The US is leaving no stone unturned to hone its skills against its twin adversaries – Russia and China. After concluding the Malabar naval exercise between Quad countries in the Indo-Pacific, the US is now gearing up for Exercise BrightStar-23 in Egypt – where the US pilots will go up against the Russian-origin Mig-29 fighters of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Media reports say that even Pakistan is participating in the exercise with its JF-17 ‘Thunder’ and not with F-16s, which have a US embargo for such participation.
The IAF contingent has departed to participate in the tri-service exercise scheduled to be held in Cairo (West) Air Base, Egypt, from August 27 to September 16. This is the first participation of the IAF in Exercise Bright Star. The other countries participating are the US, Saudi Arabia, Greece and Qatar.
“The Indian Air Force contingent will consist of five MiG-29s, two IL-78s, two C-130s, and two C-17 aircraft. Personnel from the IAF’s Garud Special Forces, as well as those from the number 28 (First Supersonics), 77 (C-130J ‘Veiled Vipers’), 78 (Il-78 ‘Valorous’) and 81 (C-17′ Sky Lords’) Squadrons will be participating in the exercise. The IAF transport aircraft will also provide airlift to approximately 150 personnel from the Indian Army,” a press release issued by the IAF said.
The objective is to practice “planning and execution” of joint operations. Calling its contingent of armed forces personnel “Diplomats in Flight Suits,” the IAF is seeking to further strategic relations between the participating countries.
India and Egypt have had an exceptional relationship and deep cooperation wherein the two jointly developed aero-engine and aircraft in the 1960s, and India trained Egyptian pilots.
The upgraded Indian MiG-29 is the most advanced variant of the Mikoyan Mig-29 fighter jets ever built. The MiG-29s were developed to counter the US F-16 Fighting Falcons and F/A-18 ‘Super Hornets’.
The IAF inducted MiG-29B variants in 1986. The aircraft came equipped with medium-range BVR missiles. They were a bane for Pakistani F-16s seeking to provide ground support in Kargil. The MiG-29s were used in Kargil to give cover to Mirage-2000s carrying out bombing.
A report by Strategic Page reported: “Analyses by Pakistani experts revealed that when the rubber met the road, PAF simply refused to play any part in support of the Pakistan Army, angering the latter.” “While PAF fighters did fly Combat Air Patrols (CAP) during the conflict, they stayed well within Pakistani air space.
On occasions, IAF MiG-29s armed with the deadly R-77 BVR air-to-air missiles were able to lock on to PAF F-16s, forcing the latter to disengage. In the absence of a PAF threat, the IAF was able to deliver numerous devastating strikes on intruder positions and supply dumps,” the report added.
All the MiG-29s in the IAF inventory were upgraded by 2022. Following the upgrade, the Director-General of MiG, Sergei Korotkov, said: “The most advanced is the MiG-29UPG, implemented in India in collaboration with local industry.” The upgrade has given a new lease of life to MiG-29s in the IAF, which will now serve the force till 2035.
After the upgrade, the aircraft has become more lethal as they are now equipped with very long-range air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground weaponry. Through the emergency procurement powers, the IAF has got lethal weaponry for it.
The upgraded fighter jets carry out air-to-ground operations, have longer endurance with air-to-air refueling capability, and have upgraded electronic warfare suites that can help in jamming enemy communications during a conflict.
The plane had a weakness – it was a gas guzzler, meaning it offered a short range. The IAF’s upgraded version has an additional tank, giving it enhanced endurance.
The IAF recently inducted these upgraded MiG-29s to take on the Chinese and Pakistani threat in the region. Even though the Tridents squadron was moved to the Srinagar air base in January 2023, the MiG-29s have flown extensively in Kashmir and Ladakh as part of the Operational Readiness Patrol (ORP) since the Balakot strikes against Pakistan in 2019 and the Galwan clash with China in 2020.
The Squadron is now officially called “the Defenders of the North.”
The Enigma Of MiG-29s
The MiG-29s (NATO reporting name ‘Fulcrum’) flew for the first time in 1977 and entered the service of the Soviet Air Force in 1983. Since then, it has found its way to more than 25 countries, including the US. The opportunity to lay hands on the twin-engine MiG-29 was the high point of the Cold War for the US.
The US purchased the MiG-29s from the cash-strapped Soviet Republic of Moldova to prevent the jets from reaching Iran. More could be read about it in the EurAsian Times report.
The US observed that Soviet technology was catching up with the US aircraft technology, and the MiG-29s were indeed one of the most maneuverable and deadly aircraft of its time.
The MiG-29 fighter jets were inducted into East Germany and remained operational even after the reunification of Germany. The Luftwaffe (German Air Force) used it as an adversary aircraft during NATO wargames.
One of the first F-16 pilots from the 510 Fighter Squadron ‘Buzzards’ of the USAF, Captain Mike McCoy, had a faceoff with the MiG-29s and was mighty impressed by the aircraft’s low-speed maneuverability combined with its helmet-mounted sight system.
Meanwhile, amidst the delay in supplying F-16 fighter jets, the European countries have come forward to donate their MiG-29s to Ukraine. Slovakia and Poland have announced sending their 13 and 4 MiG-29 fighter jets, respectively, to Ukraine.
The IAF, with the most modern MiG-29s, will be a great sparring partner for the US.
- Ritu Sharma has been a journalist for over a decade, writing on defense, foreign affairs, and nuclear technology.
- She can be reached at ritu.sharma (at) mail.com