More MiG-29 fighters from the former Soviet Union are en route from Warsaw, Poland, to Ukraine to enter the ongoing battle for air superiority over Ukraine.

The prospect of Western fighter aircraft, or even Soviet-era fighters, arriving in Eastern Europe has long topped Ukraine’s “wish list.” Not surprisingly, Russia or Ukraine’s inability to obtain air superiority remains a reoccurring mystery of this conflict.

supremacy of heaven

Russia’s inability to achieve air superiority remains puzzling given that the country is listed in GlobalFirepower with 773 fighter jets, compared to Ukraine’s 69. There are several likely variables in this case, one being simply that Russian pilots are extremely risk averse, as the Pentagon mentioned months ago. 

Second, Ukraine’s air defenses have kept coming and proven effective, which means they may be preventing Russian fighters from operating above them.

 MiG-29
MiG-29 from Slovakia.

An ex-high-ranking US military official suggested to me that Russia’s inability to “network” air units over enemy territory is the most plausible explanation.

The inability to distribute and coordinate targeting information and to operate with sufficient command and control is clearly something that can impede any kind of effectiveness in air strikes.

So the question begs whether the arrival of MiG 29s from Poland could tip the scales in Ukraine’s favor Maybe. Conversely, Russia is rumored to have cutting-edge air defense systems and thus is likely to have many of them stationed in strategic locations.

Air defense

As far as is known, the Ukrainians do not operate any stealth aircraft capable of bypassing or destroying these defenses. Russian-made S-400 and S-500 air defenses are increasingly networked in linked or “meshed” nodes across wide formations. 

They can purportedly function on a wider spectrum of frequencies, have a better range, and are powered by more sophisticated forms of digital processing technology. Russian air defenses are also mobile, so they could be deployed as part of attacking armored formations to provide a protective air envelope.

Ukraine needs HIMARS and Patriots.

The requirement for ground-based rockets like HIMARS and Guided Multiple Launch Rocket Systems capable of targeting and destroying Russian missile launchers likely arose from Ukraine’s inability to establish air supremacy.

Russian rockets murdering families and children in residential areas could only be destroyed by using ground-based rockets with a wider range than artillery if aircraft could not reach the launch sites.

Can the MiG-29 make a difference?

What will the MiG-29 bring? In any case, they could still have an impact, although more of them would probably be needed to achieve the desired effect.

The Drive quotes a senior Ukrainian official as saying that “several (MiG-29) Poles have already arrived in Ukraine…According to my information, this process has already been completed. Of course, there will be talks about possible additional support,” Marcin Przydacz, head of the President’s Office for International Policy, told Polish radio station RMF FM on Monday, according to the Drive.

MIG-29

MiG-29: Specifications

According to technical details given by Airforce-technology in 2011, the MiG-29 has the capacity to significantly aid Ukrainian ground forces and destroy Russian air assets like drones, helicopters, and some fighter jets.

The MiG-29 mainly carries rockets and surface-to-air weapons, with some air-to-air capabilities as well. In addition to this payload, the specifications also indicate that the MiG-29 can function as a “truck bomb” and carry six 1,400-pound bombs to attack from the sky.

Improvements in subsequent years may have allowed this 1980s-era fighter to drop precision-guided bombs, but that option was not available when the aircraft first took off in 1977. The MiG-29’s seven hardpoints are actually considerably less than those of the Su-27 fighter, which operates with ten hardpoints and flies at a speed of Mach 2.3, roughly equivalent between the two aircraft.

Polish MiG-29: A game changer for Ukraine?
File:Ukrainian Air Force MiG-29.

MiG-29 against Russian fighters

The MiG-29 could also prove impressive in the air against Russian fighters, depending on how far its sensors and targeting technologies have been improved. The ratio of thrust to weight for the MiG-29 is 1.09.

Furthermore, although the MiG is, at best, a 4th generation aircraft, it has a more rounded and horizontal fuselage, and the exhaust outlets do not protrude, which partly avoids detection if not totally increasing the stealth properties of the aircraft. In this case, the electromagnetic pings from the radar do not provide a high-fidelity return. Radar signals cannot “bounce” off planar surfaces to accurately determine an aircraft’s size, shape, and speed.

In contrast, the MiG-29 has several protruding rectangular structures at the rear of the aircraft, making it much more probable that radar “pings” will have something to bounce off and return to provide a “rendering” of the aircraft.