Which is better: MiG-29 or F-16?

A drawing from the 1992 Fulcrum-Flanker review by General Dynamics.
Note that side and planform views do not match. Here goes credibility;)


Is fighter X better than fighter Y?

by Ross Smith (avfaq@meanmach.actrix.gen.nz)

This is the kind of question that gets discussed all the time, but doesn't really have an answer.

First, best for what? Every fighter is designed with a particular set of requirements in mind. "Fighter" is a fairly general term that covers a multitude of missions. A Tornado F.3 or a MiG-31 is an excellent long-range interceptor, but you wouldn't want to send one of them up against an F-16 or an Su-27 in a dogfight.

Second, the aircraft itself isn't the only factor involved, or even the most important one. Put two aircraft of similar (or even somewhat different) capabilities up against each other, and by far the most important factor is the relative skills of the two pilots. It's widely believed that superior pilot training was the main reason why American F-86 Sabres consistently gained air superiority over technically superior Russian MiG-15s in the Korean War.

Third, even apparently identical fighters can differ enormously in their electronics fit; and in modern fighters, the electronics is at least as important (not to mention expensive) as the airframe. Export versions of fighters are normally much less capable in the electronic sphere than the equivalent models for the home air force, even when the aircraft have the same designation; does anyone expect the F-16Cs exported to, say, Egypt to be anywhere near the capability of the F-16Cs in USAF service? Older aircraft can be upgraded to modern electronic standards at a fraction of the cost of new fighters, an option increasingly popular in these days of tightened defence budgets (for example, the RNZAF recently upgraded its Skyhawk fleet with a radar and avionics suite equivalent to that of the F-16A).

Most of the modern generation of fighters are fairly similar in performance. Leaving out specialised interceptors such as the Tornado and MiG-31 mentioned above, if almost any two modern fighters came up against each other in a dogfight, pilot skill would certainly be the main deciding factor. We can (and certainly will) argue endlessly about the relative merits of, say, F-16 vs Sea Harrier, or F-22 vs Su-35 (both the subject of recent discussion on this newsgroup; Harriers versus conventional fighters is a particularly hardy perennial), and there are real differences there; but such technical details are not the most important thing in combat.

Gneral Dynamics concluded in 1992 in their F-16/MiG-29 comparison:

- Good Aerodynamics - But Compromised by Construction
- Inferior to F-16 Supersonically, Parity at Subsonic Speeds, Slight Superiority at Very Slow Speeds

Flight Controls
- Manual System Limits Use of Full Capabilities But Allows for Superior Pilot Individualized Capabilities

- Head-Down Concept and Poor PVI Integration Decreases Effectiveness

- Look-Down, Shoot-Down Radar. Flexibility, Modes Limited by Controls & Displays
- State-of-the-Art INS
- Radar Warning Receiver - Low Technology But Good Coverage
- HUD: Limited Capability - Augmented by Helmet Mounted Sight
- IRST: A-A, Slavable to Radar and Helmet Mounted Sight
- Helmet-Mounted Sight System - Slow, Yet Capable
- Further Advancements Expected With Appearance of New MiG-29 Versions

Lot's of "buts", don't you think;)?

Luftwaffe MiG-29s flew on several ocations against Falcons. One such experience described by a USAF pilot in Aviano Vigileer's article which might give you some idea about how it went.

There is also an article in Air & Space Smithsonian April-May, 1995 which describes the problems Luftwaffe has to deal with after unification and incorporation of MiG-29s in their active units.

From: Steven Vincent (steven@unipalm.pipex.com)
Subject: Re: MiG29 vs F16?

This has just been written up in Air Forces Monthly. The F-16C wing based in Spain sent a group down to the ACM range in Sardinia (which I am not going to attempt to spell Decmommm..) at the same time as the Luftwaffe Mig-29/F4 wing had slots. Seems the German pilots are good enough but the Avionics on the Migs are still a real pain. Comments like 11 seperate switches to launch a missile vs 1 for the F-16! The Radar is not as good as that in the F-4s (so the Luftwaffe uses mixed formations). The Head mounted AA-11 site system is great, giving a 45 degree cone of engagement and the Mig-29 can out point the F-16C at most speeds but the F-16C can maintain energy better.

From the ACM reports the Luftwaffe's Mig-29s are better than an F-16A and not as good as the F-16C. So far the Luftwaffe does not have a very high level of experience flying the type, comments were than non of the Luftwaffe pilots have more than 400 hours on type only 2 or 3 more than 300 and most only about 200. Not having equivalent figures I don't know how that compares with USAF norms for an operational squadron.

From: topwop@magicnet.net (Mark Bovankovich)

Alexei Gretchikhine (agretch@opie.bgsu.edu) wrote:

"Could you possibly give me some numbers, references etc. whith would have comparison of AIRFRAMES of F-16 and MiG-29. Untill now from the literature I have got an idea (perhaps uncorrect one) that at least airframe of MiG-29 is better than one of F-16. That is how many Gs it can pull, aerodynamic properties. MiG-29 may lag in avionics, FBW, engines but NOT airframe. I believe that there are no G-limiter on MiG-29, because pilot will pass away at much lower Gs than would harm the airframe. There was at least one ocasion when MiG-29's arframe was deformed after pulling some large Gs (12?) but a/c was capable of coming back to the base. Being later design (and more progressive lifting/blended body design) than F-16, Mig-29's airframe at my opinion is superior to F-16's."

If I remember correctly, the MiG-29 does not have a g-limiter but does have a alpha limiter.

As far as an airframe comparison goes, both aircraft have their advantages. The MiG is better below about 325 KEAS. If it can suck the F-16 into a slow-speed turning fight, the MiG will easily best the Viper. The Viper, on the other hand, holds the edge in the high speed fight. It also has superior control characteristics due to its FBW. As far as airframes go, both aircraft are very close; the pilots would probably decide the fight.

In weapons systems, there is a gulf. Despite the attempts to paint a rosy picture of F-16s hosing multiple AMRAAMs off into a furball of Fulcrums in a "real-life fight," this is just wishful thinking. Getting a target sort on multiple bogies is rough, and the chances of dropping multiple Fulcrums with AMRAAMs before they can answer with an R-27 or R-73 is pretty slim. Quite bluntly, the US has been caught sleeping. Due to delays in acquisition, unrealistic performance requirements, budgetary constraints, and just plain arrogance, Russian aircraft have the ability to field better missiles than ours.

The other gulf is in sensors. Although the F-16 has a superior radar, the MiG has an IRSTS. With this, the MiG can _passively_ track the Falcon from surprisingly long range. I have read many US authors belittling the capabilities of IRSTSs, remembering the old AN/AAR-4 used on Century-Series fighters, but the new IRSTS are a different breed. Blazing away with a radar not only makes you a hunter, but it makes you a target. You can't always run silent and rely on AWACS, either. With the advent and fielding of aerial-ARMs like the R-27P, R-24P, Kh-31P and KS-172, anything with a radar running--especially an AWACS--is being set up for a surprise attack. For those who are uninitiated, Russian missiles can outrange AMRAAMs if they are not limited by the requirement to home on a radar return off of an F-15 and F-16.

I don't want to come off as critical of US equipment, which I believe is still superior to any other nation's. I just want to point out that the US can't afford to deny its equipment's shortcomings. The US should take the results of the F-16 vs. MiG-29 training as a warning. Imagine if they had been facing Su-35s!

"BTW article in AW&ST states something like this: "F-16 can get on tail of MiG-29 after all, blah blah..... .....But we should remember that MiG-29 were carrying underbelly tanks(!) and six pilons and two mock/training AA missiles (as opposite to clean F-16(?))" I wonder how things would look if MiG's driver will jettison the fuel tank. (I don't think you can even use the cannon on MiG-29 with underbelly fuel tank, so no one with get into phone booth dogfight with one)"

The underbelly tanks were undoubtedly empty, and therefore had a minimal impact on flight performance. The MiGs were carrying six pylons because they _always_ carry six pylons. F-16s can jettison their pylons, and their fuel tanks have a built-in pylon. The MiGs needed that fuel tank because of their very short range. In marked contrast to the F-16--which has surprisingly long legs (longer than the F-15, surprise!)--the MiG can't go far without fuel tanks. To my knowledge, none of the Luftwaffe's MiGs have been modified to carry underwing fuel tanks, so they went into battle carrying their max fuel load. Later MiGs were modified to carry underwing tanks, and to fire their cannon with the belly tank in place. All Fulcrum engines smoke like locomotives, and have a disturbingly short TBO.


From: TZ (TWZ101@psuvm.psu.edu)

Scout (75774.2011@CompuServe.COM) says:

"I just can't recall the Fulcrum being employed in combat in large numbers. Other than the ones that ran away from the USAF during Desert Storm."

MiG-29s have seen limited combat on at least four occasions:

(1) Syrian Air Force MiG-29s were the first to see combat, against the F-15s and F-16s of the Israelis during 1990-91 in a number of small air battles over the Golan region and/or southwestern Lebanon. Rumor has it (unconfirmed) that at least one MiG-29 was shot down, probably by an F-15C.

(2) Iraqi Air Force MiG-29s were, of course, involved in Operation Desert Storm, when 5 of their number were shot down in aerial combat during the first 3 days of the war. A sixth crashed itself during an air-to-air engage- ment against an F-15E strike package (in the process, managing to shoot down its own wingman, a MiG-23 "Flogger," and the only confirmed "kill" by a MiG-29 to date. At least five or six others were destroyed on the ground, and four flew to Iran (including one MiG-29UB "Fulcrum-B."

(3) Yugoslavian Air Force MiG-29s saw combat as ground-support fighters during the early stages of the war in Croatia and Bosnia. At least one was shot down by ground fire, and the others have all gone to seed in Serbia. None were involved in air-to-air engagements.

(4) A dozen ex-Moldovan MiG-29s were sold to secessionist rebels in southern Yemen in 1994, and piloted by Moldovan mercenary pilots. One of these was shot down on a ground support mission, and six others were destroyed on the ground when government forces recaptured the Southern capital of Aden. The remaining five are now in storage, and will probably be re-sold.

Iraq took delivery of its first 18 "Fulcrums" in 1987, the year before the Iran-Iraq War ended, so it's possible that some Iraqi MiG-29s saw limited ser- vice in the war, but given the time necessary to train pilots and ground crew, and make new aircraft operational, it's likely that the war ended before the MiGs saw any serious fighting. Also, by that time, the Iranian Air Force was almost non-operational due to a lack of spares and a conservative use doctrine, and so air-to-air engagements were fleeting and usually not decisive.

MiG-29s may also have seen limited combat in the Chechnya operation last year in Russia, although it seems that Su-27s and MiG-31s were used in the CAP role, while Su-24s and Su-25s were the main ground attack machines. If any "Fulcrums" saw combat, their numbers were extremely small.

There are NO confirmed or unconfirmed reports of any MiG-29 kills in any theater of conflict, while at least 6 have been shot down by other fighters.*

This has been changed since the moment of this posting. Cuban MiG-29 scored agaist Cessna flown by Brothers to Rescue.

For a comparisson data between MiG-29M (MiG-33) and modern Western fighters follow this link.



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