Warplanes: The Miracle MiG Makeover


October 14,2008:  Egypt and Yemen have hired a Ukrainian firm to upgrade most of their MiG-21 fighters. Egypt has 62 MiG-21s, while Yemen has 47. Egypt had earlier upgraded some of its MiG-21s with British electronics. The Ukrainian firm (Odesaremservis), will install a modern, digital, cockpit (flat panel color displays and far fewer switches and buttons to deal with). Installed under the aircraft will be a laser designator and camera so that the aircraft can deliver smart bombs.

The 9.5 ton MiG-21 is a 1950s design. Poor flight controls and lousy visibility limited what a good pilot could do with this aircraft. But few good pilots flew the MiG-21, as it was built for poorly trained pilots who mainly followed instructions from someone on the ground. It can carry two tons of bombs and missiles.

After the American experience with smart bombs over the last two years, most air forces have accepted the fact that the more expensive (starting at $30,000 each) smart bombs are more effective than the much cheaper ($500 or less) dumb bombs. This potentially makes the MiG-21 a much more effective aircraft.

The Ukrainian firm also offers the Sura targeting helmet, which enables the pilot to look at the target and fire a Russian R-73 heat seeking missile, that will then go after the target the pilot is looking at. If the MiG-21 is facing roughly equivalent aircraft, the Sura helmet makes the aircraft a much more effective dog-fighter.

The Ukrainian cockpit and targeting upgrade costs several million dollars per aircraft.


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