Military Aviation

The Iraqi MiG-21 F-14 Killer than never was: the story of the MiG-21 Jay Fighter

Is there a chance for such an aircraft to have ever shot down an IRIAF F-14?

This is to address one of perhaps best known mis-references regarding Arab combat aircraft. This time word is about an aircraft of the Iraqi Air Force (IrAF) from the 1980s, differently described as ‘MiG-21MF’ or ‘MiG-21bis’ by various sources, and even claimed to be an ‘F-14 killer’.

The first time I’ve heard of the aircraft in question was back in 1989-1991 period, around the time Superscale Decals issued its sheet No. 72-607 (click here for the sheet).

This is including markings and partial colour reference for Iraqi ‘MiG-21MF’ with serial number ‘681’. Correspondingly, the aircraft in question should have been painted in sand and brown, and then should have received a big black serial number roughly resembling the word ‘JAI’ on its forward fuselage.

A year or more later, certain publisher in the USA brought a corresponding colour profile in one of its books about the Operation Desert Storm (i.e. the II Persian Gulf War, fought 1991), and then various of modell-makers launched related kits too – one even calling its issue a ‘Jay-Fighter’.

One of many illustrations based on decal-references for the ‘Jay-fighter’ – i.e. the supposed Iraqi MIG-21MF or MiG-21bis with serial number ‘681’ – that were published by different decal- and kit manufacturers in period 1989-1995. In the case of this illustration, the artist went a step further and added French-made Matra R.550 Magic (Mk.1) air-to-air missiles to the aircraft. A few of IrAF’s MiG-21bis were modified to carry Magics already in September, but all of these had serials in range 12xx (or higher).

To keep the long story a short one, decades of research later, I can only conclude there was never any such MiG-21MF and/or MiG-21bis in Iraq. However, that’s no end of this story.

First thing important to know when researching about markings of Iraqi combat aircraft is that from its establishment in 1931 until 1989, the IrAF used to issue serial numbers in sequence of delivery. In simplest words: the first Iraqi military aircraft ever – a de Havilland DH.60M delivered in April 1931 – wore the serial number 1. Subsequent serials went up, one by one, via – for example – ’79 for a Gladiator delivered in 1939, or ‘131’ for a Northrop 8A-4D delivered in April 1940, to ‘677’ for a Hunter F.Mk 59B delivered in 1965.

681 should have been applied to a batch of four MiG-21FLs that might have – this remains unconfirmed – been delivered to Iraq in 1966. As far as I can say, there’s no photographic evidence. Alternatively, certain sources claim 681 to have been the first Sukhoi Su-7BMK delivered to Iraq. However, this is entirely out of question: Iraq placed its first order for Su-7BMKs only after the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, and the first of these were delivered only late that, or early the next year, by when deliveries of additional MiG-21s and Aero L-29s ‘drove’ the IrAF’s serialling system up to 755 (the first confirmed serial number of an Iraqi Su-7BMK).

Another detail one must keep in mind is that the IrAF did not use any kind of camouflage colours before 1973. Sure, its Furies, Vampires, Venoms and Hunters arrived in Iraq already wearing camouflage colours, back in the 1950s and then in the 1960s. But, these were applied before delivery, in the UK. MiG-17s, MiG-21s and similar types delivered during the 1960s were all left in ‘bare Metall overall’ (actual story of which deserves a post on its own).

This very interesting MiG-21FL was found by US troops in Iraq, in April 2003. While serial number 21112 (clearly readable on the forward fuselage) was applied in 1989, its original serial number – 645 – can be found near the top of the fin, too.
Foremost notable is that exactly 20 years since its deployment in Syria during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973, the aircraft still wore a camouflage pattern applied in Syria, and in SyAAF’s standard colours – orange-sand and blue-green.

Thus, the first IrAF aircraft to receive some kind of ‘genuine’ camouflage pattern were MiG-21 and Su-7s deployed to Syria during the October 1973 War with Israel (these were followed by IrAF’s MiG-17F & MiG-17PFs, which in turn caused mis-reporting about ‘camouflaged Syrian MiG-17PFs’). However, these were applied only after their arrival in Syria, and then in colours that were available in situ – i.e. those used by the Syrian Arab Air Force.

That’s how comes that then photos appeared of IrAF’s MiG-21FLs and MiG-212PFMs from the 1980s and again after 2003, painted in orange-sand and blue-green. Attached below are two examples – MiG-21FL ‘645’ (later 21112), and MiG-21PFM ‘857’ – both of which used to serve with No. 9 Squadron, IrAF, in Syria, in October 1973.

All of this leads to following conclusions:

– an Iraqi MiG-21 with serial number 681 might have existed, but there is no clear evidence for this.

– If it did exist, it could have been no MF nor bis, not even a PFM: serial number 681 was applied in 1966 – when it was much too early for Iraq to get any of these variants.

This is a reconstruction of the MiG-21FL ‘645’ as she appeared while serving with No. 9 Squadron, IrAF, when that unit was deployed in Syria, during the Arab-Israeli War of 1973. If there was an Iraqi MiG-21FL with serial number ‘681’, it was almost certainly camouflaged at the same opportunity – and thus painted in same colours.

– Except for earlier fighter jets made in the UK, no IrAF fighter jets were ever camouflaged in sand and brown; various MiGs and Sukhois deployed to Syria in 1973 were camouflaged in orange-sand and blue-green, while others were camouflaged in Iraq of the mid-1970s, and then in beige and olive green.

Therefore, there is a chance that ‘681’ might have been one of mounts of No. 9 Squadron deployed to Syria in 1973. If so, then the aircraft was actually camouflaged in SyAAF’s standard colours – orange-sand and blue-green on to surfaces, and an unknown shade of light blue-grey on undersurfaces.

Ah yes… and is there a chance for such an aircraft to have ever shot down an IRIAF F-14?

As of 1980, all such ‘old’ MiG-21s (F-13s, FLs and PFMs) still in service with the IrAF were concentrated into No. 17 and No. 27 Operational Conversion Units. These were advanced training assets, but also units with a secondary combat task. Indeed, there is an undated claim from autumn 1980, about a youngster IrAF pilot claiming an IRIAF F-14 as shot down.

However, there is no evidence for the Iranians to have suffered any such losses. Furthermore, the IrAF ceased using its MiG-21s as interceptors after early 1981, and thus they’ve got no opportunity for any such kills at a later date.

A reconstruction of the IrAF MiG-21PFM serial number ‘758’, as photographed by a French photographer at Saddam AB (‘Qayyarah West’), in Iraq, in 1984. The aircraft still wore a camouflage pattern applied during its deployment to Syria, in 1973. I see this camouflage pattern and colours in question (the photo taken by the French photographer was in full colour and high resolution) as reinforcing my theory that – if there was an Iraqi MiG-21 with serial number 681 – then it was painted in same fashion. Furthermore, it almost certainly had much smaller serials than usually offered by various decal producers – and these must have been applied in ‘SyAAF-style’, i.e. on the front fuselage, but also near the top of the fin, too (the IrAF had no practice of ‘repeating’ serials of its aircraft near the top of their fins).

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

Photo credit: Scale Mates, Tom Cooper and ACIG

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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