Murphy's Law: No MiG-29s, Please


March 2, 2010: In late 2008, Russia offered to sell Lebanon ten MiG-29 fighters, at a "large discount" (less than $5 million each). Lebanon has since persuaded Russia to provide ten Mi-24 helicopter gunships instead, along with modern missiles to arm them. This makes much more sense for Lebanon.

The original MiG-29 offer was not as big a favor to the Lebanese as it might appear. Two months before that generous offer, all Russian MiG-29s were grounded until it could be determined if some recent crashes, and other problems, were the result of some fundamental design flaw. There had been several problems with MiG-29s earlier, although all aircraft were eventually returned to flight status. This has not helped sales, as most export customers prefer the larger Su-27 (and its derivatives like the Su-30).

The MiG-29 entered Russian service in 1983, as the answer to the American F-16. Some 1,600 MiG-29s have been produced so far, with most (about 900) exported. The biggest customer, India, received its first MiG-29s in 1986, with deliveries continuing into the 1990s.

The 22 ton aircraft is, indeed, roughly comparable to the F-16, but it depends a lot on which version of either aircraft you are talking about. Then there are the reliability problems. Compared to Western aircraft, like the F-16, the MiG-29 is available for action about two thirds as often. The Lebanese knew all this, but their air force has no jet fighters at all, so ten MiG-29s was, initially, seen as a major improvement. But then someone pointed out that MiG-29s, operated by poorly trained Lebanese pilots, would not last long against the Israelis. Moreover, the other enemy, Syria, has many more aircraft, including MiG-29s flown by experienced pilots. But Mi-24 helicopters are a different matter. These have a better chance of avoiding Israeli air power, and are also more useful against domestic enemies, like the Hezbollah militia, which has been trying to take over the government and establish a religious dictatorship.

The Mi-24 is a twelve ton chopper based on the Mi-8/17 transport. The U.S. did the same thing with the AH-1, developing it from the UH-1 "Huey." But rather than adopt the two seater (one pilot behind the other), and no passengers, approach of the AH-1 and AH-64 Apache, the Mi-24 could still carry troops or cargo in the back, and was not as nimble as the AH-1. But it still got the job done when equipped with autocannon, rockets and missiles.





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