March 10, 2009: The Indian Air Force is retiring the last of its Russian MiG-23BNs, ending an unimpressive career. India bought 72 of the 18 ton, single engine, swing wing fighter-bombers in the early 1980s, but never used them in combat. The MiG-23 was the Russian answer to the U.S. F-4, but with only one engine, and swing wings (like the U.S. F-14 and F-111). The MiG-23 had a top speed of 2500 kilometers per hour, combat range of 1,150 kilometers and max bomb load of three tons. The MiG-23BN was optimized for ground-attack missions. It had a laser designator and a bomb sight. The only air-to-air missiles it carried were heat seekers. Half the 72 MiG-23 BNs bought were lost in accidents. An air-superiority version, the MiG-23MF, was retired from Indian service two years ago.
A more advanced ground attack version of the MiG-23, called the MiG-27, was built under license in India. This 20 ton aircraft had a four ton bomb load and a 30mm cannon optimized for ground attack. India built nearly 200 of these, and they are still in use. This model saw some combat in Kashmir in 1999.
The MiG-23/27 was not a successful design. The Russian swing-wing mechanism was not as effective as the American one, and the aircraft was difficult to maintain. The F-4 was more maneuverable and carried a larger bomb load.