A typical scene from the heyday of Flogger operations in East Germany, showing a squadron line-up of MiG-23MLDs at Altes Lager, with two MiG-23UB Flogger-Bs at the right-hand end of each group of six aircraft, whilst another Flogger-B can be seen returning to dispersal in the upper right of the picture. In the early 1980s, these interceptor variants of the Flogger were the most numerous fighter assets of the Soviet Air Force's tactical units (Frontal Aviation), with around 1,100 Examples deployed at bases in Central Europe and stretching across the Soviet Union to the Russian Far East.
The almost central location of the BVP-50-60 chaff and flare dispensers on the fuselage can be appreciated in this view of a MiG-23MLD taxiing past one of the hardened aircraft shelters at Altes Lager.
The Flogger-K upgrade package is known to have been completed prior to the Lebanon war and a total of 560 VVS MiG-23ML/MLAs were upgraded to the improved standard. Additionally, a total of 66 modified interceptors (in which only the avionics were upgraded) were said by Russian sources to have been newly-built between mid/late 1982 and December 1984.
Known as the MiG-23MLD (Export) (Izdelie 23-19 or the alternative designation Izdelie 23-22), these were exported only to Syria and Bulgaria - totalling 50 and 16 examples respectively. Interestingly, the NATO reporting name Flogger-G was retained as these aircraft were hardly distinguishable from the basic MiG-23ML/MLA. Unlike its export counterparts, the VVS-FA MiG-23MLD had a much-improved maneuvering performance, thanks to a host of airframe and flight control system upgrades.
Westerners might find it interesting to read a 32- page Soviet Air Force supplementary air combat manual called Aide-Memoire for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-I6A, F-4E and Kfir C.2, published not long after the Bekaa Valley clashes. At that time both Soviet pilots and those from its client states were still trained mainly in the orthodox - some might say 'inflexible' - air intercept tactics originating from the 1960s, which were mastered to perfection during the MiG-21 era, from the early 1960s to the 1970s. In the 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviet Union and its client air arms flew the MiG-23M/ML/MLD in the same way as the MiG-21 - as a high-speed point interceptor closely guided and supported by the GCI. It took the Russians 12 years to exploit the Flogger-G/K as a true air superiority fighter.
The Aide-Memoire for the MiG-23 Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-I6A, F-4E and Kfir C.2 refers to the MiG-23MLD(Export) version, powered by the R35-300 turbojet, rated at 28,700lb (127kN) in full afterburner, without the aerodynamics and flight control system improvements of the VVS-FA MIG-23MLDS. According to the manual, the aircraft's main parameters, defining its maneuvering performance, turn out to be slightly better than the McDonnell Douglas F-4E Phantom II and definitely better than the IAI Kfir C.2. However, the MiG-23MLD's air combat performance, as quoted in the manual, is cited as definitely inferior to the McDonnell Douglas F-15A and General Dynamics F-16A. There are only a few areas within the MiG-23MLD's envelope where it could boast performance equal to, or slightly better than, the third-generation US fighters.
The manual's authors claim that in comparison with the F-4E (though whether they mean the slatted or non-slatted sub-version of the Phantom is not clear), the MiG-23MLD has superior sustained turn performance throughout the entire envelope, excluding the range between 377 and 540kts (700 and 1,000km/h) below 21,000ft (6,400m). It also has the edge over the Phantom II in zoom climb performance at all altitudes and speeds, excluding the true airspeed range between 485 and 647kts (900 and 1,200km/h) above 18,000ft (6,000m).
Compared with the F-15A, the MiG-23MLD's only notable advantage is in zoom climb performance at speeds above 620kts (1,150km/h). However, the manual asserts that compared with the F-16A, the Soviet swing-wing fighter produces a somewhat better sustained turn performance above 15,000ft (5,000m), at speeds close to the maximum, as well as better zoom climb performance at true airspeeds exceeding 590kts (1,100km/h). However, as comparative tests have shown, using the Syrian MiG-23MLD(Export) which defected to Israel in October 1989, the swing-wing fighter demonstrated, somewhat surprisingly, that it had better acceleration than the escorting F-16s. This would seem to indicate that in 'real world' conditions the MiG-23MLD would have a slight edge over the early F-16s in acceleration and energy maneuverability at true airspeeds above 485kts (900km/h).
The IAI Kfir C.2, as assessed in the manual, is said to be inferior to the MiG-23MLD in sustained turn performance at airspeeds above 540kts (1,000km/h), and in zoom climb performance at true airspeeds below 540kts (1,000km/h). However, at altitudes below 12,000ft (4,000m) the MiG-23MLD has the edge in energy maneuverability throughout the entire speed range.
The MiG-23MLD (Export) had many shortcomings inherited from the MiG-23MF/ML: vicious high- AoA (Angle of Attack) handling characteristics, slow roll and pitch stick response, unimpressive pitch and roll rates and unsatisfactory turning performance in both the vertical and horizontal plane at high subsonic and transonic speeds with the wings set at 45° swept position. However, some of these were eliminated on the VVS-FA's top-notch MiG-23MLD by a range of improvements in aerodynamic and flight control systems. Vortex generators were mounted on the pitot boom, and notched leading edge roots were introduced to act as vortex generators to energise the flow over the wings, in order to delay the stall. The upgraded flight-control system incorporated the SOS-3-4 synthetic 'stick-stop' or the so-called soft pitch/AoA limiter (borrowed from the MiG- 29), which restricts g, angle of attack and pitch rate. As a result, the aircraft's agility was considerably better than that of its predecessor, and it had far better stall/spinning protection and acceptably good high-Alpha handling qualities (this particular aspect, together with pilot visibility, was among the main shortcomings of the MiG-23M/ML, limiting its performance in maneuvering air combat. Despite tests on the MiG-23MLD, there were no production-converted Flogger-Ks with built-in SPS-141 Siren or Gardenya-1FU active jammers.
The various MiG-23 upgrades offered by the Mikoyan Design Bureau in the mid and late-1990s - including a new fire control system, new radar and the R-77 (AA-12 Adder) active radar homing missile and glass cockpit - have proved a far from- cost-effective solution for most of the existing operators, deprived of the funds and the determination to launch such programmes. Most, if not all, existing Flogger-B/G operators have little or no capability to procure new equipment, for economical or political reasons. These countries (such as Algeria, Libya, Syria etc.), may go ahead, however, - or may have already done so - in increasing the combat capability of their MiG-23MFs and ML/MLDs at low cost by integrating the R-73 high off-boresight missile. This enables the pilot to acquire and engage an enemy aircraft even at a high angle (up to 45°) off his aircraft's heading. The missile was introduced on the VVS-FA MiG-23MLDs as early as in 1983, and integrated by replacing three black boxes in the aircraft's fire control system. To fully exploit the R-73's high off-boresight capabilities, however, would require a helmet-mounted cueing system (HCMS), similar to that adopted for the Indian Air Force MiG-21-93. There are various sources in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus' - both government and private companies, often operating on the 'grey' and the 'black market' - from whom new or second-hand R-73s may be procured. With the relatively inexpensive airframe/systems service life extensions offered by the Mikoyan Design Bureau, the MiG-23ML/MLD(Export) manufactured in the early 1980s could soldier on in Syria, Cuba and North Korea for another 25 years and they could serve well into the mid and late-2000s.
Specifications (MiG-23MLD Flogger-K)
Length: 16.70 m (56 ft 9.5)
Wingspan: Spread, 13.97 m (45 ft 10 in)
Height: 4.82 m (15 ft 9.75 in)
Wing area: 37.35 m² spread, 34.16 m² swept (402.05 ft² / 367.71 ft²)
Empty weight: 9,595 kg (21,153 lb)
Loaded weight: 15,700 kg (34,612 lb)
Max. takeoff weight: 18,030 kg (39,749 lb)
Powerplant: 1 × Khatchaturov R-35-300 afterburning turbojet, 83.6 kN dry, 127 kN afterburning (18,850 lbf / 28,700 lbf)
Maximum speed: Mach 2.32, 2,445 km/h at altitude; Mach 1.14, 1,350 km/h at sea level (1,553 mph / 840 mph)
Range: 1,150 km with six AAMs combat, 2,820 km ferry (570 mi / 1,750 mi)
Service ceiling: 18,500 m (60,695 ft)
Rate of climb: 240 m/s (47,245 ft/min)
Wing loading: 420 kg/m² (78.6 lb/ft²)
1x Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-23L 23 mm cannon with 200 rounds
Two fuselage, two wing glove, and two wing pylons for up to 3,000 kg (6,610 lb) of stores, including:
R-23/24 (AA-7 "Apex")
R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid")
also, upgraded aircraft may carry:
R-27 (AA-10 "Alamo")
R-73 (AA-11 "Archer")
R-77 (AA-12 "Adder")
According to the MiG-23ML manual, the MiG-23ML has a maximum sustained turn rate of 14.1 deg/sec and a maximum instantaneous turn rate of 16.7 deg/sec. The MiG-23ML accelerates from 600 km/h (373 mph) to 900 km/h (559 mph) in just 12 seconds at the altitude of 1000 meters. The MiG-23 accelerates at the altitude of 1 km from the speed of 630 km/h (391 mph) to 1300 km/h (808 mph) in just 30 seconds and at the altitude of 10–12 km will accelerate from Mach 1 to Mach 2 in just 160 seconds.