For the last few weeks, Ukraine has been desperately asking other nations for military aircraft to counter the Russian air force. The US has been considering the A10 but nothing has been confirmed. However, Ukraine's neighbor, Poland has been keen to send its MIGs to help the Ukrainians achieve air supremacy- but there is a catch..read on.
Poland has 28 MiGs acquired from the Russians many years ago and they have been wanting to part with them for some time. Initially, Poland said they would not provide the Ukrainians with the MiGs as they did not want to aggravate the Russians and risk war on their land. Then the Poles had discussions with the Americans and agreed to provide the Ukrainians with their MiG 29s, provided the Americans supplied them with the F16s- of course, the US immediately said no.
Two questions need to be asked 1) are the MiGs from Poland capable of countering the Russian supremacy in the air? And 2) are 28 MiGs sufficient to counter and deter the much larger Russian air force?
The MiG 29
The MiG 29 is a soviet-era jetfighter; it evolved from its famous predecessor the MiG 21 and was designed to provide the soviets with a fast reaction jet with dual air superiority to counter any external air and ground threats. The main aim of the MiG 29 was to counter the American F15 and F16 fighters.
The MiG 29 was a 4th generation jet that first appeared on the scene in 1985; it is a twin-engine, single-seat, air-to-air fighter.
At least 1,600 MiG 29s were built and the majority were exported to many nations including Cuba, Bulgaria, Belarus, India, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, Yugoslavia, and many more nations. A small number were converted to a two-seater.
The first generation MiG 29s were fast, agile, acrobatic, and very maneuverable in the air; it was felt that the MiG 29s were the perfect aircraft to match the American air threat.
The MiG 29 had several outstanding features like agility, a huge thrust-to-weight ratio, and the first operational helmet-cued sighting system to complement the infrared-guided dogfighting missile. It was felt that these features made it unbeatable in a one-to-one visual engagement in the air- making it a worthy opponent against the F16. But that was in the early 80s- since that time most western military aircraft have developed far better capabilities than the first-generation MiG 29s.
Despite the hype, the MiG 29 has had many issues including excessive use of gasoline, which meant it could only support the Russian defenses but was limited for long-range strike enemy missions. The MiG 29 was also known to generate a lot of smoke while flying which made it visible from a far distance. In addition, its radar capabilities were not powerful. Over the years, it was observed that the MiG 29 was not reliable and had consistent maintenance issues. Worse, the engines were known to suck in external debris and had poor durability. Overall the MiG 29 was expensive to maintain and this is one reason why most former Soviet allies have not been keen to use them- this is also the reason why Poland wants to part with its 28 MiG 29s.
Transfer from Poland to Ukraine?
Today the MiG 29 is considered to be an obsolete aircraft chiefly because of its poor combat capabilities. And this may be the reason why the Russians have not objected to the transfer of the planes to the Ukrainians by the Poles.
Given what is known about the MiG 29s, the fact of the matter is that this aircraft would not alter the balance of airpower in the Russia-Ukraine war-more likely it would be a hindrance to the Ukrainians because of its expensive maintenance issues. The Russians, on the other hand, have far more capable aircraft like the Su 27/30/35 series which are more sophisticated and far more advanced than the MiG 29s. Even though the MiG 29 has some advantages when it comes to close-range air-to-air combat, this could easily be neutralized by the longer-range missiles carried on the Sukhois and their powerful radars.
American experts also think likewise; they feel that the 30-year-old MiG 29s from Poland would be no match for the latest Russian fighters which have longer-range weapons and more advanced radar systems. Most believe that the Russians could eliminate all the jets from the battlefield in no time at all.
So what now?
Ukraine is in the middle of a serious war and one has to question its maintenance and operational capabilities of the MiG 29s or any other aircraft it receives. Not much is known about how the poles have kept up with the maintenance of these aircraft or whether they have even been used recently. During the Crimean war in 2014, several aircraft were captured by separatist forces and were found to be not airworthy. With the current economic status of Ukraine and the difficulties in the supply chain, getting parts for the MiG 29 may also be impossible. And most importantly, since the MiGs are a Soviet product, the Russians will most likely have all the countermeasures against the plane's radar and missile systems.
One has to question why Poland was so keen to transfer the MiG 29s to the Ukrainians? Experts think that they probably wanted to get good publicity for being friendly neighbors, get rid of their obsolete aircraft at the same time, and thirdly get a better deal from the Americans in return. The poles have made no secret that they would prefer the less expensive and more capable F16s, which would be a major improvement over the fulcrum.
At the end of the day, Ukraine should use great caution in asking countries for aircraft as it may get military jets that may not improve its defense capabilities. Instead, the country should seek more advanced anti-craft missile systems like the man-portable stingers. No matter what decision the Ukrainians make, the war with Russia has gone on for over 5 weeks with daily reports of the worst human atrocities committed since the 2nd world war. Rather than seek more weapons, it is time to sit down with the Russians and discuss peace.
S.Benji is a grad with an advanced degree in the sciences with an interest in avionics. He is a prolific writer with a wide range of publications. Opinions expressed are his own.
Welcome to the discussion.