How the US Army bought 21 MiG-29 fighters

Oddly enough, the US military acquired Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters following the dissolution of the USSR. Thanks to the small ex-Soviet republic of Moldova, Washington acquired 21 of these highly capable fourth-generation fighters.

As the Soviet Union collapsed, Moldova had 34 MiG-29 fighters, eight Mi-8 Hip helicopters, and six transport airframes in its military inventory. Plunged into a deep recession, the small country agreed to sell most of its MiG-29 “Fulcrums” fleet to the United States.

The United States feared that Moldova would sell them to the Islamic Republic of Iran if it did not acquire the formidable fighters. The MiG-29s could carry nuclear weapons, a capability that Tehran could ultimately use against the United States.

Once the Fulcrum fleet arrived in the United States, the American pilots could disassemble the airframes and verify their supposed capabilities.

Brief description of the MiG-29 fighter and its history

In 1977, the MiG-29 Fulcrum flew over the former USSR. This sophisticated airframe was conceived as part of the Soviet Advanced Frontline Fighter (PFI) program, whose goal was to create a fighter powerful enough to counter the McDonnell Douglas F-15 combat platform.

Ultimately, the PFI program selected the Su-27 from the manufacturer Sukhoi. However, the Advanced Light Tactical Fighter Program (LPFI) was established around this time and eventually awarded to the manufacturer Mikoyan. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) dubbed the MiG-29 fighter “Fulcrum,” a moniker that was adopted by the Russian military.

The Fulcrum is about 56 feet long, 15 feet tall, and has a wingspan of about 37 feet long. With a top speed of Mach 2.25 (about 1,300 knots), the MiG-29 is a very fast aircraft. Armament-wise, the aircraft is equipped with a 30mm Gryazev Shipurov GSh-30-1 automatic cannon with 150 rounds.

The AA-8 Aphid, AA-II Archer, and AA-10 Alamo are only some of the weapons that may be carried by the fighter, which total over 9,000 pounds. One of the plane’s best features is its capacity to fire short-range R-73 infrared-guided missiles.

As explained in a previous 19FortyFive article, “This weapon could be aimed and fired using a helmet-mounted sight, which meant a Fulcrum pilot only had to look at a target in a sixty-degree arc in front of him – instead of having to position the plane so that it was pointing at the target – to fire one of the missiles.”

Some test pilots were impressed by the capabilities of the Fulcrum.

Israeli pilots were excited to get their hands on the MiG-29s that had been sold to the United States from Moldova.

One test pilot noted that the Fulcrum’s “capabilities match and sometimes even exceed those of F-15 and F-16 fighters. The plane is highly maneuverable, and its engines offer a higher weight/thrust ratio. Our pilots need to be careful with this plane in a dogfight. Piloted by a well-trained professional, it is a worthy opponent.”

The US acquisition of Mig-29 fighters “killed two birds with one stone.” The agreement with Moldova allowed US engineers to closely examine an adversary’s airframe while ensuring that the Iranian regime would not fly the jets.

The United States Air Force and Navy have displayed some of the 21 Fulcrum fighters that were handed to them in Nevada, Texas, and Ohio.