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Floggers in action (3)
Long before Syrian MiG-23MSs engaged Israeli fighters in huge air battles over Lebanon, three other Arab air forces were also in the process of purchasing numerous MiG-23s. The first was Egypt, which in early 1974 bought eight MiG-23MS interceptors, eight MiG-23BN strikers and four MIG-23U trainers, concentrating them into a single regiment based at Mersa Matruh. The type did not have a very long career with the EAF, however, as during the same year the friendship between Cairo and Moscow collapsed and Egypt began turning to the West - especially France.
Consequently, by late 1975, all Egyptian MiG-23s had been withdrawn from active duty and placed in storage, pending delivery of additional Dassault Mirages from France. During the following years, Egypt established good contacts with China, followed closely by the USA, and both countries were soon showing interest in the MiG-23s. In 1978 China purchased two MiG-23MS interceptors, two MiG-23BNs, two MiG-23Us, ten MiG-21MFs, and ten AS-5 Kelt air-to-surface missiles (ASMs) in exchange for spare parts and technical support for the large Egyptian fleet of Soviet-supplied MiG-17 Frescos and MiG-21s. The Chinese used the aircraft as the basis for their J-9 project, which never ventured beyond the research phase.
Shortly after a similar agreement was reached with the USA, this time for the remaining six MIG-23MS examples and six MiG-23BNs, as well as 16 MiG-21MFs, two Sukhoi Su-20 Fitters, two MiG-21Us, two Mil Mi-8 Hips and ten AS-5 ASMs. All were purchased for the Foreign Technology Division, a special department of the USAF Materiel Command, responsible for evaluating 'enemy' technologies. These were exchanged for US-made weapons and spares support, including AIM-9J/P Sidewinder missiles, which were installed on remaining Egyptian MiG-21s.
Libya: fighting Egypt, a DC-9 and the USA
Meanwhile, Libya, which established connections with Moscow via Egypt during the early 1970s, received a total of 54 MiG-23MS and 'Us between late 1974 and early 1976, followed by a similar number of MiG-23BNs. While many of these were immediately put into storage, at least 20 MiG-23MSs and MiG-23UBs entered service with the 1023rd Squadron, initially based at Tarrabalus air base (the military side of the airfield at Tripoli). In the late 1970s, the 1023rd - together with MiG-23BNs of the 1124th Squadron - moved to Umm Atitiqah, when it became operational. Libyan MiG-23s played only a minor role during the short war with Egypt in July 1977, but one of them was shot down by Egyptian MiG-21s while supporting a strike on the airfield at Mersa-Matruh, forcing the remainder to abort the mission. The situation was repeated in early 1979 when another brief clash with Egyptian fighters followed over as-Soltim. During a brief encounter, two Libyan MiG-23MS pilots made the mistake of engaging two EAF MiG-21MFs - equipped with AIM-9J-1 Sidewinders newly-delivered from the USA - in a turning fight. Egyptian Major Sal Mohammed managed to shoot down one MiG-23, while the other Libyan used his superior acceleration to get away.
Despite such setbacks, and the purchase of some 80 MiG-25PD Foxbats, the MiG-23MS remained the primary tactical interceptor of the LA RAF even during the early 1980s, and was involved in additional international incidents. On July 18, 1980, the wreckage of an LARAF MiG-23MS was found on the northern side of the 6,328ft (1,929m) high Mount Sila, in the middle of the Italian province of Calabria. The pilot's body was found still strapped to his ejection seat, and on his helmet, was the name, Ezedin Koal.
"...THE PILOT HAD BEEN DEAD FOR AT LEAST 15 TO 20 DAYS,
WHICH LINKED THE MIG TO THE MYSTERIOUS CRASH OF A DOUGLAS DC 9 JETLINER..."
The investigation discovered that the pilot had been dead for at least 15 to 20 days, which linked the Mid to the mysterious crash of a Douglas DC-9 jetliner on June 27, 1980, near the Italian island of Ustica. Theories about the involvement of Koal's MiG-23MS in that incident vary: according to some, Koal crashed while trying to defect having become disorientated during the night flight; others say, Koal shot the DC-9 down or that the DC-9 was shot down by air-to-air missiles fired by NATO fighters that were pursuing him; while the third main theory suggests that the MiG-23 probably collided with the airliner as it tried to fly tightly underneath in order to evade pursuing NATO fighters. In short, it is not known what that MiG-23MS was looking for so far away from Libya and north of Sicily!
Mystery also surrounds the apparent defection of another Libyan pilot, who flew his Mid-23MS or 'BN to Egypt, sometime in the early 1980s. Reportedly, it was in this aircraft that USAF General Robert Bond was killed in an accident in Nevada in 1984.
Libyan MiG-23MSs were involved in another international incident on September 16, 1980, when no less than 15 Libyan fighters intercepted Boeing RC-135U 64-14847 of the USAF's 55th Strategic Reconnaissance Wing over the Gulf of Syrte. Exact details about this incident remain sketchy, but it seems that Libyan fighters either threatened with opening fire or indeed opened fire anil damaged the recce plane before being 'escorted' away by USN fighters. The incident signalled the start of numerous other incidents between Libyan anil US forces which happened during the next nine years and ended with the downing of two LARAF MiG-23MFs by F-14A Tomcats of the USN, on January 4, 1989.
Soviet MiG-23s against Chinooks
Next to use MiG-23s in combat was the Soviet Air Defence Force (the V-PVO). During the 1970s numerous incidents occurred on the Soviet-Iranian and Afghan-Iranian border, forcing the Soviets to station a regiment of MiG-23Ms at Ak-Tepe air base, near the border with Afghanistan, in what was then the Turkmenistan Military District. One of the most serious incidents happened at 06:21 on June 21, 1978, when the Soviet radar site near the village of Bagir, not far from Ashhabad, detected four slow-moving contacts that had come from Iran and penetrated 15 to 20km into Soviet airspace near Dushak, in Turkmenistan.
Five minutes later, these targets were detected by radar at Ak-Tepe Air Base, and deputy commander of 152 LAP, Lt Col J A Miloslavsky, ordered one MiG-23M, flown by Captain A V Dem'janov, to scramble and intercept. Once over the area, Dem'janov found just one helicopter, but misidentified it as friendly. In addition, the command post told him "not to turn weapons on and not to come too close to the target".
"DEM'JANOV FOUND JUST ONE HELICOPTER...
THE COMMAND POST TOLD HIM "NOT TO TURN WEAPONS ON AND NOT TO COME TOO CLOSE TO THE TARGET".
As Dem'janov's answers to calls from the GCI station sounded uncertain, he was ordered back to Ak-Tepe and instead, at 06:52, Lt Col Miloslavsky dispatched another MiG-23M, flown by Captain Valery I Shkinder. He approached four contacts, identified them properly as Boeing CH-47C Chinook helicopters of the Imperial Iranian Air Force and got the order to attack. At the time, Iranian Chinooks were flying in two pairs to the northwest along the Garagum Canal. but when their crews detected the interceptor above them, they turned lo the southwest and flew towards the Kopet mountains and the Iranian border.
Diving behind the two rear Chinooks, Shkinder fired two R-60 (AA-8 Aphid) infra-red-homing air-to-air missiles. Both found their mark and exploded against the rearmost helicopter, the wreckage of which crashed near the village of Gjaurs, killing all eight crew members. Shkinder reported the destruction of the first target to his base and announced that he was attacking the second helicopter. Turning around, he positioned his MiG-23M behind the damaged helicopter and opened fire with GSh-23L. 23mm guns, expending 72 rounds in two passes and hitting the starboard engine of 5-4092. The Iranian pilot managed to land near the Soviet border post al Gjaurs. All four crew members survived, but were captured by Soviet border guards. The remaining two Chinooks got away, crossing back into Iranian airspace.
Despite a severe loss of lite lor the IIAF, the incident was played down by both sides, and the Soviets permitted the damaged Chinook to be repaired by Iranians and flown home, together with all four crew members. Shkinder was not decorated for his feat - the proposal that he should get a Combat Red Flag Award was rejected by the Kremlin "due to a very complex international situation". The full background of this incident still remains unclear, just like in the case of Libyan MiG-23MS operations during the summer and autumn of 1980.
Iraqi anticipation and disappointment
When the first four MiG-23s were delivered to Syria in October 1974, they were soon noticed, by Iraqi pilots working with the SyAAF at the time, and the IrAF was fast to order 24 each of the interceptor and attack variants. In early 1974, a total of 18 MiG-23MSs, 18 MiG-23BNs and four MiG-23UBs were delivered to the IrAl-', which formed the 23rd and 26th Squadrons equipped with fighters, and the 77th Squadron with MiG-23BNs. Perhaps because they had high expectations of the type, the Iraqis were initially disappointed with both the 'MS and 'BN versions. They actually expected the MiG-23 to be the ideal counterpart to the Grumman F-14A Tomcats ordered by Iran. The difference, however, was considerable, and the Tomcat was far superior to the MiG in all aspects, including the avionics and weapon systems, range, payload and manoeuvrability. Additionally, the Iraqis initially found the MiG-23 to be almost as complex to maintain and fly as the F-14!
"...DURING THE 1973 WAR WITH ISRAEL, IRAQ LOST MORE AIRCRAFT TO SYRIAN SAMS THAN TO ISRAELIS!"
One of the main reasons for Iraq's disappointment was the avionics suite, which was based on that of the MiG-21MF, and included only a simple VOR/ILS navigation system, UHF radios and SRO-3 IFF transponders compatible with similar aircraft delivered to Egypt and Syria but no radar warning receivers (RWRs). This was important as during the 1973 war with Israel, Iraq lost more aircraft to Syrian SAMs than to Israelis! Consequently, the IrAF Air Defence Command initially relegated the MiG-23MS from the interceptor role - together with all MiG-23BNs - to Air Support Command (ASC). Interestingly, for ASC, the MiG-23BN was - despite weaknesses in its avionics - such an important asset that when the IrAF began fighting Kurds supported by units of the regular Imperial Iranian Army, in Northern Iraq, in 1974 and 1975, it refused to use MiG-23BNs until Moscow promised the delivery of 15 additional examples!
These additional aircraft were indeed badly needed, as between April and November 1974, the IrAF lost at least four MiG-23BNs to Iranian SAMs and two in operational accidents. As Iraqi pilots were well satisfied with the payload of the type, the IrAF immediately ordered 60 additional MiG-23BNs and ten MiG-23UBs, and these were supplied by the USSR between 1976 and 1977. The fast adoption of such large numbers of new and more complex aircraft over a relatively short period caused considerable problems for ASC, and, although by 1976 it numbered no less than 15 squadrons
- which were responsible for supporting land operations of the army - it lacked trained and experienced crews, while many of the newly-purchased aircraft were mothballed and kept in reserve. For example, out of four squadrons equipped with MiG-23s, only two were considered fully operational.
'Floggers' against Persians
Despite all these negative aspects, the Iraqis gradually became more confident of the MiG-23s and by 1980 the type
- besides the MiG-21 and Su-20 - became the IrAF's most important asset. Large numbers - especially of MiG-23BNs
- were used right from the start of the war against Iran. The first involvement of Iraqi MiG-23s against Iran - during the prolonged phase of skirmishes in the summer of 1980 - was not successful. On September 13 two MiG-23MS interceptors were engaged by Iranian Phantoms while supporting MiG-21R recce operations over the Chogar area, and one MiG was shot down.
Almost 50% of the missions flown during the opening Iraqi strike on September 22, 1980, were flown by MiG-23BNs of the 77th and 78th Squadrons, including the best known one
- against Mehrabad air base, near Tehran. Two trios of MiG-23BNs were initially tasked with striking Mehrabad, but only three reached it after flying no less than 320 miles (520km) deep into Iran. Apparently, Iraqi pilots were surprised that they had managed to reach their target undisturbed, and they activated their weapons too late, as a result the attacks against an airfield filled with a large number of military and civilian aircraft were limited. A string of bombs dropped by the leading MSG-23BN fell on the tarmac in front of the Iranian Aircraft Industries facility, blowing the nose section off an F-4E. The two escorts then fired unguided 68mm rockets and hit Iran Air Boeing 707-321B EP-IRJ and damaged an IRIAF C-130E beyond repair. The attack killed one anil injured nine Iranians. While clearing the target area the formation was intercepted by two F-4Es scrambled from Mehrabad, and at least one MiG - possibly two - was shot down. The pilot - reportedly an Egyptian - was captured shortly after by Iranians; only the leader of the trio, 'Major N', survived to tell the story.
"A STRING OF BOMBS DROPPED BY THE LEADING MIG-23BN FELL ON THE TARMAC
IN FRONT OF THE IRANIAN AIRCRAFT INDUSTRIES FACILITY..."
During the early phase of the Persian Gulf war, the IrAF used the MJG-23BN mainly as an interdictor, sending small formations of between two and four aircraft to strike targets inside Iran. Using blind-spots in the Iranian radar network, most of these returned unscathed. However, time and again, some were intercepted by Iranian Tomcats and Phantoms, and the results of following air combats were usually catastrophic.
There were several reasons for this: before the Islamic Revolution in February 1979, several Iranian pilots were sent to the USA, where they evaluated MiG-21s and MiG-23s used by the USAF; the Israelis - which co-operated with Imperial Iran intensively during the 1970s - supplied much of their own know-how about the type to the IIAF, and, the equipment of the Iraqi MiG-23s was really poor: their aircraft lacked any kind of RWRs, and would usually not recognise attacks by medium- and long-range, radar guided, air-to-air missiles before it was too late.
For example, on September 24, 1980, the three MiG-23BNs that had flown an effective strike against the installations on the Khark Island, were lost to Iranian Tomcats. Similar losses were suffered in additional air battles on October 3, 13, 18 and 19, during which no less than eleven MiG-23BNs were confirmed shot clown by Iranian F-14s, most of them over the northern Persian Gulf, between Abadan and Bushehr.
Iraqi units equipped with MiG-23MS had not had it any easier - after the skirmishes in August and September 1980 and early Iranian strikes deep into Iraq showed that the MiG-21s lacked the range to counter fast and low-flying Iranian Phantoms and Northrop F-5E Tigers, the IrAF put the 81st Squadron, stationed at Salman Pak, under command of the ADC. In the early morning September 25, six fighters from this unit were scrambled to intercept a large Iranian strike group which attacked targets in the Baghdad area. Barely 30 seconds after getting airborne the formation was intercepted by two F-14As, and two MiGs were shot down almost immediately. The remaining four turned away and had to divert to another airfield. Similar losses were suffered during at least two or three other engagements, and by late January 1981, the IrAF was left with less than 40 operational MiG-23s of all versions, deployed across six units. On the positive side, Iraqi MiG-23 pilots could claim only five or six Iranian fighters, including one F-4D, two F-4Es and two F-5Es.
After studying their experiences and the situation, and especially after the arrival of the first French instructors in the winter and spring of 1981, the IrAF changed the way it used its early MiG-23s. Instead of larger formations, now only pairs of MiG-23BNs or MiG-23MSs would be sent no more than 30 miles (50km) behind the front. Always operating under a very close control by the GCI, they would ingress at low levels (under 1,500ft - 500m), climbing only shortly before releasing their weapons. Simultaneously, MiG-23MS interceptors were also forbidden to operate outside the area covered by ground control, and were to execute only 'slash-attacks', closing on their targets at high speed from the rear in order to fire air-to-air missiles from maxim distance. Additionally, pilots were instructed not to manoeuvre against enemy fighters, but to use the superior acceleration of their aircraft for evasion, and also to evade Iranian F-14s at 'all costs'.
"...THE MIG-23S ACCELERATED AWAY, DRAGGING THE OPPONENTS OVER SAM OR AAA SITES, OR IN FRONT OF ESCORTING MIG-21S AND MIG-25S..."
The new tactics brought some success, especially in April and May 1981, when the IrAF started using pairs of MiG-23BNs as bait to trap Iranian interceptors. Mid-23s would attack Iranian Army positions, bomb and strafe, and then remain somewhere near the target just long enough for IRIAF interceptors to be scrambled. When Iranians gave pursuit, the MiG-23s accelerated away, dragging the opponents over SAM or AAA sites, or in front of escorting MiG-21s and MiG-25s, which waited for their chance to attack from the rear at low level. The results were immediately successful, mostly against Iranian F-4Es, several of which were shot down or badly damaged. The tactics worked less well against F-5Es, however: these simply lacked the speed, acceleration and range to engage or pursue MiG-23s.
The situation became so unpleasant for the Iranians, that in mid-May 1981 they were forced to temporarily deploy a full squadron of F-14As to Vahdati air base, near Dezful, which was still under continuous Iraqi artillery and rocket attacks, in order to re-establish the local air superiority. After the first clash between these Tomcats and two MiG-23BNs, escorted by MiG-21s and supported by a MiG-25RB, however, Iraqi MiG-23s did not venture so deep behind the Iranian border for another five years. During the rest of 1981 and 1982, there were dramatically fewer air-to-air engagements with MiG-23s over the southern front - the IrAF now deploying the MSG-23MS patrol either deeper behind the front, or over Iraqi oil rigs in the northern Gulf.
By 1982, with the friendship between Baghdad and Moscow re-established, the IrAF began to purchase increasing numbers of MiG-23MFs, followed closely by the MiG-23MLs. The MiG-23MS was relegated to the secondary air defence mission, while the MiG-23BN continued to soldier on with at least eight units even after the war with Iran.
By that time at least two Iraqi MiG-23MS pilots had become well known for their successes in air combats, although it is not known how many kills they scored while flying that type and version, as they also flew MiG-23MFs and some other types. Captain Omar Goben, for example, is known to have flown MiG-21s and MiG-23s, and to have scored two confirmed kills against Iranian F-5Es, both in the 1980s. Goben claimed ten additional aerial victories in 1982, 1983 and 1985, but none of these was ever confirmed. He survived the war with Iran, only to be shot down and killed by USAF F-15Cs while flying a MiG-29 in 1991. Another pilot, Captain Ali Sabah, better known to the Iraqi public as 'Tiger of Iraq', flew MiG-23s and Mirage F.1F.Qs during his career, scored at least three confirmed and three probable kills. He also survived the war with Iran, but was killed in 1993 - apparently by the Iraqi regime.
Ironically, the last chapter in the service career of the MiG-23MS with the IrAF and ADC had nothing to do with success at all. On the early morning of December 2, 1981, an Iraqi pilot of the 84th Squadron defected with his MiG-23MS to Vahdati. He managed to land safely, and subsequently proved to be a superb source of intelligence for the IRIAF, however, the aircraft - owing to a mix-up in the Iranian chain of command - was left out in the open for several hours too long, and in the afternoon the IrAF dispatched a tremendous strike against the Iranian base. Iraqi Su-20 pilots located the 'missing' MiG-23MS instantly and blasted it with several full loads of unguided 68mm rockets.
«Air Entusiast» # 100 Статью прислал В.Михалин
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- Egyptian Air Force
- Floggers in action (2)
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