Cold War: Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 Flogger

MiG-23 Flogger. US Air Force

MiG-23MLD - Specifications:

General

  • Length: 56 ft., 9.5 in.
  • Wingspan: 45 ft. 10 in.
  • Height: 15 ft. 9.75 in.
  • Wing Area: 367.71 sq. ft.
  • Empty Weight: 21,153 lbs.
  • Loaded Weight: 34,612 lbs.
  • Crew: 1

Performance

  • Power Plant: 1 × Khatchaturov R-35-300 afterburning turbojet
  • Combat Radius: 715 miles (combat)/ 1,752 miles (ferry)
  • Max. Speed: 1,553 mph (Mach 2.32)
  • Ceiling: 60,695 ft.

Armament

  • 1 x Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L 23 mm cannon
  • Two fuselage, two wing glove, and two wing pylons for up to 6,610 lbs. of stores. Capable of carrying R-23/24 (AA-7 "Apex"), R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid"), R-27 (AA-10 "Alamo"), R-73 (AA-11 "Archer"), and R-77 (AA-12 "Adder") air-to-air missiles.

MiG-23 - Background:

Having built a line of successful piston-engine fighters during World War II, Mikoyan-Gurevich made its name in the jet age with the introduction of the MiG-15 and the MiG-17. The former earned its laurels during the Korean War where it battled the North American F-86 Sabre. Building off this tradition, Mikoyan-Gurevich created the effective MiG-21 in the late 1950s. A high-speed interceptor, the MiG-21 was hampered by a limited range, a need for long runways, and a lack of advanced onboard radar. In an effort to address these limitations, the MiG design bureau began work in the early 1960s on a new multi-role fighter aircraft.

MiG-23 - Two Designs:

These efforts were encouraged in 1965, when the Soviet government issued specifications for a new fighter which could be developed as both an interceptor and a ground-attack aircraft. In response, MiG formed two design teams. One pursued a design similar to the earlier MiG-21, but possessing lift-jets to shorten its takeoff, while the other was tasked with creating an entirely new design based on a variable-geometry (swing) wing arrangement.

The first design, dubbed Model 23-01, first flew in April 1967. Though the Model 23-01 was performed adequately, the lift jets provided no performance improvement once the aircraft was aloft and simply became extra weight. As a result, this design was not pursued.

MiG's second design, designated Model 23-11, drew some inspiration from its intended opponents, the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II and the General Dynamics F-111 Aardvark. Powered by a Tumansky R-27-300, the Model 23-11 featured variable-geometry wings which could be angled at 16, 45 and 72 degrees. Though the wing system required large and complex machinery within the fuselage, it provided the aircraft with performance desired by the Soviet government. In addition, its wings were strong enough to carry a large ordnance load, but the aircraft remained nimble enough to be an effective dogfighter.

First flying on April 10, 1967, the Model 23-11 was debuted to the world at the Domododevo Air Show later that year. Seen by Western observers, it was given the NATO designation "Flogger." As development moved forward, it quickly became clear that the Model 23-11 was superior to the Model 23-01. That December clearance was given to begin production of the Model 23-11 as the MiG-23.

Flight testing through 1968 proceeded smoothly and the MiG-23 was officially introduced in 1970. The following year the first aircraft began to reach Soviet units and an updated variant, the MiG-23M (Flogger-B), became the first to appear in large numbers starting in 1973.

MiG-23 - Design:

Utilizing a Tumansky R-29-300 engine, the MiG-23M carried a Sapfir-23D radar and TP-23 infra-red search and track system. In addition to a 23 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L cannon, the type was capable of employing Vympel R-23 (AA-7 Apex) and Vympel R-60 (AA-8 Aphid) air-to-air missiles. Contrary to earlier MiG designs, the MiG-23 possessed side intake inlets rather than nose-mounted intakes. Possessing a high wing and a fuselage spine, the pilot's view was somewhat hindered, but these characteristics were required for the variable-geometry wings.

Under the MiG-23, the aircraft used a complex tricycle landing gear arrangement as well as possessed a ventral fin aft.

MiG-23 - Production:

During the course of its production run (1967-1985), 5,047 MiG-23s of all types were produced. Though the Soviet Union intended for the MiG-23 to replace the MiG-21 in other Warsaw Pact air forces, this did not occur and the type often took the place of earlier fighters. Though inexpensive for the time ($3.6-$6.6 million), the MiG-23's operating and maintenance costs were substantially higher. Despite this issue, the MiG-23 proved a popular export aircraft and was purchased by numerous air forces around the world. Through the 1970s and 1980s, the MiG-23 was updated numerous times and a large number of variants were produced. Though some ground-attack types were developed in the early 1970s, the role passed the MiG-27 in 1975. A modified version of the MiG-23 design, the MiG-27 was specially modified for ground-attack missions.

MiG-23 - Operational History:

Flown in large numbers by the Soviet Union, the MiG-23 first saw combat during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. During the conflict, MiG-23s flew a variety of ground-attack missions, but also later tangled with Pakistani F-16 Fighting Falcons. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian Air Force elected to begin retiring the MiG-23/27 in favor of the more modern MiG-29 (Fulcrum). The final aircraft left active service in 1998. As the type had been exported widely, the MiG-23 saw combat in a number of regional conflicts. Flying with the Syrian Air Force, the MiG-23 faired poorly in the early 1980s when faced with Israeli opposition flying F-15 Eagles and F-16s.

The MiG-23 was deployed by Iraq during the lengthy Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) and achieved mixed results against Iranian opposition flying a variety of American-built aircraft. Iraq again used the aircraft during its 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War the following year. In that conflict, the Iraqi MiG-23s were badly outmatched by more advanced coalition aircraft.

The MiG-23 also formed the backbone of the Libyan Air Force and saw action during the 1977 war with Egypt. Two MiG-23 Flogger-Es were later downed by US Navy F-14 Tomcats during the 1989 Gulf of Sidra Incident. Retained in service, MiG-23s flew attack missions against rebel forces during the 2011 Libyan Civil War.

In addition, the MiG-23 has taken part in the Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) and the border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea (1999). Though largely retired, some later models of the MiG-23 remain in active service with some air forces. The largest current operators of the type (as of 2011) include Syria, Libya, Cuba, and Yemen.

Selected Sources