It is not the Su-27, the Su-30 or the Su-35, but the MiG-29 that has been the most exported fighter by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991

The MiG-29 has been largely overshadowed by the success of the Su-27 Flanker family heavy fighters, which first entered service in 1985. The MiG-29 was designed as a light fighter, and was developed concurrently with the Su-27.

The MiG-29 program was greatly influenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, domestic orders were almost completely suspended. Most of the MiG-29, consisting of about 800 airframes, was kept in reserve. Investment in modernization had been cut, due to the priority of modernizing the Su-27 fighter for export.

Mikoyan MiG-29
Mikoyan MiG-29

However, the MiG-29 did not sit still waiting to die, the MiG company leaders made many improvements to meet customer requirements. Most notable is the improved version, the MiG-29M, which symbolizes the MiG-29’s rise in the post-Soviet recession. In the MiG-29M version, the airframe was redesigned to optimize performance. Its service life is increased to 4,000 hours, maintenance is made easier and operating costs are lower than that of older variants of the MiG-29A.

Russia now offers both newly built MiG-29Ms for export, as well as a number of cheaper, modernized MiG-29s based on the old MiG-29A airframe. Recent customers of the MiG-29M include Egypt and Algeria, which have purchased 46 and 14 aircraft respectively in 2015 and 2020. Of which, Algeria purchased the MiG-29M to replace the older MiG-29, purchased during the Cold War.

Two countries showed an interest in the MiG-29M, but ended up purchasing lower-end variants based on the older MiG-29A airframe, Serbia and Syria. Economic difficulties prevented Serbian procurement. Instead, the country received six modernized MiG-29 2hands in October 2017, as military aid. Syria is said to have ordered two squadrons of MiG-29Ms in the late 2000s, along with S-300 air defense systems and even MiG-31s; but these huge contracts were cancelled, due to the outbreak of civil war in 2011. Finally, Syria received MiG-29SMTs in 2020, upgraded from the MiG-29A.

The first customer of the MiG-29, and also the largest foreign operator of this fighter, the Indian armed forces. This is the first export customer of the MiG-29 and currently operates more than 150 aircraft. India first ordered the MiG-29A in 1985 and has modernized mid-life. India recently ordered MiG-29UPG fighters in February 2019. During a time of high tension with China, in July 2020, India continued to import more MiG-29s from Russia; This version is almost identical to the MiG-29SMT, but with some modifications to meet the requirements of the IAF.

India also uses the MiG-29K version, based on the MiG-29M, but modified for aircraft carriers. This is the MiG-29 variant with the best features in the service of the Indian Air Force. More orders for the MiG-29K are expected for the country’s expanding aircraft carrier fleet. Other recent orders have come from the Libyan National Army, which received MiG-29s in May 2020. These MiG-29s are currently believed to be operated by Russian military contractors. There are dozens of MiG-29s, believed to be in service in Libya.

Another potential customer, but unconfirmed, the North Korea. North Korea has owned the MiG-29A since the late 1980s and purchased the production line to assemble the fighter in the 1990s. The MiG-29 is said to have been exported by Russia in greater numbers than any other fighter in the past 5-6 years. This is also Russia’s cheapest 4th generation fighter. The MiG-29M and its most upgraded version, the MiG-35, are expected to remain in production for the next few years.


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