Intelligence: CONTSTANT PEG and the Women Warriors

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November22, 2006: 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.

American 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.

The 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 provided.

CONTSTANT 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.

 


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