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MiG-23MLD vs Western Fighters – the Soviet Air Force View Alexander Mladenov looks at the former Soviet

Air Force concepts, dating from the mid-1980s, for the MiG-23MLD’s employment in the air superiority role pitted against the F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2 Although for the this article day. the can In aging 1997 be regarded the as being CIS the of somewhat and

historical value, in fact it still has a certain practical value present Europe Russia, and other but in republics from Third Eastern Flogger 2002, was retired service World



countries, considered hostile to the West, the type is regarded yet as mature and capable enough design, performing useful work in the air-to-air role, with perhaps better mission capable rates than the early-series MiG-29s operated by those nations. As many as 30 fighter Floggers are believed to be maintained in combatready state by the Iraqi Air Force; no less than 60 more are in service with the Syrian air arm (including more than 40 highlymodified MiG-23MLDs); the Cuban Air Force has on strength slightly less than three dozens MiG-23MF/MLAs; and more than 40 Flogger-Gs continue to soldier on with the North Korean Air Force. Some of the countries on the rogue list have determined and skilled Flogger pilots and to underestimate them and their mounts would be foolish, and, in case of war, potentially dangerous. The Bekaa Valley Defeat – a Stimulus for Further Flogger Upgrades In June 1982, the Soviet-style air superiority/air defence rather orthodox doctrine, training and tactics have proved to be fully inadequate Defence some 85 and ineffective Force 82 and when employed Syrian to against losses some the – Israeli Force/Air (between (IDF/AF). 92 fighters, while

fighter-bombers and helicopters between June 6 and 11 - numbered according sources) Syrians claimed for some 27 IDF/AF fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft shoot down which is obviously a bogus. It is well known that Israelis deny losing any aircraft in air combats during the 1982 Lebanon war though such statements may also be considered, to some extent, article as dubious. MiG-23s According in to the authoritative written research by the Early Operational Service,

1960s-1980s local conflicts researcher Tom Cooper (published in Air Enthusiast, Vol 100, July-August 2002, p56-67), the Syrian fighter Floggers played only a secondary role in the conflict. Confirmed losses during the clashes over the Bekaa Valley between June 9 and 11 comprised four MiG-23MS’ and six MiG-23MFs, while their pilots claimed at least five enemy aircraft shoot though most if not all of these kills cannot be confirmed by independent sources and thus could be regarded more as bogus rather than of realistic reports. MiG-23MLD’s pros and cons – the Soviet view of the 1980s The most significant post-Bekaa Valley undertaking of the Soviet Air Force was the crash-programme upgrade of the huge VVS-FA MiG23ML/MLA Flogger-G fleet to the MiG-23MLD Flogger-K standard, also known as Izdelye 23-18 in the internal designation system of the MiG Design Bureau. In the early 1980s, the MiG-23 made up the backbone of the VVS (Voenno-Vazdushni Sili - the Soviet Air Force) Frontal Aviation (FA) air defence/air superiority assets. No less than 1,100 MiG-23M/ML/MLAs were in service with the Soviet frontline combat units by that time and more than 600 of them used to equip at least 15 fighter regiments based in Central Europe that were considered to be the spearhead of the Soviet air superiority assets at the most probable theatre of operations during the Cold War era. The Flogger-K’s upgrade package is known to had been prepared even before the Lebanon war and a total of 560 VVS MiG-23ML/MLAs were upgraded while only 66 improved interceptors (with only new avionics) are reported by Russian sources as being newly-built between mid/late 1982 and December 1984; these are known as the MiG-23MLD(Export) (Izdelie 23-19 or the alternative designation Izdelie 23-22) and were only exported to Syria and Bulgaria – 50 and 16 examples respectively. name Flogger-G was the retained, VVS-FA Interestingly, the NATO reporting as these aircraft boasted were hardly

distinguishable from the basic MiG-23ML/MLA. Unlike its export counterparts, MiG-23MLDs much-improved maneuvering performance thanks to a host of airframe and flight control system upgrades. It would be interesting for the Western public to examine and analyse in details the content of a Soviet Air Force supplementary

air combat manual. This particular 32-page manual titled and Kfir C.2 was published not long after the Bekaa


Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E Valley clashes. By that time both the Soviet and client states pilots still trained mainly in the orthodox - and often described as inflexible - air intercept tactics, derived from the 1960s and mastered to perfection during the MiG-21 era. Traditionally, in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet and client air arms flew the MiG-23M/ML/MLD like the MiG-21 – as a high-speed point interceptor closely guided and supported by the GCI, and it took no less than 12 years to employ the Flogger-G/K as a true air superiority fighter. Aide Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2 refers to the MiG-23MLD(Export) version, powered by the R35-300 turbojet, rated at 28,700 lbs (127kN or 13,000kg) in full afterburner, without the aerodynamics and flight control system improvements of the VVS-FA MIG-23MLDs. According to the manual, the aircraft’s main parameters defining the energy maneuverability performance turn out the fighter slightly better than the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and definitely better than the IAI Kfir C.2. as However, given in the the MiG-23MLD’s manual, are air combat as performance aspects, quoted

definitely inferior to those of the McDonnell Douglas F-15A and General Dynamics F-16A. There are only few areas within the MiG23MLD’s envelope where it could boast equal or slightly better performance aspects when pitted against the third generation US fighters. For example, the manual’s authors claim that compared than the F4E (not specified whether the slated or non-slated sub-version of the Phantom is concerned), the MiG-23MLD has superior sustained turn performance throughout the entire envelope, excluding the range between 377 and 540kts (700 and 1,000km/h) bellow 21,000ft (7,000m) as well as an edge over the Phantom II in the zoom climb performance at all altitudes and speeds, excluding the true airspeed range between 485 and 647kts (900 and 1,200km/h) above 18,000ft (6,000m). Pitted against the F-15A, the MiG-23MLD has the only notable advantage in the zoom climb performance at speeds above 620kts

(1,150km/h) while pitted against the F-16A, the manual asserts that the Soviet swing-wing fighter boasts somewhat better sustained turn performance above 15,000ft (5,000m) at speeds close to the maximum as well as better zoom climb performance at true airspeeds exceeding 590kts (1,100km/h). However, as real-world tests have shown in Israel where the defected in November 1989 MiG-23MLD (Export) was flight-tested by the IDF/AF, the swing-wing fighter demonstrated - somewhat surprisingly - better acceleration than the escorting F-16s and this tends to indicate that in real world conditions the MiG-23MLD would have a slight edge over the early F-16s in acceleration and energy maneuverability, at true airspeeds above 485kts (900km/h). The IAI Kfir to C.2, the as assessed by in the manual, turn is said to be at inferior MiG-23MLD sustained performance

airspeeds above 540kts (1,000km/h), by zoom climb performance at true airspeeds bellow 540 kts (1,000km/h), while at altitudes bellow 12,000ft (4,0000m) the MiG-23MLD has an edge in energy maneuverability throughout the entire speed range. Sensor and Self-Protection Considerations According to the manual, the MiG-23MLD’s N008E Sapfir-23MLAE-2 pulse radar has superior performance than the Phantom’s APQ-120, approximately equal performance compared to the F-16A’s AN/APG-66 and definitely inferior performance to the F-15A’s AN/APG-63. ( See Table 2 and Figure 1). The manual’s authors claim that airborne radar maximum detection range alone cannot grant any decisive tactical advantage in the non-sterile environment of the real world air combat. It is well known that fighter are, low In of in radar target offered 2.5 the and detection by 3.5 the low and radar discrimination by with of the an and the beam performance relatively average elevation. general terms, somehow degrees limited in

resolution between addition,





electronic identification (EID) facilities in the early/mid 1980s is another factor that would prevent the enemy fighters from the full use of their superior Beyond Visual Range (BVR) capability. However, the manual notes that the F-16A’s and F-15A’s radars have a plethora of valuable close air combat modes with automatic target acquisition at close ranges (up to 6-10nm [10-18km]) with










increased accuracy and missile lock-on speed. Both the F-15A’s and F-16A’s Pulse-Doppler (PD) radars have wellknown problems with their stability of locking-on targets flying bellow them on the beam (side-on, when in ‘snap-down’ attacks). This particular shortcoming could be used to a good effect by the MiG-23 pilots to escape from attacks and got away as the evasion from the AIM-7F Sparrow SARH missile, launched by the F-15 could be easily achieved by performing a high-g beam maneuvering. As a rule, while operating the mode is in look-down/shoot-down Spafir-23’s degraded, but mode in the over the MLD’s mountainous terrain, down early performance



Sapfir-23MLAE-2 radar has a newly added, highly useful PulseDoppler mode (Non-Coherent) with somewhat improved ultra-low level target detection (highly useful for operations over rough terrain) requiring a minimum target altitude of 160ft (50m). Whichever the case, the MiG-23MLD’s look-down/shoot down operations require heavily GCI-support, and attacks against fighter-size targets in such conditions are advised to be mounted in tail-on aspect as the radar maximum detection range is advertised to be up to 13nm (25km) and tracking range is up to 9nm (16km). The Spafir-23MLA-2 featuring new look-down, passive jamming countermeasures and close air combat modes demonstrated in real world condition, a moderate reliability performance with Mean Time Between Failures (MBTF) in the order of 60 hours. The MiG-23MLD’s sensor suite also incorporates the undernose TP26-Sh InfraRed Search-and-Track (IRST) sensor, which can be useful for emission-free tail-on intercepts, especially as back-up sensor in situations when the radar is rendered inoperative by heavy jamming or technical failure. The IRST however, has a somewhat limited search performance due to its restricted field of scanning – only 60-degree in azimuth and 15-degree in elevation. The average low-level detection range against receding fighter-size targets (in tail-on aspect) with afterburner on is advertised to be over 6nm (11km), at high level detecting range increase up to 13nm (25km). The MiG-23MLD is equipped with the SPO-15LE Beryoza Radar Warning Receiver (RWR). It is an analogous device, developed in the

early/mid-1970s, capable of providing a 360-degree coverage in azimuth and 30-degree up and down in elevation, with the capability to issue precise angular warning of emitting targets attacking in the forward quarter though in the rear quarter the accuracy is much lower. The SPO-15LE is advertised as of being sensitive enough to warn on enemy’s radars and their probable type and mode of operation. On the other hand, the manual states that the RWRs used on the enemy fighters have 360-degree coverage in azimuth 23MLD’s and 60-80-degree emissions in as elevation; their own as a rule they range are is sensitive and ‘smart’ enough to provide timely warning on the MiGradar detection considerably better than the radar’s own detection range – i.e. capable to detect an approaching MiG-23MLD with its radar emitting in search mode at distances over 60nm (110km). Unlike its archrivals, the MiG-23MLD lacks any built-in and podmounted ECM systems for self-protection and namely this is considered a huge disadvantage when pitted against the F-15A, F16A, F-4E and the Kfir C.2 which all boast state-of-the-art ECM gear. The only self-protection gear onboard the MiG-23MLD is the PKiBP-23 (KDS-23M) chaff/flare dispenser comprising two six-round downfiring units built-in the centerline pylon. The VVS-FA Flogger-Ks have their self-protection enhanced by two BVP-50-60 50-round chaff/flare dispensers built in distinctive fences over the centre fuselage. As well, the Syrian MiG-23MLDs, received additional chaff/flare dispensers, (perhaps in the mid/late 1980s) installed in fences onto rear fuselage. One of the MiG-23’s major advantages is its compact appearance and relatively with a small size when fighting this vs the make F-15A low and F-4E; visual especially with the wings set at 72-degree swept angle; combined suitable camouflage would level detection and tracking very difficult, particularly from above and in head-on encounters. Weapons The manual’s authors claim that the MiG-23MLD’s R-24R (AA-7 Apex) BVR Semi-Active Radar Homing (SARH) missile has a comparable range performance when pitted against the F-15A’s AIM-7F Sparrow while the IR-guided R-24T and R-23T are a valuable addition to the Flogger’s weapons suite. The R-24T’s high altitude maximum range

at low level in head-on attack is 7nm (12 km) and the figure increases to 12nm (20km) in tail-on engagements. In the same time, the manual claims that the ‘Foxtrot’ and ‘Echo-2’ Sparrows are known to have inferior ECM resistance compared to the R-24R; there is also conclusion that the US BVR missiles are not considered particularly effective in shoot-down engagements. On the contrary, the MiG-23MLD’s R-23R and R-24R missiles boast modern monopulse seekers with a good ECM resistance. In real world air combat, however, it could not be impossible their lock-on to be broken by ‘smart’ jamming, produced by enemy fighter’s new generation ECM gear. The ranges of the MiG-23MLD’s, F-15A’s and F-4E’s BVR missiles are shown in Table 3 Figure 2. The AIM-9L Sidewinder arming the F-15A’s and F-16A’s with allaspect lock-on capability is considered the best Within Visual Range (WVR) missile as the manual authors note. On the contrary, the MiG-23MLD’s R-60 and R-60MK (AA-8 Aphid) purposely-designed dogfight missiles are also being quoted in the manual as somewhat capable of head-on lock-on, but only if the target’s afterburner is on. The R-60MK has, in general, the same launch limitations and an equally sensitive cooled seeker head as the AIM-9L, though with much shorter range. The R-60 and R-60MK have decisive edge in the minimum launch range - as little as 750ft (250m) compared to the AIM-9L’s at least 1,500ft (500m). It would be necessary to note that a notable on omission the of the VVS and/or KGB intelligence of the authorities was to put in the manual in question any piece of information performance and employment details Rafael Python 3 all-aspect missile, which was the preferred close air combat weapon of the Israeli F-15As, credited with 35 kills in June 1982. It is of note that the Launch Acceptable Region (LAR) in the horizontal plane of the close air combat missiles as given in the manual (see Figure 3) can be considered valid for a nonmaneuvering target only, flying at 16,000ft (5,000m) at military power; both the target and the attacking fighter maintaining at a speed of 485kts (900km/h); if the target is turning then the LAR would shrank considerably. The MiG-23MLD’s Sapfir-23MLAE-2 radar has an useful close air combat mode, a noticeable omission on the previous Sapfir-23











perpendicular to the aircraft’s longitudinal axis with a field of 45-degree in elevation and 6-degree in azimuth. In this mode, the radar locks semi-automatically onto the first target to enter the ‘window’ at distances of between 0.17 and 5nm (0.3 and 9km); this proves very useful during high-g maneuvering situations as thе radar sends slaving commands to slave the R-60, R-60MK and R-13M seeker heads toward the acquired target. The manual concludes that the built-in guns of all compared fighters have approximately equal overall efficiency - in terms of useful range and lethality – for use against fighter-size targets. As well, the lead-computing optical sights of the MiG-23MLD and its opponents have the approximately the same accuracy in the gun aiming mode. Conclusions and BVR Considerations The manual concludes that the MiG-23MLD(Export) armed with the R24/R-60MK AAM combination could be considered reasonably capable of holding its own against all types of enemy fighters. However, the edge over the F-15A – the most capable archrival - could be gained only through multiple simultaneous ‘slash-and-dash’ attacks from several directions and from long ranges, mounted in decisive manner; with a high degree of coordination between the groups when the engagement enter into the WVR phase, and with timely exit from combat. Probably the most important rule, contained into the recommendation chapter of the manual dealing with the BVR combat, is that on the importance of the first attack: “In order to achieve surprise in shooting, the MiG-23MLD pilots should spend all of their experience and aggressiveness of into the first attack.” Undoubtedly, this is considered as critical factor since surprise has been proved to be nine-tents of air combat success, both offensive and defensive. The high-speed energy fighters like the MiG-23 have the option of engaging or disengaging at will, even in the 1980s and 1990s all-aspect BVR and WVR missile environment. Other critical elements in the success of a fighter sweep or CAP operation are the command, control and communications (C 3) of the own fighter force. According to the then VVS-FA prevailing

doctrine of the 1980s – as it is believed to be still in use with the MiG-29 and Su-27 communities, which continue to employ the basic tactics and weapons employment techniques, developed by the MiG-23MLD community in the mid-1980s - the CGI would have the almost absolute authority to dictate every action of own fighters in sweep and CAP operations in friendly, disputed or enemy airspace, including headings, altitudes, speeds, attack and firing clearances, ‘bugouts’ (disengagements), etc. The air superiority operations require well-honed GCI substituting the lack of AWACS assets. The Soviets mastered to perfection this highly redundant – though considered far from perfect and rather inflexible concept, useful to some extent for the Central European theatre only where dense ground radar coverage was available. During the search to for enemy out fighters, visual Flogger from driverrs take-off are to strongly-advised carry search

landing – another important lesson derived from the analisys of the Bekaa Valley clashes where reliable GCI assistance was not available and thus the Syrian pilots were left to fly ‘blind’ into the ‘furball’ during the beginning of close-in encounters in the Bekaa Valley turning out them to suffer the fate of turkey shoots. In order to expand the search zone in a high-threat environment, the Flogger pilot is required to fly a weaving pattern with his main attention centered onto the visual search bellow the bottom boundary of the own ground radar coverage (usually bellow 1,000ft [300m] in Central Europe in the 1980s). It is well known, however, that the MiG-23 pilot has ample problems with the rearward and downward field of view as the fighter is designed with a low-drag canopy, faired into the fuselage though the canopy-mounted rearview mirrors expand to some degree the rearward field of view. Therefore, the MiG-23 pilots would be expected to have huge difficulties in keeping a view on a turning bogey or during visual search bellow his aircraft (this is possible only through banking, but the workload on the pilot is excessively high). On the other hand, it has of to the be noted that the MiG-23MLD and an its is a quick in acceleration thanks to the low-drag airframe and the aerodynamic qualities increase fully-swept wings, by high speed could in difficulty encountered unseen attacker

satisfying his aiming requirements in the reduced intercept time;

this can be used as another defensive factor when flying in enemy or disputed airspace. During the BVR air combat, the manual recommends strongly that attacks should not be initiated without offensive advantage and the prospect of getting off the first shoot. The general rule: ‘Who shoots first – kills first, in the worst case dictates the engagement’ should be regarded as of particular importance for the MiG-23 community. If the MiG-23 was dictating the engagement, the aircraft could employ to the full extent its advantages as a highspeed ‘chaos’ fighter using ‘slash-and-dash’ attack - a preferable and often the only available method for the MiG-23 community when engaged vs F-16s and F-15s. If unknown type of bandit aircraft are encountered, it should be assumed that these may be F-15s – the most capable and hence the most dangerous enemy fighter. The manual stresses that it is prohibited for the MiG-23MLD to close head-on toward any bandit aircraft of unknown type because it is likelihood these to be F15s possessing It better be radar also performance useful to and longer-range that an BVR missiles. would note important

recommendation to the GCI officers contained in the manual is that during fighter sweep operations it would be strictly prohibited for them to vector the MiG-23s in head-on attacks against nonidentified bandits because, as noted above, these are likely to be the dangerous F-15s. Nevertheless, if such a situation is unavoidable, then the anti-F-15 tactics, recommended to the MiG-23 pilots and GCI officers is as follows: if the distance to the bandits exceeds 12nm (20km) the MiGs should immediately perform a sharp turn out of the target and got away descending and pulling high-g and then reverting into side-on or tail-on missile attack. If the target is detected side on, than the MiG-23MLD pilots should use chaff and sharp turns in order to evade the Sparrow missiles and them to revert into attack. In order to mask the group attack, the manual recommends the own fighters to be packed in carefully spaced formations usually called ‘cells’ – virtual boxes in airspace with up to 1,200ft (400m) long sides as the tracking beams of all enemy types of airborne radars encompass all targets flying within such a ‘cell’ (however, this is valid only for the earlier PD radars without the

raid cluster resolution mode introduced in the mid/late-1980s). In other words, such a group is to be displayed as a single target at any airborne radar display at a distance of excess of 8nm (15km). When tracked by the enemy radar, the aircraft within a ‘cell’ can execute simultaneous maneuvering (the so-called ‘burst’) in the horizontal and vertical plane in order to break the lock and reenter into attack. It would be always possible in real world situation that BVR missile launched at the maximum permissible range can be outmaneuvered by the enemy. Therefore, in head on attack the first R-24R (R-23R) is recommended to be launched at 90% maximum range (bellow 6nm [11km] at low level and 15nm [28km] at medium/high level) while the second one should follow suite at 60-70% maximum range (bellow 4nm [7.5k] and 10nm [20km] respectively). If the R24T IRH missile is available for employment against enemy fighters without a known BVR capability, i.e. F—16A and Kfir C.2, then it is strongly recommended to the Flogger community to delay the launch down to the minimum permissible range, typically bellow 5nm (9km). Immediately after the R-23R/R-24R launch, the MiG-23 is allowed up to 30-degree change in course, still keeping the target within radar’s glimbal limits, with a subsequent break in a 3-g descending turn until missile impact, and a sharp reduction in the closing speed relative to the target. 10-15 seconds after the break, the manual recommends to the pilot to accelerate again in order to gain energy which would be necessary in the close air combat that may follow. The R-24T is a true ‘launch-and-forget’ weapon and after the launch it is recommended the pilot to perform immediate missile-evading maneuvers in the form of a high-g roll when progressing for a possible WVR engagement. WVR Combat Considerations Close air combat recommendations figured out in the manual, would sound even more interesting than those on the BVR encounters. These begin with an ever important remainder to the pilot to monitor constantly his fuel state during the engagement as the low level flight with afterburner on results in no less than 88 Imp gallons (400-litre) per minute fuel burn. The MiG-23MLD could be most effective in a high-speed air combat only, with one or maximum two attack runs and maneuvering as minimum as possible. As




difference between


maneuvering engaged

performance in close

and air

pilot combat




becomes more and more evident in the follow-on maneuvering after the first attack. If the bandits are on offensive, then the manual recommends the MiG-23MLD to initiate as soon as possible defensive maneuvering accompanied with flare pumping (not useful if the afterburner is on). If attacked from the rear, the MiG-23 is described as being a well capable of evading the attacker by simply outaccelerating it. Both the R-60 and R-60MK dogfight missiles are recommended by the manual to be used at distances of between 900 and 4,500ft (300 and 1,500m); the R-13M is useful at between 3,000 and 6,000ft (1,000 and 2,000m); and the GSh-23L twin-barrel gun is considered a highly lethal when fired bellow 1,200ft (400m). The manual assures the MiG-23 pilot that neither the F-15A or F16A have any valuable advantage in their close air combat weapons’; however, these US generation fighters are regarded as much more maneuverable and consequently these could achieve a weapons employment solution in the turning engagements much easier and earlier than the MiG-23MLD. Therefore, the MiG-23MLD pilots are rigorously advised that prolonged turning engagements vs F-15A and F-16A, both offensive and defensive, should be avoided by all means. The attack maneuvering should be broken off before or at the latest in the end of the first minute of the engagement if there were no weapon employment solutions achieved by that time. The manual also advices the pilot to maintain high speed (not bellow 485kts [900km/h]) during the combat because as lower the speed as great is bandit’s maneuvering advantage. Maneuvers which would cause considerable loss of speed and therefore energy are permitted only if considered necessary for weapons employment or missile evading. As well, the manual strongly recommends the MiG23MLD pilots to avoid any turning combat in the horizontal plane vs the Kfir C.2. Real World Limitations It is necessary to be noted that the MiG-23MLD(Export) had a plethora of shortcomings, inherited from the MiG-23MF/ML such as the vicious high-AoA handling characteristics, slow roll and pitch stick response, unimpressive pitch and roll rates and









horizontal plane at high subsonic and transonic speeds with the wings set at 45-degree swept position. However, the VVS-FA topnotch MiG-23MLD had some of these shortcomings eliminated by the host of aerodynamic and flight control system improvements. Vortex generators were mounted on the pitot boom and notched leading edge roots were introduced to act as vortex generators to energise the flow over the wings in order to delay the stall. The upgraded flight-control system incorporated the SOS-3-4 synthetic stickstop or the so-called soft pitch/AoA limiter (borrowed from the MiG-29), which restricts g, angle of attack and pitch rate. As a result, the aircraft’s agility was considerable better than that of its predecessor and it featured much better stall/spinning protection and acceptably good high-Alpha handling qualities since this particular aspect, together with driver visibility was among the main MiG-23M/ML shortcomings limiting the aircraft’s performance in the maneuvering air combat. Although tested on the MiG-23MLD, there were no production-converted Flogger-Ks with the built-in SPS-141 Siren or Gardenya-1FU active jammers. The various MiG-23 upgrades offered by Mikoyan Design Bureau in the mid and late-1990s – including new fire control system with new radar and the R-77 (AA-11 Adder) active radar homing missile and glass cockpit – have proved to be far from a cost/effective solution for most of the existing operators, deprived of funds and determination to launch such programmes. Most, if not all, of the existing Flogger-B/G operators have little or no capability to procure new equipment due to various reasons, either economical or political. These countries, however, may go ahead or have already gone - to increase the combat capability of their MiG23MFs and ML/MLDs at low cost by integrating the R-73 high offbore sight missile enabling the pilot to acquire and engage an enemy aircraft even at a high angle (up to 45 degrees) off his aircraft’s heading. The missile was introduced on the VVS-FA MiG23MLDs as early as in 1983, and its integration was performed by only replacing three black boxes into the aircraft’s fire control system. To fully exploit the R-73’s high off-boresight capabilities, however, it would require a helmet-mounted cueing system (HCMS), similar to that adopted for the Indian Air Force

MiG-21-93. There are a quite few of sources in Russia, Ukraine and Belarussia – both government and private companies, often operating on the gray and black market - for the procurement of new or second-hand R-73s. With some kind of relatively inexpensive airframe/systems service life extensions, offered by Mikoyan in the Design early Bureau, 1980s the will MiGhave 23ML/MLD(Export) manufactured

projected structural lifespan allowing the Flogger-G to soldier on in Syria, Iraq, Cuba and North Korea for a total of 24 - 26 years and these could serve well into the mid- and late-2000s.

Table 1 MiG-23MLD(Export), F-4E, F-15A and Kfir C.2 Comparative characteristics and performance as given in the Aide Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2 manual. Figure
Typical TO weight Maximum speed at Sea level Maximum speed At altitude Service ceiling Thrust-toweight ratio at typical TO weight Wing loading at typical TO weight g-limit Max rate of climb Time for acceleratio n from 324 to 594kts 88.29lb/sqf t (430kg/sqm) +8.5 44,290ft/mi n (225m/s) 19.8s 88.29lb/sqf t (430kg/sqm) +7.3 39,370ft/mi n (200m/s) 22.0s 68.78lb/sqf t (335kg/sqm) +8.0 55,118ft/mi n (280m/s) 14.0s 75.97lb/sqf t (370kg/sqm) +9.0 48,228ft/mi n (245m/s) 16.0s 62.62lb/sqf t (305kg/sqm) +6.5 34,645ft/mi n (176m/s) 22.0s

30,800lb (14,000kg) 755kts (1,400km/h) 1,351kts (2,500km/h) 60,800ft (18,600m) 0.88

45,800lb (20,800kg) 755kts (1,400km/h) 1,270kts (2,350km/h) 57,200ft (17,500m) 0.78

41,440lb (18,800kg) 782kts (1,450km/h) 1,325kts (2,450km/h) 62,130ft (19,000m) 1.2

23,100lb (10,500kg) 755kts (1,400km/h) 1,135kts (2,100km/h) 58,800ft (18,000m) 1.1

Kfir C.2
23,500lb (10,670kg) 755kts (1,400km/h) 1,260kts (2,330km/h) 55,600ft (17,000m) 0.76

(600 to 1,100km/h) at 3,000ft (1,000m)

Note: Thurst-to-Weight Ratio is given for bench-test conditions

Table 2 Radar Comparative characteristics and performance as given in the ‘Aide Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2’ manual. MiG-23MLD
Type Detection range at high altitude Detection range in look-down mode – forward quarter Detection range in look-down mode – rear quarter Scan field – azimuth/elevation Autotrack filed – azimuth/elevation Beam width, azimuth/elevation Close Air Combat mode Autotrack field in Close Air Combat mode – azimuth/elevation
112/(-44 +56)-deg 2.4/2.4-deg Available 6/45-deg 3.4/3.8-deg Not Available 2.5/2.5-deg Available 20/20-deg 3.7/4.4-deg Available 10/40-deg to Sapfir-23MLAE2 30nm (55km) 12.5-14nm (2325km) 12.5-14nm (2325km) 60/6-deg

AN/APQ-120 28nm (50km) Cannot detect Cannot detect 120/0.4-deg; 90/10.5-deg 120/120-deg

AN/APG-63 54nm (100km) 44nm (80km) 17-22nm 40km) 120/120-deg; 60/10-deg 120x120-deg (30-

AN/APG-66 25nm (45km) 17-20nm 35km) 17–19nm 35km) 120/4.4-deg; 60/7.9-deg; 20/15.8-deg 120/120-deg (30(30-

Notes: 1. The lock-on range is between 60 and 75 per cent of the detection range 2. The original table in the manual included the Kfir C.2 with the Elta EL/M 2021 Pulse Doppler radar. However, it can be considered a fault of the Soviet intelligence services since the Kfir C.2 is equipped only with the E/M 2002 ranging radar, hence the Kfir C.2 was deliberately omitted from Table 2

Table 3

BVR Missiles Comparative characteristics and performance as given in the ‘Aide Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2’ manual. R-23R/T
Maximum launch range at low level -forward quarter - rear quarter Maximum launch range at high level -forward quarter - rear quarter Minimum launch range at low level -forward quarter - rear quarter Maximum-g of the launch aircraft Maximum-g of the target
- 8nm (14km) - 2.2nm(4km)/ - 6nm (11km) - 2.2nm (4km)

- 9nm (17km) - 2.2nm (4km)/ - 6nm (11km) - 2.2nm (4km)

- 8.7nm (16km) - 2.2nm (4km)

- 9nm (17km) - 2.2-2.7nm (4-5km)

- 13.50nm (25km) - 4.3–5.4nm(810km)/ - 6nm (11km) - 4.3-5.4nm (810km) - 2.2-3.3nm (46km) - 0.7nm(1.3km)/ - 2.2nm (4km) - 0.7nm (1.2km) 4 5

- 19nm (35km) - 11nm (20km)/ - 6.5nm (12km) - 10.8nm(20km)

- 13.4nm (25km) - 5.4nm (10km)

- 22-27nm (40-50km) - 8-11nm (1520km)

- 1.4nm (2.5km) - 0.3nm (0.5km)/ - 1.4nm (2.5km) - 0.3nm (0.5km)

- 2.2nm (4km) - 0.3nm (0.5km)

- 1.4nm (2.5km) - 0.3nm (0.5km)

7 7

5 5

7 7

Table 4 WVR Missiles Comparative characteristics and performance as given in the ‘Aide Memorie for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-16A, F-4E and Kfir C.2’ manual.
R-13M R-3S




1.63.2nm (3-6km)

Shafrir II

Max range at low level in the forward quarter Max range at low level in the rear quarter Max range at high level in the rear quarter Min range in the rear quarter Maximum-g of the launch aircraft Maximum-g of the target



1.3nm (2.5km)

1.1nm (2km)

1.1nm (2km)

1.9nm (3.5km)

1.9nm (3.5km)

1.3nm (2.5km)

7nm (13km)


4.3nm (8km)

4.3nm (8km)

5.5nm (10km)

8nm (15km)

4.85.5nm (9-10km)

0.5nm (0.9km)

0.55nm (1km)

0.10.13nm (0.2 – 0.3km) 7 8

0.10.13nm (0.2 – 0.3km) 7 8

0.5nm (0.9km)

0.130.3 nm (0.30.5nm) 7 6-8

0.30.37nm (0.60.7km) 4-5 4-6

3.7 5

2 3

4-6 4-6

All-aspect capability








Captions Graphs 1. (File Gr1.jpg) Detection range of the MiG-23MLD, F-4E, F-15A, F-16A radars against fighter-size targets with radar-cross section of 3 sqm. Horizontal axe – distance in kilometers, vertical – altitude in kilometers. Note: The original table and graph in the manual claimed the Kfir C.2 is equipped with the Elta EL/M 2021 Pulse Doppler radar. However, this is a fault of the Soviet intelligence services since the Kfir C.2 is equipped only with the E/M 2002 ranging radar, hence the Kfir C.2 was deliberately omitted from Table 2 and has to be omitted from the graph. 2. (File Gr3.jpg) Launch Acceptable Region (LAR) in the horizontal plane of the close air combat missiles, valid for a non-maneuvering target only, flying at 16,000ft (5,000m) at military power; both the target and the attacking fighter maintaining at a speed of 485kts (900km/h). Distances in the axes are given in kilometers. 3. (File Gr4.jpg) Maximum launch ranges (envelopes) of the MiG23MLD, F-4E, F-15A, F-16A radars against fighter-size nonmaneuvering fighter-size targets with radar-cross section of 3 sqm in forward quarter (right) and rear quarter (left). Horizontal axe – distance in kilometers, vertical – altitude in kilometers.

MiG-23MLD vs Western Fighters – the Soviet Air Force View (Captions – Photographs by Alexander Mladenov) 1. The MiG-23 pilot has ample problems with the rearward and downward field of view as the fighter is designed with a

low-drag canopy, faired into the fuselage though the canopymounted rear-view mirrors expand to some degree the rearward field of view. (Alexander Mladenov) 2. The MiG-23MLD cockpit is regarded as typical Soviet design of the 1970s, crammed with instruments and switches, which impose a high workload on the pilot. The Flogger can be effective in combat if only flown by pilots with above the average handling and tactical skills. (Alexander Mladenov) 3. The MiG-23MLD ASP-17DTz HUD/sight is a considerably improved device compared to the to sight the of the of previous US-made Flogger third variants, but can hardly be considered as agronomical and effective compared HUDs the generation fighters. (Alexander Mladenov) 4. The MiG-23MLD’s Sapfir-23MLAE-2 radar, seen here on a test bench, somewhat has a newly added (probably ultra-low and highly useful mode Pulsewith Doppler/Non-Coherent improved medium level PRF), target


recommended for employment over rough terrain and when the enemy use chaff to evade the intercept. (Alexander Mladenov) 5. & 6 The IR-guided R-24T (shown here) and R-23T are a valuable addition to the Flogger’s weapons suite. The R24T’s high altitude maximum range at low level in head-on attack is this BVVS 7nm (12 km) and the figure carries increases to the R-60 12nm (20km) in tail-on engagements. On the underfuselage pylons MiG-23MLD(Export) dogfight missile. (Alexander Mladenov) 7. If the MiG-23 was dictating the engagement, the aircraft could employ to the full extent its advantages as a highspeed ‘chaos’ fighter using ‘slash-and-dash’ attacks. However, it rarely had happened in the real-world air combats in the 1980s. (Alexander Mladenov) 8. In order to mask the group attack, the manual recommends the own fighters to be packed in carefully spaced formations usually called ‘cells’ – virtual boxes in airspace with up to 1,200ft (400m) long sides as the tracking beams of all enemy types of airborne radars encompass all targets flying within such a ‘cell’. (Alexander Mladenov)

9. Unlike its export counterparts, the VVS-FA MiG-23MLD FloggerKs boasted much-improved maneuvering performance thanks to a host of airframe and flight control system upgrades as well as the R-73 high off-boresight close air combat missile. (Alexander Mladenov)