MiG-29A vs F-16A: When Soviet Fighters Aircraft achieved Air Superiority in the Kargil War

The MiG-29A belonged to roughly the same weight category as the F-18A Hornet of the U.S. Air Force. It was outfitted with air-to-air missiles with a longer range and more potent warheads. Its climb rate, operational altitude, speed, and manoeuvrability were significantly superior. In 1999, the Indian Air Force deployed MiG-29 fighter jets to counter Pakistani F-16s in the Kargil conflict.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India, Flicks Town and D2Mobi. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal Twitter: @chackojoseph *views are Personal.

In 1982, the MiG-29 was inducted by the Soviet Air Force. After the bigger MiG-31 interceptor and the Su-24M tactical bomber, this aircraft was built. The MiG-29A (Fulcrum) belonged to roughly the same weight category as the F-18A Hornet of the United States Air Force and was built from the outset to compete with the F-16 and F-18. In contrast to these fighters, the aircraft had several significant advantages. Notably, the MiG was outfitted with air-to-air missiles with a longer range and more potent warheads. In addition, its climb rate, operational altitude, speed, and manoeuvrability were significantly superior.

The MiG-29A participated in air conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Yugoslavia, although in the first three wars, it did not engage in combat with other fighters of its type. Instead, the  MiG-29s pursued heavier and more powerful F-15 and Su-27 aircraft.  However, the MiG-29 clashed with a fighter of the same weight class in one instance. The Indian Air Force purchased these aircraft expressly to counter the F-16s provided by the United States to Pakistan.

The Indian Air Force was the first foreign purchaser of the MiG-29, placing its initial order in 1982 and receiving its first aircraft in 1985. This occurred approximately two years after Pakistan had acquired the American F-16A/B aircraft. The United States had an excess of export fighters due to the 1979 termination of a big contract with Iran. When comparing the capabilities of the two aircraft, the MiG’s more potent air-to-air missiles made its superiority particularly apparent.

General Dynamics F-16BM 11(MR)/39W Pakistan Air Force Konya AFB 30.6.22
General Dynamics F-16BM 11(MR)/39W Pakistan Air Force Konya AFB 30.6.22. Image: Colin Cooke, Wikimedia

Later, the flight performance of MiG-29s tested in Germany topped that of all Western opponents. These fighters also carried short-range R-73M missiles with increased target designation angles. This edge allowed the MiGs to attack first in close combat virtually every time.

As a result of its infrared search and tracking technology (IRST) and helmet-mounted sights (HMS), the MiG was practically invulnerable at close range and a highly effective weapon against NATO aircraft at medium ranges. During the war for the liberation of Kuwait war in the Persian Gulf, the fact that Iraqi MiG-29s were not armed with R-73M missiles deprived them of a crucial trump card.

As for more distant targets, the R-27 missiles provided the MiGs with a huge advantage. They have a greater range and more potent warheads than the AIM-7 missiles carried by the F-16s.

Before the Kargil battle, Pakistan exhibited its aggressiveness by invading Afghan airspace with F-16s to support extremist militants. At least one of these aircraft was destroyed by an air-to-air missile in 1987. However, according to the leadership of the Pakistan Air Force, this accident was caused by a malfunction in their own air defence systems and not by Afghan or Russian pilots.

Kargil War

In 1999, when the Indian Army attacked Islamabad-backed Kashmir militants, the Indian Air Force deployed MiG-29 fighter jets to counter Pakistani F-16s. During the conflict, India attained air control over Kashmir, carrying out numerous strikes with pinpoint accuracy with Soviet fighter aircraft. According to available evidence, the MiG-29s performed a crucial role in repelling the Pakistani Air Force’s attacks. Due to the supremacy of the MiGs in the skies of Kashmir, the Pakistani Air Force made every effort to avoid encountering them. As a result, the MiG-29 did not have to engage the F-16 in open battle. In one instance, an Indian MiG-29 used its radar to detect an F-16 attempting to breach the border.

The primary advantage of the Indian “Fulcrum” against the Pakistani F-16 Fighting Falcon was that Russia supplied India with the most recent upgrades and weapon systems. In contrast, US arms prohibitions prohibited Islamabad from enhancing the capabilities of its F-16 fighter fighters.

In visual contact conditions, the superior mobility of the MiG-29 and the existence of R-73 missiles with greater target designation angles gave the aircraft a significant edge. However, Pakistani pilots were fully aware of the risk posed by modern Indian fighters and feared losing their few F-16s in the event of an engagement. Thus, Russian aircraft played a crucial part in India’s air superiority, allowing Indian Air Force helicopters and attack planes to give unimpeded fire support to the infantry during the Kargil conflict.

PAF F-16s and IAF MiG-29s now

Falcon aircraft are still in service with the Pakistani Air Force. They are now equipped with sophisticated variants of the AIM-120C air-to-air missiles, allowing them to engage enemy targets at a range of around 100 kilometres. In addition, a small number of Islamabad’s aircraft have been upgraded to a variant of the F-16C/D that, unlike the F-16A, has superior avionics but is less agile.

Today, Indian MiG-29s serve a diminished role in the nation’s defence. However, they may now utilise more advanced modifications of the R-77, which, when paired with increased flight height, more kinetic energy, and superb mobility to avoid enemy strikes, are expected to give the Indian Air Force a decisive edge.

IAF MiG-29
IAF MiG-29, Image: Aeroprints, wikimedia

Presently, all MiGs of India have been upgraded to level 4 ++ (MiG-29UPG) and are outfitted with new radio-electronic equipment (avionics) and a modern radar (BRLS) “Zhuk-M-2E” with an active phased array antenna (AFAR). This modification gave a substantial edge over the F-16, which was equipped with antiquated radars that are more susceptible to interference. The final shipment of MiG-29UPG aircraft to India occurred in 2020.

MiG-29K, a variant of the MiG-29 that India purchased from Russia for its Navy in the 2000s and 2010s, should also be mentioned (series 9-41). However, these aircraft were utilised not just for maritime but also for land operations. The most recent versions of the MiG-29 are considered the most advanced of all variants.

The UPG (series 9-20) and K (series 9-41) upgrades received new, more potent engines and a substantial increase in fuel capacity. The Su-30MKI and Rafale, which entered service with the Indian Air Force in 2002 and 2020, respectively, supplanted the MiG-29 as the most effective military aircraft in South Asia if the MiG-29 held this distinction in the 1990s.

As for the Pakistani F-16s, now. As Islamabad has acquired Chinese J-10C and JF-17 Block 3 aircraft with many superior capabilities, they would be phased out gradually.

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