Now that the U.S. Air Force has declassified it's secret program
(CONTSTANT PEG, 1977-1988) to fly begged, borrowed or bought Russian jet
fighters, lots of interesting details are coming to the surface. Actually, lots
of this stuff was discussed quietly at air force officer clubs and among pilots
who participated in the program. One interesting item is that, in 1976, women
were allowed to train as fighter pilots, but were not allowed to fly combat
missions until 1993. One reason women were eventually allowed to fly in combat
was that many of pre-1993 female combat pilots were used in Op-For (opposing
forces) exercises, as "enemy" pilots. Some of these women proved to be
formidable, and, as a result, many male pilots sought to get these hot-shot
pilots flying with them, rather than against them.
pilots spent thousands of hours flying Mig fighters (MiG-17, MiG-21 and
MiG-23), and learned quite a lot. It was discovered that a well tuned MiG-21
was the most maneuverable Russian fighter. The MiG-23 was a clumsy attempt to
match the U.S. F-4, which was more of a fighter-bomber than a fighter.
Fortunately for us, most MiG-21s were poorly maintained, and pilots often
encountered quirks that limited the ability of the aircraft to achieve all it
was capable of. This bit of valuable intel was another result of the CONTSTANT
PEG program. American intelligence already knew that many non-Russian users of
the MiG-21 complained of operational problems. These, it turned out, were more
the result of not keeping the aircraft properly maintained and up-to-date, than
with any inherent flaws. In a similar fashion, it was discovered that the
MiG-23 was a step backward, basically a second rate F-4, and not nearly as
nimble as the MiG-21 in air-to-air combat.
Russians had also learned their lessons, and their next generation of fighters
(MiG-29 and Su-27) were much better aircraft. The United States has since
acquired the MiG-29, and has had ample opportunity to find this out first hand.
The Germans also acquired MiG-29s when the two Germanys were united in 1990,
and subsequent training exercises, between NATO fighters and those Russian
aircraft, produced the same kind of valuable insights that CONTSTANT PEG
PEG was never a complete secret, but a rather open one. Because of its
classified status, very little official information got out, and participants
had to be careful what they said, and to whom. Now the project can be discussed
openly, which will provide more useful insights.