Syria received the MiG-29A in the final years before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Before being equipped with MiG-29 fighters in the late 1980s, Syria was the first customer to buy Soviet MiG-23 Flogger fighters in 1974. By the late 1980s, nearly 150 MiG-23 fighters had entered service with the Syrian Air Force, including the latest variants such as the MiG-23BN, MiG-23ML and MiG-23MLD.

MiG-23 ceased production in 1985, the MiG-29 fighter was a mandatory replacement. Syria received the MiG-29A in the final years before the collapse of the Soviet Union. The MiG-29 was designed to counterbalance the US Air Force’s F-16 and F-18 fighters. High combat performance, with the R-73 short-range air-to-air missile, gave the Mig-29 a huge advantage over Western fighters at close range.

Syrian Mig-29
Syrian Mig-29

The collapse of the Soviet Union severely disrupted Syria’s plans to modernize the air force. Only 5 of the 29 fighter squadrons of the Syrian Air Force were equipped with modern fighters, capable of fighting fourth-generation Western aircraft. This also ended friendly prices for new weapons and military aid to Syria. Syria’s MiG-21 and MiG-23 squadrons no longer have a chance to be replaced by the MiG-29.

The collapse of the Soviet Union also forced post-Soviet Russia, severely reducing its MiG-29 fleet of 700 aircraft and put most of it in reserve, halting production lines and postponing plans to modernize the MiG-23. Syria today faces significant threats from its neighbors such as Turkey and Israel, both of which rely on F-16s and F-15s. Although the MiG-29 is well-suited to confront the F-16, Syria’s MiG-29A fleet is greatly outdated.

Syria received its first new MiG-29 aircraft from Russia in 2020. Previously Syria also ordered MiG-29SMT fighters, before the war broke out. The MiG-29SMT is a variant of the MiG-29A with integrated Zhuk-ME radar, which provides much higher situational awareness and allows to hit more targets at once. The MiG-29SMT has a larger airframe than the MiG-29A, holds more fuel, and the range is significantly extended. Powered by the RD-33 series 3 engines, however, it does not apply new composite materials like the MiG-29M, but overall is very similar to the original MiG-29A.

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