Following the heavier MiG-31 interceptor and Su-24M strike fighter of the same generation, the MiG-29A entered service with the Soviet Air Force in 1982 as its first class of fourth-generation fighter.
The medium-weight fighter had a similar weight class as the American F-18A Hornet and was developed specifically for dogfights with F-16 and F-18 planes.
The MiG had substantial performance advantages over both fighters, including the capacity to launch air-to-air missiles with better range and heavier warheads, and superior speed, agility, altitude, and climb rate.
There would be air battles between the MiG-29As of Iraq, Syria, Eritrea, and Yugoslavia. The MiGs were being pursued by the more advanced and heavier F-15 and Su-27 fighters. Therefore it never got the chance to combat an opponent in a similar weight range in the first three instances.
However, during the Kargil War, the Indian Air Force acquired MiG-29s to take on Pakistan’s U.S.-supplied F-16s. Therefore this was one instance where the MiG-29 was tested against a fighter from a similar weight range.
The first international customer for the MiG-29A was the Indian Air Force, which placed an order in 1982 and got its first plane in 1985. Pakistan had already bought F-16A/Bs before the MiG-29s arrived because too many American fighters were left after Iran canceled a huge order in 1979.
When their capabilities were compared, the MiG-29’s better air-to-air missiles were the clear winner.
Later, German testing of MiG-29A jets revealed superior flight performance compared to Western competitors and the ability to deploy long-ranging R-73 missiles that could engage at exceptionally high off-boresight angles, making the MiG almost invariably the first to fire in a dogfight.
Thanks to the addition of an infrared search and tracking system and helmet-mounted sights, the MiG-29 was nearly unstoppable at close ranges and very effective at medium ranges against Western fighters.; however, the Iraqi Air Force did not have R-73 integrated into their MiG-29s, so they could not fully capitalize on these advantages during the Gulf War.
The MiG’s radar-guided R-27 missiles were superior to the F-16’s AIM-7 missiles, providing a significant advantage against targets further away because of their greater range and heavier warheads.
Pakistan’s F-16s had previously been used for aggressive incursions deep into the airspace of neighboring Afghanistan in support of jihadist insurgents, demonstrating Pakistan’s willingness to utilize such aircraft.
At least one of these planes was shot down by the friendly fire, not by an Afghan or Soviet MiG-23 fighter, according to the Pakistani Air Force.
In 1999, during the Kargil War, when Indian forces were fighting Kashmiri militants that Islamabad was rumored to be supporting, the Indian Air Force deployed MiG-29s to counter Pakistani F-16s.
According to reports, the Indian MiG-29 fleet was critical in preventing direct intervention by the Pakistani Air Force throughout the conflict. India had air control over Kashmir and launched many precision strikes utilizing assets like its MiG-27s.
Pakistani fighter units went to great efforts to avoid the MiG-29s over Kashmir due to the dominance of the MiG-29s’ flights. Hence the MiGs never had to engage.
At least once, Indian MiG-29s could lock on to foreign F-16s using their radars to issue a warning from within Indian territory. The mere existence of the MiGs tipped the scales in favor of India.
India’s MiG aircraft had a considerable advantage against Pakistan’s F-16 fleet since Russia delivered Delhi the newest modifications and weaponry systems for its jets. At the same time, a U.S. arms embargo barred Pakistan from strengthening its own F-16 fleet.
The Indian MiG-29s have sophisticated long-range bombing capabilities. The R-77 missile was bought in the 1990s. It has an active radar guidance system and a range of 80 kilometers. Since then, it has become a “fire and forget” weapon.
Pakistan’s F-16s were highly susceptible since they lacked these features. Visual range confrontations would have been won by the MiG-29, thanks to its superior mobility and the fact that it could use high off-boresight R-73s.
The MiGs were crucial to ensuring that India always had the upper hand in the air. During the Kargil War, they let Indian helicopters and attack aircraft help troops on the ground without interference from the Pakistani Air Force, which knew it would be dangerous to hit the modern jets flown by India.
The MiGs were important for keeping Indian air superiority, and during the Kargil War, they let Indian helicopters and strike fighters help ground troops without interference from the Pakistani Air Force, which was afraid of losing its few F-16s if it went up against the advanced jets flown by India.
The Pakistani Air Force still uses many F-16s, and these planes can now fire air-to-air missiles at their foes at ranges of up to 105 kilometers thanks to upgraded versions of the AIM-120C.
Pakistan has also purchased a small number of the more sophisticated F-16C/D variant of the fighter, which, despite being less nimble than the F-16A, possessed superior avionics.
The MiG-29 fleet is less important to India’s defense now, but the country has access to more advanced variants of the R-77, which, when combined with the higher altitude, greater kinetic energy imparted by the faster jet, and superior maneuverability to evade enemy attacks, is likely to be decisive in India’s favor.
The F-16 has a mechanically scanned array radar, but the Indian MiGs have been updated to the MiG-29UPG standard, which features the most cutting-edge electronic warfare equipment.
The Indian Navy ordered advanced Russian MiG-29K fighters in the 2000s and 2010s for use on aircraft carriers and the ground. These planes are among the most advanced MiG-29 models ever made and have a new post-Soviet airframe design that makes them much easier to maintain.
UPG and K models have more powerful engines and larger fuel tanks. The Su-30MKI and Rafale, which entered the Indian Air Force in 2002 and 2020, respectively, have outperformed the MiG-29, South Asia’s most capable fighter of the 1990s.
When Pakistan starts to deploy more Chinese J-10C and JF-17 Block 3 fighters, the importance of its F-16 fleet is projected to soon decline as a result of the superior performance capabilities of these aircraft.