From "Janes How To Fly And Fight In The MiG-29" By Jon Lake ....
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE:
A growing number of NATO fighter pilots have now flown against NATO's own MiG-29 so the aircraft inherited from the East German air force and taken into service by the Luftwaffe when the two Germanics reunified. A smaller number have even flown in the German two-seaters, seeing air combat with the MiG-29 from both sides of the coin. These pilots have included a number of USAFE F-16 pilots. They have a uniquely interesting perspective on the MiG-29 because they fly what is nominally NATO's equivalent to the aircraft. Frontline aircrew who've flown the Luftwaffe MiG-29s have seen what the aero-plane is actually like as a fighter, and have not simply flown it merely as an aerodynamic demonstration
with its weapons systems turned off.
A USAF F-16C squadron commander whose unit was one of those which has fought mock battles with the German MiG-29s commented that: "We started off with simple one versus one BFM engagements with the MiG-29 from various starting parameters, offensive, defensive or neutral. We then progressed to two versus two, and then we went to the four versus four and we even did a few two versus 2 + 2, two of us against two German F-4s and two MiG-29s. As a rule, we felt like we did very well. In the BFM, we learned some significant lessons, especially with maneuverability comparisons between the aero-planes, the differences in thrust to weight ratios, some of the advantages and disadvantages of the two aircraft and exploring the various air speed regimes".
1. ERGONOMICS AND COCKPIT WORKLOAD
Some of his pilots (who cannot be named because they went on to fly operational missions over Bosnia) described what they saw as the MiG-29's strengths and weaknesses.
Two things jump out at you right away when you fly the MiG-29. The first one is the antiquated avionics, they are totally not user friendly. You have to make a lot of switch changes and so on that we just don't even have to think about in the F-16.
By comparison with western jets, the MiG- 29 cockpit was, I thought, somewhat thrown together. There didn't seem to be much human engineering put into it. To be fair, though, the Russians do have much greater standardization between the cockpits of all their fast jets.
It's actually remarkable how similar they've made the cockpits of the Su-27, the MiG-29, the Su-25, and even the older jets. Maybe the human factor in MiG-29 cockpit design was to make it as close as possible to the MiG-21 and MiG-23 cockpit.
But they do not have a HOTAS (Hands on Throttle and Stick) philosophy in the same way that we do in the F-16. In the F-16 I can select missiles and fire the gun and drop bombs all with my fingers on the stick and throttle. In the MiG-29 just launching a missile requires so many switch changes where they have to take their hand off the throttle, change the switches, look down inside the cockpit, and then look back up.
Whereas in my F-16 I can switch radar modes, launch missiles and never have to take my hands off the controls or look down inside the cockpit. I can look outside the whole time and that's a great advantage.
It's pretty difficult to focus up close and then refocus your eyes out to ten miles. If the MiG-29 pilot is trying to lock us up with his radar, he's not looking outside, he's looking at the radar scope. He may be looking at the radar picture in the HUD, but he's still not going to be able to see us outside beyond 10 miles. So we like to do a rope-a-dope kind of thing, whereby I get to about 50 nautical miles and get a radar lock on this guy (there's no reason for me to look into the radar scope anymore) and now I'm looking out there, at where I know he'll appear. My eyes are focused at about 10 miles and I'm just waiting to see a wing flash or smoke or something and then it's 'OK, I can see him, I can break radar lock'.
Now I can flow to an engagement on this guy, where he doesn't get any situational awareness of where I'm coming from. If he's got a RHAWS scope, (a radar warning scope), he'll get the clock position of where I'm coming into the fight but if I can see him, I can break lock, there's no need for me to lock him up on the radar anymore. And if he doesn't get me with an 'Alamo' before the merge, his life gets very difficult. Once I get inside about 10 nautical miles, he can't shoot me with a radar missile, so he's going to have to shoot me with a heat seeking missile. But now in the cockpit the MiG-29 pilot's got to throw the switch from radar to helmet sight, he's got to activate the IRSTS and arm up the 'Archers'.
So while he's doing all that, if I blow past him before he can take a shot on me, he's got to go back into the cockpit, go back to radar mode to select his radar missiles and deactivate the 'Archers' and meanwhile I'm going by at high Mach, trying to get away. If he can't get me with an 'Archer' as I blow past him, he has to go back to the 'Alamo'. But his ability to actually do that is very very difficult in terms of his radar. He'll have lost lock on me as I pass, and if he breaks lock, his radar display, and scan automatically jump back out to the 70 nautical mile range settings. He can't change that, till he gets an actual radar lock on me. So as I blow past him and he turns round to try to lock me up, he's going to have to have GCI tell him where to lock, because he's not going to be able to see me at that short range with his radar at that setting. By the time he can lock me up, I'm already outside his weapons parameters so the chances of him shooting a missile at me are slim.
I talked to the western-trained MiG-29 pilots, who admitted that 'yeah, our chances of locking you guys up as you flew past us in a merge were slim-to-none because of the way the system is set up'. So you can see that he's hampered quite a bit just by the systems that he has. Here in the western world we give the pilot a lot of autonomy and so consequently we have built systems in the aero-plane that give him more situational awareness. In the eastern block the guy who had ultimate control was the ground controller. When they first started using MiG-29s in the integrated Luftwaffe, they were still actually using the ground control people. That's what the East German pilots were used to (although the MiG-29 pilots had more capacity for autonomous decision making than those flying earlier Russian-built airplanes). Too a large degree they're still quite dependant on that, even with western-trained pilots. Just because the onboard systems were not designed in the Western way they don't have the situational awareness that they would like to have in the cockpit. They don't have the level of on board automatic threat prioritization that a western guy can take for granted".
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
2. FLYING CONTROLS AND MANOEUVRABILITY
"I was afraid that the 'Fulcrum' was going to out-maneuver us at most speeds, that it was just too powerful and that it was going to have more energy than we have. I had no idea what to expect from the pilots and I had a good healthy fear of the 'Archer' also.
One thing you notice straight away on going from the F-16 to the MiG-29 is the flight controls. The movement of the 'Fulcrum' itself is sluggish compared to the F-16 and that was noticeable the first time you take the stick and try to do a turn. It just seems like there is a second or two delay and you don't get the crisp, clean quick movements that you get in the Viper, at least in roll". (Note: This is a common misconception among pilots who have flown only one frontline type, especially where that type has a very sensitive, limited travel stick. The F-16 stick was originally designed not to move at all, but only to sense pressure. The MiG-29 stick is designed to move, and to move a long way. While you do need more stick deflection and displacement
to maneuver than you do in, say, the F/A-18, the aircraft responds just as readily, unless you are timid in your control column inputs). "It takes a lot more work and a lot more control input to effect the same maneuver. The position of the controls - the positioning of the rudder pedals, the length of the stick, it was all very different. It was an environment that it would take me a few hundred hours to get used to. But if your flying background was the L-39 or the MiG-21 it would all be very familiar.
The aero-plane is very good in pitch, so when you're in a turn, it turns very well but its ability to change direction is less impressive. I didn't think it rolled as fast as the F-16 did, in an aileron roll. MiG-29 pilots who flew the F-16 were really surprised at how fast it rolled, they could almost bang their heads off the canopy and that's real nice because it means that we can change direction in a heartbeat.
Once you get into the turn the 'Fulcrum' is highly maneuverable and I was surprised that at low airspeeds, with the nose down, it could transition to a nose up pitch authority remarkably quickly. I thought wow, this jet can really pitch its nose around in a slow speed fight and could really cause us a lot of problems. It certainly did cause problems with the guys who got slow with it and we kind of purposely stayed out of that regime.
Some people's plan was to get in close and have a 'knife fight' while others used their turn capability and energy to give them sustainability, taking care to fight a two circle fight, staying out of the slow speed fights which single-circle fights inevitably degenerate into. A lot of people are very impressed by the MiG-29's ability to point the nose away from the axis of flight, which is obviously most relevant in the slow speed regime. The aircraft's nose authority is pretty significant, especially when it's tied into the missile. If you can point the missile seeker heads away more pressure you can pull through that, and then you can go beyond 26° AOA and beyond your 9g.
So in the MiG-29 you have soft limits, which can be overridden to go to higher alpha or higher g. You can accept a progressive degradation of flying qualities and you can accept that it will become progressively more likely that you will depart, but you can over-g it or over alpha it by
comparison with the placard limits. You might want to do that in order to out-turn your opponent or to avoid the hill you were about to fly into or to turn just that bit tighter to defeat the enemy missile. But you can do it. That's nice for a fighter pilot to have. Its telling you that if you're going against an adversary and you need a little bit more out of this jet to save your life, you can have it. If you really, no kidding, need to pull that little bit more, if it's worth running the risk of departing, or over-stressing the aircraft, you can do it. In the F-16, the computer just says no way! It's nice to have and that's kind of one thing I wish we had in the F-16.
I pull as from the direction you're flying that gives you an impressive off-boresight capability. That's the one capability that we've all sweat over! Some of the differences in slow speed maneuverability between the MiG-29 and the F-16 were down to the totally different design
philosophy. We have a limiter, which ensures that we cannot exceed the airplane's g and
alpha limits, period. You can pull as hard as you like and the black boxes will not let the airplane exceed 9 g, and will not less us rake the nose too much. The airplane won't let the pilot get himself in that much trouble! In the MiG-29 when you pull on the g, you start feeling a limit on the stick, but by applying hard as I can in the F-1 6, but once I reach the limit the computer goes 'Uh-oh I'm not going to let you have any more than that, you can have that much and that's it'.
Sometimes I would really love to have just a little bit more, I may depart the aircraft, but it may get me out of a situation that I need to get out of. Because the MiG-29 pilot does have the
ability to do that, now he does have an ability to really raise his nose at low air speed, he can exceed 26 AOA and that's nice to have. Even if he can only do so momentarily. That gives them the ability to do a tail-slide or to do the cobra maneuver. The cobra maneuver can only be done at certain times, it has to be done at low air speed and is normally done from straight level flight, but it's a hell of a maneuver. Suddenly the MiG-29 can decelerate to almost zero forward speed, while simultaneously raking the nose back to 90° from the direction of flight. Awesome!
And if the MiG-29 pilot does 'over-cook' it, departing from controlled flight is not necessarily that big a deal.
When I flew the MiG-29 I pulled the nose up to do a loop and I guess I pulled too much g at first, to the top of the loop. Once inverted the jet started to depart, the nose slicing back and forth. I actually did depart at the top of the loop and there I was still in afterburner trying to do this loop, but it was just sort of slicing back and forth. So I released the stick and the MiG flew
itself out, real nice and stable, that was really very nice. I was kind of surprised and very impressed by that. And if that benign handling was not enough, there is actually a button on the stick, which returns you to wings level, slight nose up, if you get really disorientated.
Of course you can get into trouble in the MiG-29, especially when differential, asymmetric engine thrust enters the equation.
If the afterburners don't light up together, there can be a powerful yawing moment, and to avoid problems, the established procedure is to plug in burner before rolling in to a tight,
heavily banked turn at low level. That was amazing to me because I fly single engine jets, so I never had to really deal with that, but because they are flying twin-engine jets, (and because it's such a high performance jet) they can experience problems, but probably no more than the pilots of any twin-jet.
In conclusion I was pleasantly surprised to see that the F-16 actually out-maneuvered the
Fulcrum, at least outside the low-speed, high alpha end of the envelope. I never got slow
enough myself to give the MiG-29 that advantage, I tried not to and so I personally never got into a slow speed flight. Obviously that's the one we want to avoid. I would probably give the MiG-29 a slight advantage at lower airspeeds (certainly anything below 200 knots), but at higher speeds (above 325 knots) I was pleasantly surprised that we could turn and burn a little better than the 'Fulcrum'. However, it's worth noting our configuration, we had no wing tanks, no centre line tanks and even had the LAUs removed off the wing, so we were as clean and as light as we were going to get. It probably would have been a little closer competition had we had a centre line tank and if we'd had the LAUs fitted, let alone loaded-up."
Interestingly, this pilot, and his colleagues were careful not to have claimed to have beaten the MiG-29s in the majority of closein dogfight engagements, while the German MiG-29 pilots remained sanguine that 'inside ten miles' they could beat 'anybody'.
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
3. ENGINE LIMITATIONS
"While we were flying lightweight and clean, the MiG-29s were flying with a centreline tank so that obviously imposed limitations on them. We'd have to do some exercises out in the area in order to get his centre line tank empty before we could really start maneuvering.
Their tanks were empty, and the status of that tank makes a big difference to the g limits that they can use, but even empty, they were flying with limitations which were not typical of the aircraft in its operational configuration.
Also we were flying against German MiG-29s, which have had their engines de-tuned to make them last that little bit longer. They've also noticed a small decrease in thrust moving from JP-4 to NATO standard JP-8 fuel. I remember the detuning of F-15 engines when we were having problems, so I can't help but believe that detuning the MiG-29's engines has had a huge effect. We noticed it tremendously when they did that to the F-15. I think any time you detune a motor that's going to have a significant effect in BFM. You don't usually notice it too much in the beyond visual range arena, but you do significantly notice it in the maneuvering
fight, because as you get less thrust, your sustained turn rate goes down and you lose
It's difficult to gauge exactly how much difference that 10% thrust reduction makes, however. From the pilot's perspective I personally would say it can make a very significant difference. Its going to depend on the scenario obviously, but I did talk to one of the German pilots, and he said that it really bothered him that they did it. Obviously he understands why, you know, they've got to save their own engines, but that bit of thrust can make all the difference in some scenarios.
We flew a number of comparative acceleration runs against the MiG-29. We both slowed down to about 150 knots and then went into afterburner. The first guy to 400 knots called terminate. The MiG-29 was able to out accelerate me initially, but by the time I got to 400 knots, he was still only at 360 knots. So he initially beat me off the starting block, but then I passed him.
The F-16's General Electric engine is a self tuning engine, and so its will tune itself in the airflow according to airspeed. Of course, the fact that they had tuned their engines down by about 10% could also account for the way I was able to out accelerate the MiG.
I think if his engines were 100%, we would be pretty much equal. He might then be able to beat me to the 400 knot point. Certainly it felt like the airplane had a lot of thrust, and it was nice to have two engines that kicked in quickly and reliably, giving you and lots of maneuverability.
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
Also the MiG-29 engine smokes more now, so it's easier to visually acquire the aircraft. It
always was an aero-plane that seemed to smoke more than a lot of Western types, and the de-tuned aircraft smoke even more. I'd say it's comparable to visually acquiring an F-15 Eagle, it's a lot easier than finding an F-16. I know that those guys in their 'Fulcrum's had a tough time picking us up and keeping sight of us, even in a small turning circle like a BFM engagement,
especially with the limited rearward visibility they had in the MiG-29.
But apart from the smoke I really didn't have too many complaints about the engine. It's a big strong engine and I guess its only real problem is its lifespan, but as far as response and power and everything, I think its a good one. They also have some unique advantages, engine-wise.
It's very impressive the way those engines can keep running in the face of what must be
severe air flow distortions in the intake. I flew a tail slide in the MiG-29, and that was just
eye-watering. The tailslide is pretty much a like a deliberate whip stall. You engage full afterburner, pull the nose up to 90° (straight up) and then let the airspeed decay and decay until the MiG flies back on its tail. We can't do that in the F-1 6 due to the intake, the way the intake is designed.
The MiG-29 is real nice at low speeds and high angles of attack because he has the dorsal vents for the engine over the wingroots. They open at low air speed and high AOA so that the engines
can draw air from the top side of the aircraft even if the main intakes can't feed the engines. That prevents the engines from stalling or surging".
4. In The Cockpit
"The view from the cockpit is not as good as we enjoy from the F-16, either. They obviously came to a different judgement when coming to the inevitable compromise between drag, birdstrike resistance, and absolute unimpeded all-round vision. If you fly in close formation
with an F-16 and a MiG-29 you would then be able just to see the necks and maybe the tops of the shoulders of the MiG-29 pilot, and then only if he sat really high. In the F-16, we sit so high that we can put our arms on top of the canopy rail and so we have, pretty much from our elbows up above the cockpit sides, so visibility is much, much better. But having said that, the F-16 is atypical even in the West, and to be fair, the MiG-29 cockpit isn't so very different from an F-15 or Tornado cockpit.
And once you're in the cockpit, it's pretty tight and constrained. You're wearing the helmet and then they hook up the oxygen hose, the communication cord and everything and you're having to weave your arm around all this crap so you don't get tangled up in it. Our system is real nice, our oxygen hose is out of our way, strapped to our chest and it goes up underneath our arm so it doesn't cause conflict in the cockpit at all. But in the MiG-29 you have the communication cord and the oxygen hose and the g-suit hose, all individual, and all just flapping around down by your left side and the ergonomics of it was pretty surprising.
In the F-1 6 everything you really need is built into the centre console so your instrument cross check is very simple, it's more of a vertical cross check. When we're in an instrument flying environment, wanting to cross check between instruments it's a closely-spaced pattern, a left to right narrow U-shape, down and up, down and up, down and up. So you look at the main altitude indicator versus the compass, then of course the tacometer's on the right side.
The human factor is very friendly, your cross check is very osimple, and in any case you can go all the way up to the HUD and that has everything you need, so you don't actually need to scan
round the panel. In the MiG-29 there are instruments all over the place, so the cross check is more of a Z or a zig zag They have to look left for the ADI (the attitude indicator, and that's your primary instrument in instrument flying), then they have to look back to the right side for the
engine instrument to set the engines. And then back to the centre to monitor their compass, navigation and then back to the right side again, for their vertical velocity indicators etc. etc.
So the cross check is more left and right, left and right. That's pretty difficult moving your head left and right or moving your eyeballs left and right versus moving your eyeballs up and down,
especially when you're in the weather. When you bank the jet, you really don't want to be
moving your head that much, and especially not from side to side. You can get vertigo very
easily due to the inner ear fluids really getting going and so its real nice to keep your head
nice and still, just flicking your eyeballs down and across and up, not too far".
5. DOGFIGHT WEAPONS
"The MiG-29's HUD is not as useful or as sophisticated as ours. It's pretty much an 'iron sight'. They do get a funnel type of sight for the gun, but it doesn't really do anything, it's not tied to the radar. It moves left and right to show you the effect of g, showing you that if you fire the gun the bullets will go down the flight path to the left or to the right, but it's basically similar to the gunsight of an A-10, with no F-16 type 'level 5 pipper'.
In the F-1 6 the radar will take a lock on the target aircraft and it will show you where you need to put the pipper to put bullets into him. It's constantly computing impact points and once you learn the system, it improves your accuracy quite a bit. It gives you the ability to fire at a target outside of 4,000 feet away. But I don't think the Soviets designed it thinking that they would ever get into a gun fight. They can't even fire the gun unless the centerline tank is gone. And they can't fire if the speed brakes are out. So it's not really designed to be employed, it's there as a token weapon or for emergencies. Or maybe for use against a transport or a helicopter. But you've only got 1 50 rounds and the rate of fire is very slow: boom, boom, boom, rather than b-b-b-b-b!
But if the MiG-29 pilot can get his nose onto you at close range, if he uses his low speed capability and 'portability' to force you to blow through past him, then a few rounds of 30-mm could spoil your entire day. And because their gun is a 30-mm cannon, if a shell does hit you it really does cause damage. It's totally the opposite philosophy to the US 20-mm, which is fast firing and which has a high velocity. One hit from a 20-mm s>hull neeUn'i be ihai big a deal, plenty of guys have come home after one or two hits.
Anyway, each approach has its adherents, and who's to say who's right? But what they do
need is a more accurate, more user-friendly sight. The MiG-29 won't be winning any gunnery meets without one, that's for sure. Even more impressive is the MiG-29's primary air-to-air weapon, the R-73 missile, allocated the reporting name AA-11 'Archer' by NATO. Many people have claimed that the 'Archer' is actually the best close-in dogfight missile in service, anywhere in the world. The Israeli Python 4 has its admirers, and the new British ASRAAM is also much admired, but at the end of the day, the 'Archer' is superior to anything in the US inventory.
There are those who say that we had designed a similar type of missile long ago, and that this (fictional?) missile was compromised to the Russians and that's how they developed the 'Archer'. But we still don't have anything like 'Archer', and they do, so can you really believe they copied it? I guess that story originated when we in the West couldn't believe they could
produce anything worthwhile, unless they copied it straight from us. But personally I think the Russians learned the lessons of Vietnam and the Middle East wars, then just went out and spent more money on the technology.
We really were quite impressed by the 'Archer', whose envelope is extremely lethal with a very high g capability. The missile can turn very well, using forward-mounted control surfaces, 'ruddervon' control surfaces on the fixed rear fins, and a vectored-thrust rocket motor. The seeker has also got a very wide look-angle. Obviously it's better to fire your missile straight at a target and make its job easy - the more it manoeuvres, the more energy it will lose. But it's a useful capability for the missile to be able to turn hard, either to overcome the target's efensive
manoeuvring, or to allow you to fire at a target that's not straight in front of you, slap ahead on the nose. The 'Archer' has got a very impressive off-boresight capability, it's really a very good dog fight missile and to be honest with you, if you get into a dog fight with that missile, you are going to have a difficult time staying out of its parameters.
So I'd have to say that we are a little paranoid about the 'Archer' and its ability to be launched at targets up to 45° off the MiG's nose. There are still a lot of unknowns about the missile, they did not have any tapes that they could show us, they don't have any VTR machines in their 'Fulcrums', you know and there's no way to validate their BVR shots during peacetime training. A lot of the times we flew, we'd come back and it was just a big grey area, whether they could have shot us, whether it would have been valid, they can't tell exactly what they're locked onto anyhow with their avionics.
So, you know, like I said, we have a healthy respect for the missile, but because of the unknown aspects, we really just don't know exactly how good it is. However, we expect that it's very good indeed and that it could make a huge difference in a BFM-type engagement. And Vympel are about to start production of a enhanced version of 'Archer' with an even bigger angle on the seeker which will be even more frightening. When this new 'Archer' that we've been reading about comes in it will be even harder. Any time you improve on a good thing, its always kind of more difficult.
We need a missile like that in the USAF, that's our big complaint these days. I'd like to see them
evaluating the 'Archer' for the F-16, prior to us getting a decent Western short range missile.
There's a range out there, probably a short (only just) BVR range, where the 'Archer' has its greatest advantage, and where the 'Archer' is most scary to us. Inside ten miles they're not thinking 'Alamos' any more and have probably even jettisoned them. But before we can get into a turning engagement ourselves or get close enough to VID (visually identify) or get a Fox Two against the 'Fulcrum', there are 'Archers' on the way, and they're extremely difficult to defeat.
I'm not sure exactly what the reach of the AA-11 is actually, and of course, in any case the Russians have a different version of the 'Archer' than the Germans and there are new sub-variants coming out all the time. But, at the end of the day there's a range out there where we can't see the 'Fulcrum', can't tell that the bandit is a 'Fulcrum' and yet they can shoot 'Archers' at us. That's not a good situation to be in.
6. POINTING THE NOSE
The 'Cobra* is a dynamic deceleration which allows the aircraft's nose to be rotated rapidly to extreme angles of attack, allowing it (and weapons or sensors) to be pointed at a target which may not be directly in front of the MiG-29.
During a turning fight, the MiG-29 is lagging behind an enemy F-15, and though slowly 'catching up due to superior turn performance, cannot bring weapons to bear. By performing a Cobra in the horizontal plane, the MiG-29 pilot can point his nose and the gun and missile seekers across the circle at the F-15. Because of the helmet mounted sight, the pilot does not need to point the aircraft directly at his opponent, but merely needs to get the F-15 in his forward hemisphere.
7. THE COBRA
Despite not having a fly-by-wire control system, the MiG-29 is capable of many 'edge of the envelope* maneuvers. The Cobra was developed as a flight test point by Mikoyan's then Chief Test Pilot, Valery Menirsky, was stolen for airshow use by Sukhoi's Victor Pugachev,
and has since become a combat maneuver.
From balanced flight (with no yaw), the MiG-29 pilot closes the throttles to reduce airspeed.
The pilot'breaks' dynamically into the manoeuvre with a hard, snatched pull back on the stick,
overriding the limiters. The elevator travels fully nose down, pitching the aircraft nose up. As the nose rotates rapidly upwards, the pilot has already returned the stick to a neutral position, but
the nose continues to rotate. The pilot has a limited amount of control, even with the wing fully stored, with aileron and throttle affecting nose position. With the nose rotated, the pilot may take a missile 'snapshot'. The pilot slams the stick forward to lower the nose, simultaneously opening up the power to accelerate away, aiming to acheive minimum height loss in the manoeuvre.
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
8. GRAND SLAM!
"The MiG-29 pilot has a formidable ability to point the nose of his airplane away from where he's flying, and obviously where he can point the nose, he can fire a weapon. That's very significant, since it means he doesn't have to maneuver around the sky trying to get his
airplane stabilized, flying along a 'route' where its pointing at the target - following it along in a tailchase, for example. If he can get so that the target is somewhere out in his forward hemisphere, out to the left, perhaps, he can pull the nose round to briefly point his
weapons at the enemy. Briefly, but long enough to take a snapshot. In essence, the MiG-29 pilot can use his pitch authority and high alpha capability to briefly point the nose away from the direction of flight ('off boresight') and towards his enemy.
As if that's not bad enough, his primary closein weapon has a wide angle seeker, meaning that it doesn't actually need to be pointed right at the target, but just within about 45° of it. To fully exploit this capability the MiG-29 pilot uses a simple helmet-mounted cueing system, sometimes known (probably erroneously, if you want to get picky) as a Helmet mounted sight, to which the missile seekers could be slaved. The difference between what the MiG-29 pilots have had since that airplane entered service and the helmet-mounted sighting systems now in development or entering service is significant. Their system simply tells the missile seekers where to look, by using head position sensors to 'tell' where the pilot is looking. There may be a simple symbology to confirm lock-on, but that's about as far as it goes. Whereas some of the systems being developed for the next generation of Western fighters are very much more sophicticated and complex, able to display complex symbology and weapons aiming information to the pilot's helmet visor, and often with laser eye protection and who-knows-what-else. But they will be bulky and heavy, and we're still waiting for them, while the MiG-29 pilots have had their simple, cheap, and lightweight system operational for years. It may be
inferior, but its useful, and they've got it.
To activate the helmet sight and to slave the missile seekers, the MiG-29 pilot toggles a
switch in the cockpit labelled 'Helmet' in Russian, with Cyrillic letters which could be
pronounced as schlemm. Appropriately enough, 'Schlemm' means 'Grand Slam' in
German, and naturally, the German MiGdrivers tend to call 'Schlemm' rather than 'Fox
2' when simulating the launch of an 'Archer' using the helmet sight.
During the engagements between our F-16s and the MiG-29s, we got to hear the radio call alltoo-often, usually when the MiG-29 appeared to present no real danger, with his nose
pointing nowhere near you.
There are a lot of different opinions about the helmet-mounted sight, even among the
guys who use them. But fighting against someone wearing the helmet sight and able to use it to its fullest advantage I was surprised at the very large off boresight angles at which they could shoot you. I think that was impressive.
What that meant in practice was that the MiG-29 pilot could be in lag, with his nose quite far away from being pointed at you, and yet he could look up (usually laterally, but also up through the top of the canopy) and still be able to shoot the missile. Normally you're accustomed to reacting to an aero-plane that has to point at you or almost at you in order to present a threat.
Normally your opponent has to get his nose close enough to you to get his radar looking at you. The visual cues that you have to use in a dogfight now with the MiG-29 are very different. You have just got to assume that this guy can shoot you even without pointing his nose at you, so he appears to be able to threaten you much more often than other aero-planes can. A two-circle fight was his worst-case scenario, giving him the hardest time trying to employ the sight, because of the higher g and higher speed, and the higher relative airspeeds. I was in a Lufbery with a MiG-29, a sort of two-circle vertical fight, and every time he would bring his nose up close to me, like 30°, I would have to be putting out flares because of the helmet sight. It was
neat because I'm coming down hill and the guy is coming up hill to meet me, I'm
popping flares and he's calling shlemm (their codename for a simulated AA-11 firing) on the radio. And even though I'm going to be passing him in just a second at high speed in this two-circle fight, that's a real firing opportunity for him.
That's a significant capability. In a one circle fight he was much more able to use the helmet sight, because whether I was in a neutral stack with him or whether I was reversing, we're both in the same plane, and while he tries to get on my tail he is able to look over and let the system
settle out, let the IRSTS and the helmet sight settle out and then he will get a nice lock, without having to get his nose pointing at me. Some pilots refuse to wear the helmet sight because they find they can lose sight of a guy even when he's right in front of them. They feel that the sight gets in their way and restricts their visibility. In the dogfight arena, while it provides good off boresight capability, it is a heavier, bulkier type of system and so there's some complaints about
that. But other guys have got used to it and like it a lot. Certainly, when used properly by a pilot whose trained with it quite a bit, it can be a highly effective weapon.
If you know somebody's wearing the helmet sight, which you'll never know, you'd really want to stay further behind him than you would normally. But it's very difficult to actually quantify what difference the helmet sight makes. With no VTR it's hard enough to scientifically debrief a normal missile firing, to state with certainty whether it would have hit its target. We come back from a training mission and look at each other's tapes and can validate shots and everything like that, but the MiG-29's pilots couldn't do any of that. They have even less of a clue when
they're wearing the helmet mounted sight if a shot was going to be good or not. But it's
another element of uncertainty to dial into your calculations.
And if helmet sights weren't useful, you've got to ask yourself if every air force in the world is desperately hurrying to get them into service. It pains me to say it, but that's another area where the Russians led the way".
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
9. BVR COMBAT
"The MiG-29's BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missile, the 'Alamo' is probably less of a threat than the 'Archer', though it is an effective enough weapon. The ranges of the 'Alamo' missile are impressive and we respect it. Like any missile if you don't do anything about it, you've got a chance of getting whacked, so, naturally we train against it. Quite honestly if the MiG-29 pilot can find you and lock you up on radar and you're in his parameters, you are in serious danger. Therefore we work hard at not being seen and if we are seen, we try to defeat the radar and make him not see us anymore. The last part is, if he can still see us and launches against us, then obviously we'll try to defeat the missile. But we respect it, it's a good missile.
I can't talk too much about the systems that we have to counter 'Alamo', but in general it
would be fair to say that we respect the 'Archer' more than the 'Alamo'. And so do the pilots who fly it. Overall, their BVR capability represents a Sparrow level of threat. That's not necessarily the fault of the missile though. There are other problems that they have to contend with. One such problem is that the display of the MiG-29 radar contacts is not anything like what we in the west put in our cockpits for pilots. Thus they don't get anywhere as much situational awareness, even though they've got a fairly good detection capability. The radar is powerful and flexible, but they don't have the on-board processing to give the pilot a decent, clear picture with the threats analysed and prioritised, stuff that we take for granted.
The pilot has a very hard time knowing who he's locked on to and what the situation is, so not
only do we enjoy a significant advantage with our long range Amram missile, but crucially we also enjoy a significant situational awareness advantage. This means that we could qujte often get somebody into the fight unseen, just because their system would not permit them to see the whole engagement. That's the key reason why they are so reliant on GC1 or AWACS control. The Germans can overcome the radar deficiencies by operating mixed formations of F-4 Phantoms and MiG-29s, while other MiG-29 operators may also have fighters which could operate mixed fighter force tactics with their 'Fulcrums'.
A nightmare scenario could be Iranian MiG-29s operating alongside Iranian F-14 Tomcats, for
instance, or Malaysian MiG-29s with F/A-18Ds or British Hawk 200s. Even the firing procedure is much more 'labour-intensive' in the MiG-29 than it is in the F-16.
If we shoot a BVR missile we get everything we need in the HUD. We can have a line showing our radar scan limits, telling us how far we can turn away and still provide the missile with guidance. The computer works out the time the missile will be in flight, and a countdown clock
automatically winds down in the HUD so that we know when we can break away completely. We don't have to think about it. He doesn't have that.
Well, one of the things that dominates the MiG-29 panel is a clock. It's a huge instrument, but it's just a clock. When he fires a BVR missile he has to work out the missile's flight time himself - 'if the missile flies ten miles in one minute, and I'm launching at twelve miles, then I'll need to
illuminate the target for one minute twelve seconds' and he has to hack the stopwatch button on the clock as he fires. He then has to watch until the hand in the small dial gets right round and back to the twelve, ignoring the big second hand. This is hardly high-tech stuff. That same basic clock came out of the MiG-23, that same basic clock is in the MiG-21. It's an old fashioned mechanical wind-up clock (you'd better make sure that the ground crew remembered to wind it this morning!).
Of course when they get an active-homing missile, a genuinely fire-and-forget weapon, all of that will be history. But at the moment, when a MiG-29 pilot enters a BVR engagement he relies on the 'Alamo'. All he knows is range and he gets a little tick on his radar scope showing that his target is within missile range parameters. He can then lock up the target and push the consent
button. He then waits, and as soon as the radar says OK, the missile's in consent range, it will launch. Then off the missiles goes and he's got to support that missile until impact. If he breaks lock at any time before impact, that missile goes stupid and misses the target".
US FIGHTER PILOT'S PERSPECTIVE
10. USING THE RADAR
"I should point out that there is such a big difference in philosophy that the F-16 pilot will be bound to hate certain things about the MiG-29 for their unfamiliarity, even though they might be just as effective, it's just that he's not conditioned (and certainly not trained) to deal with them. They can put the radar display up their in the HUD, and for guys used to dealing with that, or for guys new to the game, that could be useful. You don't have to look down into the cockpit to look at the radar.
When the Israelis got their hands on a very late MiG-23 they were very impressed by the ability to do that - and you have to respect what the Israelis think about fighter airplanes! But personally, as an indoctrinated F-16 pilot I think that is a waste. They're not giving me anything in the HUD that's any sort of situational awareness news. They put the radar projection into the HUD and if the pilot's got a lock on the radar, he looks in the HUD and he sees the same thing, but he can't really tell the position of what he's locked onto in space. It's not like the radar display is presented in a three dimensional way, with contacts appearing in the bit of sky where
they would actually appear. It's like sticking a transparent map up in front of the HUD.
But in the F-16 all the HUD gives us is updated information of airspeed, altitude, heading and weapons status. If we get a radar lock, we have a bore site cross on the top of the HUD, and that will give us a locator line. If I've got a guy radar locked 50° left, I look in the HUD and the locator line will tell me that my radar lock is 50° left and that I need to go up to get to it. He doesn't really get that, all he gets is a radar image saying you've got a lock here and he's got to look to the scale on the left side to say where it is. So in the F-16, we can't see a radar picture in the HUD, but we can have the position of a locked-up target displayed to us in space, and that's much more useful.
In addition, the MiG-29 radar can look with the scan centred straight ahead at 12 o'clock or at 30° left or 30° right. Yet if he looks in the HUD he can't tell if the radar's looking straight ahead, or 30° left or 30° right unless he remembers (or checks) where he set the switch. So he might be flying along straight ahead, and the radar picture shows a contact straight ahead at 12 o'clock, but the radar's looking 30° to the right, so the target isn't straight ahead, it's out to the right.
That's just too much maths to do in the cockpit. Even flying along straight and level, at 1g, it's hard enough to understand, but maneuvering, pulling g... But I'm sure that if you went out and
trained and trained and trained with it, you would get good at it - you know, it's a video game and you would get good at playing it.
But at the end of the day, all the radar and BVR stuff is a bit of a distraction anyway - that's not really what the MiG-29's about.
Chances are, if we are worrying about the MiG-29 in a BVR scenario it will be operating with GCI or AWACS, or other fighters, and its weaknesses will be compensated for by those other platforms, and by jamming, etc.
The MiG-29 will just bring more missiles to the fight. Where the MiG-29's own independent
capabilities are relevant to us is in the closein dogfight arena, and any BVR engagement is likely to become a close-in furball within seconds anyway.
To paraphrase, the threat posed by the 'Fulcrum' is very much a close-in BFM kind of threat and we're not that worried about it in the BVR environment. But you can't entirely discount that aspect of the threat - you know it only takes one BVR missile to ruin your day so, I wouldn't disregard it. And at the end of the day, like me, the MiG-29 pilot will want to whack his opponent in the teeth before he can be detected.
The ideal situation we hope for is that you never see the target before you destroy it, that's why
we've got these long sticks. I want to kill my enemy while he's still got his head down in the cockpit, looking at his radar display, preferably before he even suspects I'm there. He does also have some advantages – it would be over-simplistic to regard him as being crude and basic in all respects. Every MiG-29 has RHAWS, every MiG-29 has a data link, most Soviet MiG-29s had an internal built-in active jammer, all MiG-29s have a generous load of chaff/flare expendables – and after Afghanistan, there's at least a possibility that their's might be better than ours.
I think its important to point out that the MiG-29 and the F-16 are very evenly matched. Each has advantages and disadvantages. In the end it comes down to the pilot. What we say in America is that it doesn't matter what wrapper you wrap your hamburger in, no matter how nicely you package it up, the bottom line is that it's still a hamburger.
So if you put a good pilot in a great aero-plane he is going to do well, but a great pilot in a great aero-plane is going to do extremely well. The better pilot will come out on top. I have to say that the edge I think we have is dependant mainly on personal training skills. The MiG-29 pilots would probably admit that they are still progressing.
The former East German pilots have still got a long way to go from coming out of the previous Eastern Bloc training in which things were more scripted and more programmed, and they're still not fully used to the free flowing western BFM type of arena.
The western pilots, the former West German pilots, are very different. They maximise that
aero-plane in kind of an eye watering way. Straight away you tended to know who you were fighting. That was very evident, although it's just a matter of differences in training background. The eastern pilots, prior to the reunification, got very very few hours actually flying the jet and so their whole training mindset was different. The outcome is that they're not nearly as capable as their western counterparts. The western pilots are more aggressive and are used to having a whole lot more progressive thinking. For example, in the debrief, the former eastern pilots tended to accept whatever they were told was the outcome of the mission and leave it at that.
The western pilots liked to really get at why they got hammered, and were genuinely upset if it didn't go exactly right. They wanted to win the debrief, as well as the fight. The eastern-trained guys were more phlegmatic.
Flying against the German MiG-29s (and perhaps even more so flying against their Soviet-trained pilots) taught us quite a bit about an old adversary. The MiG-29 is still a very valid adversary. Some guys started off thinking that had NATO ever found itself at war with the Warsaw pact, air-to-air we would have just kicked their asses, and some guys still think that, but all of us learned new respect for the MiG-29, and many realize that while we might have won the air war, it would have been close."