: these were repeatedly re-posted and forwarded around the internet and should be more than ‘well-known’.

The upgrade in question has brought their avionics to that of the MiG-29SM-like standard (mind: Izdliye 8.19, not the Izdeliye 9.13M, 9.17 or 9.19/9.19R). Means, they have received the N019ME radar and thus became compatible with weapons like R-77 (aka RVV-AE, aka AA-12 Adder), but also with PGMs like Kh-29 (AS-14 Kedge).

However, and like MiG-29SEs exported to Yemen, they did not get that ‘hump’ with a 950-litre dorsal fuel tank, like Soviet/Russian MiG-29SMTs (or MiG-29SEs exported to Sudan, and MiG-29SMs exported to Peru, for example). Even less so have they got the FGM29 Zhuk-ME radar like MiG-29SMTs (Izdeliye 9.18) made for Yemen.

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Correspondingly, it was already at the same time – back in 2011-2012 – that the Syrians also bought a batch of R-77s for their ‘new’ MiGs. This should have become obvious at least in 2013-2014, when first photos appeared of them carrying the AKU-170 and APU-58 launch rails.

That’s why all the stories about Syrian MiG-29s ‘now’ receiving R-77s are hogwash.

Indeed, when the Turks have shot down the Russian Su-24MK, on Nov. 24, 2015, the VKS had no own R-77s on stock. The reason was that – and as reported already years ago – Russia had no R-77s in production before 2016 (all R-77s manufactured before that date were made in Ukraine and for export purposes only). Thus, in its rush to improve the air-to-air armament of its own Su-30SMs, it borrowed some from the SyAAF.

The VKS might now have delivered a new batch of R-77s to the Assadists, but if so: then in order to replace the rounds it has borrowed in 2015. Moreover, this is neither a ‘new’ nor any kind of ‘special’ capability. Indeed, it’s changing nothing about the fact that the SyAAF’s MiG-29-fleet is once again in very poor condition, as obvious from the recent crash of the jet flown by Col. Yunes al-Makdid, near Shayrat AB.

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

Tom Cooper

Tom Cooper is an Austrian aerial warfare analyst and historian. Following a career in the worldwide transportation business – during which he established a network of contacts in the Middle East and Africa – he moved into narrow-focus analysis and writing on small, little-known air forces and conflicts, about which he has collected extensive archives. This has resulted in specialisation in Middle Eastern, African and Asian air forces. As well as authoring and co-authoring 560 books and over 1,000 articles, he has co-authored the Arab MiGs book series – a six-volume, in-depth analysis of the Arab air forces at war with Israel, in the 1955–73 period. Cooper has been working as editor of the five @War series since 2017.

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