Air Platforms

Russia helps keep Syria's MiG-29s flying

11 June 2014
This undated photograph shows an upgraded Syrian MiG-29SM with AKU-170E launch rails for R-77 air-to-air missiles. Source: Syrian Armed Forces

Documents released by RAC MiG have revealed some details about the upgrade of Syria's MiG-29 multirole fighters.

The company's 2011 annual report stated that four MiG-29s had been upgraded to the MiG-29SM standard for Syria. The report was taken down and later republished with the reference to Syria removed, emphasising the sensitive nature of the deal. The original version of the report also revealed that RAC MiG had opened an office near Mezze Airbase in Damascus.

The number of MiG-29s acquired by Syria still remains a mystery with estimates ranging between 84 and 22. What is known is that there are one or two operational MiG-29 squadrons at the Sayqal Airbase and possibly more MiG-29s operating from Tiyas Airbase.

As Syrian MiG-29s use the 9.12 airframe, which differs from the MiG-29SM's 9.13M airframe, RAC MiG developed a special variant to suit Syria's needs, as it did for India with the MiG-29UPG upgrade. According to RAC MiG's 2011 report, the development of this variant cost RUB531.1 million (USD15 million), nearly half the RUB925.7 million cost of the MiG-29UPG.

The standard MiG-29SM features many improvements over the MiG-29, such as an upgraded N019ME radar, the capability to carry a larger payload (including up to three droptanks), as well as many smaller upgrades to cockpit displays and navigational and communication systems.

Given the current conflict, arguably the most important upgrade is the ability to carry an expanded arsenal of air-to-ground weaponry, including Kh-29T/TE (AS-14 'Kedge') and Kh-31A/P (AS-17 'Krypton') missiles and KAB-500KR guided bombs. Other laser-guided weaponry could also be used by fitting a targeting pod or illuminating the target externally.

While Syrian Mig-29s have been filmed carrying out ground attack missions with guns and unguided rockets, it is unclear if they have been using guided munitions.

The upgrade also enables the aircraft to carry the R-77 (AA-12 'Adder') air-to-air missile, which would pose a threat to foreign aircraft that may intervene in the conflict. MiG-29s have already been spotted in Syria carrying the AKU-170E rails required to launch the R-77, indicating Syria also has the missiles.

Another deal, recorded in RAC MiG's 2009 report, covered the repair of an unspecified number of Syrian MiG-23MLDs. Syria reportedly received around 30 MiG-23MLDs from Belarus in 2008 for spare parts, some of which have probably been taken into service. MiG-23MLDs with Syrian markings have been photographed at Russia's Krasnodar Airbase in recent years, indicating that the repaired aircraft were not those acquired from Belarus, but MiG-23s originally supplied to Syria by the Soviet Union and then subsequently upgraded to the MLD standard.

RAC MiG has also helped transition Syria to a more modern maintenance system. Traditionally, Soviet aircraft would have all their components automatically replaced after they exceeded their certified flight hours. The new system enables certain components to continue to be used if they are deemed to still be serviceable despite exceeding their flight hours, thereby lowering the number of spares required to keep the aircraft flying.

RAC MiG has also helped to improve Syria's pilot training. The company's 2010 report noted that four flight simulators of an unspecified type had been delivered to Syria.

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