MiG-23 Flogger

The MiG-23 combat record

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Blooding the MiG-23

Ex-Syrian MiG-23MLD
This is the MiG-23MLD that was flown to Israel by a Syrian defector

Syrian MiG-23 wreckage
Syria at least lost twenty six MiG-23s over the Bekka Valley in 1982

Here we have a video of the Israeli F-15s in which we can see some of the Syrian jets shot down in 1982 over Lebanon by the IDF 

The MiG-23MF, MiG-23MS and MiG-23BN were employed by Syria in 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, it is said that around twenty six MiG-23s were shot down by the Israeli armed forces, the Syrians claimed their MiG-23MS and MiG-23MFs shot down at least two F-4s and five F-16s. In June 1982 the Syrian air force lost six MiG-23MF, four MiG-23MS and sixteen MiG-23BNs. However later that year, in December 1982, the Syrians recieved more capable and advanced MiG-23MLs. The Syrians claimed that their MiG-23MLs on 4 October 1983 shot down three F-15s and one F-4 without sustaining a single MiG-23ML loss.
On June 9, two MiG-23MS manned by the Syrian pilots Ali and Tomi engaged a group of Israeli F-4 Phantoms, they brought down an F-4E using the well known AA-2 Atoll air to air missile, they fired R-3S and R-13Ms at the Israeli aircraft, however both pilots were brought down very likely by Israeli F-15s guided by E-2 Hawkeyes 
This feat was repeated on 11 June 1982, when two MiG-23MS  flown by the Syrian pilots Heyrat and Zabi shot down an Israeli F-4E using a pair of AA-2 Atolls basicly an R-13 and an R-3, however both MiG-23MS pilots were then shot down.

On 7 June 1982, three MiG-23MFs flown by the pilots Hallyak, Said, Merza respectively engaged a formation of Israeli F-16s. Captain Merza detected the F-16s at a distance of 25 km and shot down two F-16s with R-23 missiles, one from a distance of 9 km, and another within the distance of 7 km or 8 km, before himself was shot down. On the 8 of June 1982, two MiG-23MFs again met with F-16s. Major Hau's MiG-23 detected an F-16 at a distance of 21km and shot it down with an R-23 from a distance of 7km. Again, the Syrian pilot was himself shot down by an AIM-9 Sidewinder, fired from another F-16. On the 9 of June 1982, two MiG-23MFs, piloted by Dib and Said, engaged a group of F-16s. Dib shot down an F-16 from a distance of 6km with an R-23, but was then shot down, most likely by a Sidewinder.

Later that day a pair of MiG-23MFs manned by the Syrian pilots Nahaz and Zeno, shot down an additional F-16, Nahaz detected the F-16 at the distance of 9 km and fired an AAM at the distance of 5 km however this time, Nahaz got involved in a dogfight with another F-16 and was shot down.


After detecting the MiG-23 formation, the Israeli E-2 Hawkeye operators did not vector the F -15s to intercept the MiG-23s but the lighter F -16s armed with short range AIM-9 Sidewinders. 

The F-16 flew in groups of two aircraft flying at low altitude, these pairs were vectored out into the MiG-23s formations,  then the first pair dispersed and attacked the MiG-23s from both flanks, threatening the MiG-23 formation with a stern attack (the method is known as "sandwich"). Only two unfavorable options were left out to the Syrians; one was to leave the battle and return to friendly airspace or engage the F-16s at close combat range where the F-16s surpass the MiG-23s in maneuverability. In the case of continuing with the interception of the Israeli fighter bombers echelons, it was basicly to continue under the threat of frontal attack by the F -15s armed with long range air to air missiles.


This tactic proved to be successful for the Israelies specially if proper jamming was applied, even despite the MiG-23s carried out successful attacks, the Saphir-23 radar had its practical range of detection reduced and the MiG-23s usually detected  the F-16s from within the ranges of 25 to 9 km,  it tracked the F-16s  within the ranges of 21 to 7 km and fired air to air missiles at the F-16s from within the distances of 9 to 5 km, this was the main reason why four Syrian MiG-23 were shot down even after the Syrian pilots had already carried out successful attacks at the Israeli F-16s.

Thus, in the course of the air combats over Lebanon. from 1982 through 1985, the Syrian MiG-23 destroyed 12 enemy aircraft (including a minimum of five F -16 and three F -15) while twelve MiG-23MF and MiG-23MS were lost to enemy fire, This is a relatively good kill rate, if one considers that the majority of Syrian MiG-23s were early models that lacked the most advanced features of late MiG-23 models, and  in spite of that, they managed to shot down the more advanced contemporary American fourth generation fighter aircraft, which were flown by perhaps the best trained pilots in the world.

During the course of the 1982 air battles over Lebanon, the MiG-23 displayed both its strengths and deficiencies.

High-speed and quick acceleration were the MiG-23 main strengths which allowed it, the ability to carry out swift attacks and to withdrawn from the melee of the air battle at high speed  (in the opinion of a number of western specialists, if the MiG-23 was flown by a skillful pilot it was capable of successfully  attack and break off the encounter with any other less speedier fighter at will).

The MiG-23 can be flown for a relatively prolonged time on a high-speed low-altitude flight with its wings swept back at the maximum swept angle of 72 deg; the F -15 and F -16 with their low specific wing loads experienced  near to the ground very strong aircraft turbulence and in flight fuselage vibration, and as if  "they were riding on a cobblestone bridge" , this type of low flight at high speed could not be endured even by well trained F-15 or F-16 pilots.

At the same time the MiG-23 was somewhat inferior to the  F -15 at both the maximum and  minimum flight envelope characteristics, despite the F-15 was faster than the MiG-23 and could achieve the speed of Mach 2.5 in operational practice the F -15 could not exceed Mach 2.

The MiG-23 had worse horizontal maneuverability than the American F-15. At around the speed of 1200 km/h, the MiG-23 had lower load factor G limits than the F-15, consequently, also lower angular velocities, and longer turning time; the MiG-23 had inferior sustained angular velocity at the speed of 900 km/h. therefore the turn rate difference was at different heights in the range within 2 to 6 deg/s. However, as speed increased and beyond 1200 km/h the advantage gradually passed to the MiG-23. 

The MiG-23 with its wings set at the swept angle of 45 deg, had inferior acceleration characteristics and was less maneuvrable close to the maximum operationally permitted overload G limits than the F-15.

This allowed that to an F -15 in the progress of an air combat to gradually accumulate superior kinetic energy in speed and height.

The required entry speed into the vertical maneuver was also somewhat higher in the MiG-23 than in F -15. the maximum altitude to enter into the Nesterov's loop for the MiG-23 was 4000 m, and for F-15 was 7000 m, in this case at the upper point of vertical maneuvres the MiG-23 had lower speed than the F-15.

The radar complex that the American aircraft possessed had definite advantages over airborne radar aboard the MiG-23MF, this was more acute in the case of the MiG-23MS. However, the radar capabilities displayed by the MiG-23ML and F -15 proved to be approximately equal. The  AN/APG-63 was able to detect the MiG-23 at the maximum range within 100-110 km (with heading angle of 90°), and MiG-23ML detected the enemy at the same conditions within the range of 90-95 km;  both aircraft radar had the capability to detect targets against the background of the earth clutter (look down shoot down capability). Although the zone of survey for the AN/APG-63 along the azimuth exceeded twice the surveyed air space zone, it was respectively, + -60 °for the more modern  AN/APG-63 and + -30°for the Saphir;

The Saphir-23 radar was 1,5 times better descriminating  group target clutter than the American made AN/APG-63, this fact, in particular, allowed MiG-23 formations to hide from the enemy the true number of aircraft flying in a dense radar clutter system.

Here we see a video of Syrian MiG-23MS and MiG-23BNs

The SAAF Mirage F1s were not able to down a single Cuban MiG-23ML over the skies of Angola and in the other hand at least one was lost to MiG-23s.
Cuban and Russian reports say at least 2 SAAF Mirage F1s were lost to MiG-23s during the Angolan-South African war of the 1980s, other aircraft said to have been downed by  MiG-23s are an Impala and a C-130, most of these kills are denied by South Africa, however South Africa acknowledeges that of these two Mirage F1 claimed by the Cubans, just one was lost to a MiG-23 and but the other one was lost to ground fire.
However some MiG-23s were brought down by SAMs, this happened several times, but no MiG-23ML was lost to air air combat this was the only conflict where the MiG-23 achieved air superiority.
Here we see Alberto Ley Rivas, a Cuban MiG-23 pilot narrating a downing of a South African fighter  

Mirage F1 shot down by a Cuban MiG-23ML in 1987
This is the wreckage of a South African Mirage F1 shot down by a Cuban MiG-23ML

MiG-23 on a Mirage F-1 sight
This is a Cuban MiG-23ML on the sight of a SAAF Mirage F1

Angolan MiG-23MLD
The MiG-23ML proved to be an excellent fighter against the South African air force


Verifying air to air kills is one of the most difficult tasks that any military aviation Historian has to do.
The MiG-23 is a very good example, when we put togather all the kills and losses claimed we found there is very little pictorial evidence, this result in contradictory claims and counter claims.
A good example is the Bekka Valley air combats, for example according to the Syrians, their MiG-23s shot down twelve Israeli aircraft and lost twenty six MiG-23s; in the other hand, the Israeli side claims that  there were no Israeli aircraft  lost to Syrian MiG-23s and the Israeli armed forces at least shot down twenty six MiG-23s. 
Israel only admits to have lost two F-4s, an A-4 and two Kfirs in the 1980s to SAMs and AAA over Lebanon
Russian sources say that the Syrian MiG-23BNs were used to destroy tanks and attack israeli ground forces but 14 were lost to SAMs, F-15s, F-16s and ground fire.
These reports claimed that a few Israeli tanks were destroyed by Syrian MiG-23BNs
The Iran-Iraq war MiG-23 combat record has the same similarities, the Iranians claims that their combat aircraft shot down several dozen MiG-23s; and the Iraqis stated that several Iranian  aircraft  were  shot down by their MiG-23s, among them  there are  several F-5s, F-4s Phantom II, AH-1J Cobra attack helicopters, a Fokker F-27 and even two F-14s.
The US at least shot down nine MiG-23s in air to air combat, two Libyan MiG-23MS and seven Iraqi MiG-23s.
The Saddam era Iraqi statements claimed that a Panavia Tornado and an F-16 were shot down by Iraqi MiG-23s.
The most impressive air to air victories of iraqi MiG-23s over fighter aircraft of the Iranian Air Force  are claimed on 11 August 1984 when Mohammed-Hashem All-e-Agha was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-23 while flying his F-14  and the victory achieved by an Iraqi  MiG-23ML over  an F-14A flown by Capt. Bahram Ghaneii  on 17th January 1987.
When Cuban MiG-23s clashed with South African fighters over the Angolan skies several South African aircraft are claimed as shot down by the Cuban MiG-23s.
The best well known case is a Mirage F1, that was shot down by an R-60 fired  by a Cuban MiG-23ML.
Despite many Western sources claim the F-16 was overwhelmingly superior to the MiG-23, the Soviet and Russian Historians claim at least seven F-16 were shot down by MiG-23s
Another victory by a MiG-23MS is given to the Syrian Pilot  Captain al-Masry who on 19 April 1974 shot down an Israeli F-4E flown by Yigal Stavi and Benny Kiryati.


Here is actual footage of F-15 downing Iraqi MiGs in 1991, they are said to be MiG-23s

Captain Valery Shkinder Soviet MiG-23 ace
On 21 July 1978 captain Shkinder downed two Iranian CH-47 helicopters aboard his MiG-23

Soviet MiG-23M pilots of the 152nd air regiment shot down on  21 July 1978 a pair of Iranian CH-47s
At 6:21 of that day, in the area of the Soviet-Iranian border over the village of Bagir, near Ashgabat in Soviet territory,  four Imperial Iranian air force helicopters CH-47 "Chinook"  were spotted shortly after they had  intruded 15-20km deep inside soviet airspace. At 6:26, the CH-47s were detected by Soviet radars at the  Ak-Tepe airbase,  the regiment deputy commander of the air base  A. Miloslav  assigned the duty of intercepting to A.D. Demyanov. He spotted a helicopter, but was unable to identify and shot down the targets. In addition, the pilot received the command to return to base. Then the MiG-23M flown by A.D. Demyanova headed back to the airfield.
At 6.52 A. Miloslav sent the second fighter, piloted by Valery Shkinder. A short time later, the pilot reported the detection of the unidentified helicopters  and then he received the command: "shot down the Chinooks" Then a pair Chinnoks went to the south east along the Karakum valley, but when the Iranians became aware of the intentions of the MiG-23, they immediately turned back and began to leave the mountains, still inside Soviet territory. After receiving the command to destroy the targets Valery Shkinder fired at a CH-47 two missiles R-60. this was followed by the report: "The first CH-47 has been destroyed ..." After 8 seconds of the downing, he reported to base: "The first has fallen to the ground on fire. The remaining CH-47s went in direction to the border and just before 5 km off Iranian territory, Shkinder  engaged the second helicopter,  few moments later the second helicopter was downed by cannon fire. The whole mission lasted  only 5 min 26 seconds from the take off of the second MiG-23.
The first CH-47 Chinook hit by two missiles fell in the vicinity of the village Gyaure,  its whole crew of 8 people on board died. The second CH-47, having been hit in the engines, was forced to execute an emergency landing in the area of the border crossing of  Gyaursskoy. The four members of its crew were detained by border guards. The leading pair of helicopters managed to escape. The crew of the CH-47 spent about a week under arrest at Ashgabat, and then the crew was translated to Moscow. Soon, the Soviet side stated that "the Iranian helicopters inadvertently violated the Soviet border, after which the crew and the remains of eight dead Iranians were released and flown back to Teheran. 
 Valery Shkinder  was the first pilot to successfully engage a helicopter with a jet fighter aircraft in the history of Soviet air force and air defenses. Apparently, this is the first successful air combat of a variable geometry swing wing aircraft in the world .Shkinder`s tactics have been used to illustrate a successful approach in the fight against slow speed highly manoeuvrable targets by high speed jets.

Soviet MiG-23MLD

Russian MiG-23 over Afghanistan
This is a Russian MiG-23 releasing chaff flares



Two Iraqi MiG-23ML rusting in the desert
Many Iraqi MiG-23MLs were abandoned, deprived of any maintenance and left rusting in the desert

A MiG-23 on a F-14 gunsight
This is a Libyan MiG-23 seconds before being shot down by an US Navy F-14

Syrian MiG-23 shot down over Lebanon
Syria lost at least 26 MiG-23 in 1982 over the Bekka Valley

The MiG-23 has had a relatively unsuccessful carreer, the MiG-23 losses surpass more than one hundred MiG-23 destroyed during combat operations, while its claimed victories are fewer than 50 enemy aircraft destroyed by MiG-23s, nevertheless the MiG-23 faired well versus fighters in the class of the F-5, Mirage F1 or F-4.
The main reason for the destruction of more than one hundred
 MiG-23s was the total destruction of the Iraqi MiG-23 fleet either during air to air combat, destruction on the ground or abandonment and neglect by the Iraqies. However despite many MiG-23s were destroyed by enemy fighters not all were MiG-23 dedicated fighter variants but the radarless and the less agile MiG-23BN attack version. The MiG-23 has many different variants some are specialized fighter aircraft and others specialized fighter-bombers, the MiG-23BN for example has no beyond visual range armament and lacks a capable radar to carry out the interception and air superiority missions.
At the beginning of Gulf War I , Iraq had available a fleet of ninety MiG-23MFs, MiG-23MLs and MiG-23BNs, this fleet was rendered useless by the US armed forces, a few aircraft fled to Iran while other were shot down or destroyed on the ground.
Later in Gulf war II, the Iraqis abandoned their MiG-23s in the desert and neglected them of any maintainance
The Soviet  MiG-23MLDs were employed to defend the Afghan airspace along side the Afghan-Pakistani border and to defend Soviet strike aircraft from Pakistani F-16s, that in several occasions intercepted, engaged and downed Soviet and Afghan combat aircraft.
The Soviets reported that a Pakistani F-16 was downed  and the Soviet MiG-23 pilots, Lieutenant  Pochitalkin and Major Osipenko confirmed the F-16 loss but no Soviet Pilot was credited with it; Some of the possible explanations for the loss of the F-16 say the F-16 was shot down either by gun (since no AAMs were carried by the MiG-23MLDs that day) or it was out flown by the MiG-23MLDs thus causing one of the Pakistani pilots to shot down his own wingman other theories say that the F-16 was shot down by bomb fragments from the ground as it flew over after the MiG-23MLDs had drop their bombs or it suffered structural failure while manoeuvring at high G forces as it tried to get the MiG-23MLD on its gunsight, whatever was the reason the F-16 was shot down in combat with MiG-23MLDs .
 On 21 July 1978, a PVO MiG-23M flown by Pilot Captain V. Shikinder shot down two Iranian Boeing CH-47 Chinook helicopters that had trespassed into Soviet airspace, one helicopter being dispatched by two R-60 / AA-8 Aphid AAMs and the other by cannon
Here we see actual video of the downing of two Libyan MiG-23s  by US Navy F-14s

A Soviet MiG-23 during the Afghan-Soviet war
This Soviet MiG-23MLD wears a shark mouth and shark eyes during the Afghan Soviet war

Soviet ground crew mounting chaff/flares
In the Soviet Afghan war, the Soviet MiG-23MLDs were equipped with BVP-50-60 chaff/flare dispensers

Soviet MiG-23MLDs in Afghanistan

MiG-23 Afghan warrior

An Afghan warrior
This is another MiG-23MLD in Afghanistan

MiG-23MLD in the Afghan soviet war

MiG-23MLD afghan warrior