In the late 1960s, the MiG-23 was seen as the Soviet Union’s answer to the legendary F-4 Phantom II fighter
The MiG-23 is equipped with a modern avionics system, with a more powerful radar, a computer system, greater range, more powerful weapons and stronger targeting capabilities. All the new technologies on the MiG-23 make it a powerful and versatile fighter that can perform both attack and interception roles. However, the results were contrary to expectations.
Subsequent tests discovered that the MiG-23 was surpassed by Western competitors such as the F-14 Tomcat or the F-15 Eagle. The MiG-23 also frequently suffered from instability problems at high angles of attack. Test pilots complained of the MiG-23’s instability at high speeds and difficulty landing in bad weather. The MiG-23 is not only a step back from the MiG-21 in some respects, but its cost is much higher than that of its predecessor. The MiG-23 also had a lot of technical flaws. For example, its R-29 engine had a short lifespan and a tendency to overheat, while the fuel tank system was defective in design, and was only rectified on later MiG-23 models.
The history of the MiG-23’s operation was relatively long in the Soviet and some air forces, but its achievements were not outstanding. Simply, the MiG-23 is a 3rd generation fighter, when it was born, the dawn of the 4th generation fighter appeared.
Although the purpose of the Soviet MiG-23 was to rival the F-4E, the MiG-23 was always defeated by 4th generation fighters. More than a dozen Syrian MiG-23s were defeated by Israeli F-15s and F-16s during the Arab-Israeli War. The Iraqi MiG-23 was even worse than the Iranian Air Force during the Iran-Iraq War. It is reported that up to 50 Iraqi MiG-23s were shot down by Iranian F-14, F-5 and F-4 fighters. Worse, Libyan MiG-23s were shot down several times by Egyptian MiG-21 jets during the Libya-Egypt War, and two MiG-23s were shot down by two US Navy F-14 Tomcats during the 1989 Tobruk skirmish.
Given the dire results on the battlefield and the potential technical risks, it is not surprising that the MiG-23 had to be retired earlier than the MiG-21 it was slated to replace. The Soviet Air Force quickly switched to the 4th generation MiG-29. Syria and North Korea are the countries that still use the most of the remaining MiG-23s in the world. The MiG-23 stands in the history of military aviation as a grim reminder that even the best design concepts can fail if not kept up with the trends of the times.