Monday, March 14, 2016


Gap Fillers: MiG Family Photo, models by R. Denham.

The MiG-15 first saw combat over Shanghai in April 1950. As with the Japanese Zero a decade before, Western observers were not paying attention, and the appearance of the MiG-15 over Korea in November 1950 was a shock. The MiG-15 and the North American F-86 Sabre were roughly an equal match, the MiG slightly better in climb at altitude and in maneuverability in the vertical plane, the Sabre faster in a dive, with better horizontal maneuverability. The MiG had better weapons, but the Sabre had the better gun sight. Success depended on the skill of the individual pilots and the specific tactical situation. None of the other U. S. or British aircraft really had a chance.

After Korea, the MiG-15 saw further combat in the Middle East and was widely sold to all the Soviet Union’s allies and to most of the newly emerging nations. Almost 10,000 were produced by the mid-1950s, including production by Poland and Czechoslovakia. In addition to the single-seat fighter, there was also a two-seat fighter-trainer, the MiG- 15UTI, of which about 6,700 were built. The MiG-15UTI was even more widely sold than its single-seat brother and remained in use in the Soviet Union until the end of the 1980s.

From 1951 to 1956, the MiG-15 was supplanted in production with a modernized version, the MiG-17. Neither the MiG-15 nor the MiG-17 was capable of supersonic flight, which was finally achieved by the MiG-19 series (in production from 1954 to 1961). Only 3,700 MiG-19s were produced; it was sold widely, but it had the misfortune to appear between the exceptional and long-lived MiG-17 and the equally successful MiG-21.

Gurevich retired from the bureau in 1964; he died on 12 November 1976. Mikoyan died on 9 December 1970 and was succeeded by Rostislav Apollossovich Belyakov (b. 1919), who had long been MiG’s chief designer. At this time, the MiG-23/MiG-27 family was entering production. Although the Sukhoi Su-17 was the first operational variable-geometry aircraft, the MiG-23 and MiG-27 were more distinctive, recognized first, and produced in greater numbers. From 1969 to 1982, 4,278 examples of the MiG-23, 910 MiG-27s, and 769 MiG-23UMs were produced. The MiG-23M and MiG-23P variants and derivatives were optimized for air combat and interception, respectively, and were distinguished by an ogival nose cone containing advanced radar systems. The MiG-23B variants and the MiG-27 were dedicated fighter-bombers, without air-to-air radar systems but with more flexibility for carrying bombs and rockets, and they had specialized ground targeting laser systems. These aircraft were distinguished by a sloping forward fuselage, which gave the type its Russian nickname,”Utkanos”(Ducknose).

Too late for combat over Vietnam, the MiG-23 family has participated prominently in all the conflicts since then in the Middle East and Africa and has been exported to dozens of nations. By 1982, when Syrian MiG-23s tried to fight over Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, they were flown by pilots less experienced than the Israelis and were pitted against F-16s and F-15s, fighters of an entirely later generation. Also during the 1980s, MiG-23s had the misfortune to duel Pakistani F-16s over the Afghan border, which proved it was not merely Israeli skill at work over the Bekaa. The MiG-23 was retired from Russian service on 1 May 1998 but continues in service with former Soviet republics and other countries around the globe.

Also entering service in 1969 was the MiG-25, a large interceptor capable of reaching Mach 2.8 at altitude. This aircraft was originally designed to counter the U. S. XB-70 and SR-71 and was produced in several reconnaissance variants. The MiG-25 (NATO code name “Foxbat”) achieved notoriety in 1975 when Lieutenant Viktor Belenko flew an example to Japan, which allowed the United States to examine it thoroughly, revealing a curious mix of very advanced and antiquated technology. As a consequence, the Soviets introduced a drastically improved version, the MiG-25PDS, in order to restore their secrets. About 1,190 MiG-25s of interceptor, reconnaissance, and combat trainer variants were produced by 1984. A further evolution of the basic MiG-25 design is the MiG-31. This aircraft is a highly modernized interceptor, with no reconnaissance or trainer variants included among the 500 or more produced between 1977 and 1986. In 1990, the further modified MiG-31M appeared, but the end of the Soviet Union and the decline of the Russian air force has prevented it from entering service.

The MiG-29 was the last MiG to be produced. The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union caused difficulties for most Russian arms producers, especially MiG. The political connections that earlier proved so advantageous now turned into a liability, as MiG was associated too closely with the old regime. At the same time, MiG was supplanted by Sukhoi, which experienced a flowering of design creativity and lacked the political baggage. In 1995, MiG was merged with the newly privatized aviation factories of the Moscow Area (Aircraft) Production Organization to become MiG-MAPO. A new design, the MiG-AT, has been offered in competition with the Yak-130 for the Russian air force’s Advanced Trainer requirement.

Developing Tactics for the Il-2

A sight feared by the Wehrmacht a flight of Il-2s race over the battlefield during a low-level attack in the autumn of 1941.

The Il-2 was central to VVS RKKA’s rearmament plans, with 11 attack aircraft regiments scheduled to be equipped with Shturmoviks within five frontline military districts by the end of 1941. Six other regiments deployed further from the front, and in the far eastern regions of the USSR, were to convert to the Il-2 by mid-1942.

In addition, eight short-range bomber regiments were to also have re-equipped with the type by early 1942. As of 22 June 1941, when Germany attacked the USSR, VVS RKKA attack aviation in the five military districts facing the invaders were operating 207 1-15bis and 193 1-153 fighters. These formations had received just 20 Il-2s by the time war broke out, five having been delivered to the Baltic Special Military District, eight to the Western Special Military District, five to the Caucasus Special Military District and two to the Odessa Military District. But not one had been included in the duty rosters of the units in what was soon to become the frontline. This was due to a lack of trained pilots.

4th BBAP (Blizhnebombardirovochniy Aviatsionniy Polk – Short-Range Bomber Air Regiment) of the Kharkov Military District was the only unit to have modern attack aircraft on strength on 22 June, having received 63 Il-2s, but its pilots had not yet fully converted onto the type. According to official sources, 60 pilots and 102 engineers had been trained to operate and maintain the Il-2 by 22 June, but none had returned to their frontline units by that fateful date.

And even if they had reached 4th BBAP prior to the German invasion, pilots had not received any instruction in Il-2 combat tactics since there was no manual to study! Pre-war tactics were totally unsuited to the Il-2, and did not exploit its capabilities to their fullest extent.

The fact was that the People’s Commissar of Defence had only signed the order for Il-2 combat tests on 31 May 1941. NII VVS (NauchnoIspitatelniy Institut Voenno- Vozdushnykh Sil- Air Force Scientific Testing Institute) issued the corresponding order on 20 June. By decree of the People’s Commissar of Defence, dated 17 May 1941, independent flight crews and flights of the Caucasus Special Military District were to complete Il-2 service testing by 15 July 1941.

In actuality, tactics for the Shturmovik had to be worked out in the crucible of war in the first year of the conflict in the east, with regiments bearing heavy losses in both pilots and aircraft during this period.

With all frontline Il-2 units attached to combined services armies, combined air divisions and reserve and attack air groups of the Supreme High Command General Headquarters, Air Force command was totally unable to maneuver its forces efficiently and focus its main efforts on the primary German lines of advance.

In the early months of the war, Il-2s operated in groups of three to five aircraft, with Shturmoviks attacking their targets one at a time from a minimum altitude of20-25 m (65-80 ft) up to 150-200 m (500-650 ft), using all their weapons in a single run over the target. Whatever the height at which they started their attack, pilots would always fire their guns and drop their bombs from low level. In the absence of enemy fighters or strong anti-aircraft defences, pilots would make two to three attack runs.

When operating at low level, Il-2 pilots could capitalise on the element of surprise to evade enemy fighters. Should they be intercepted close to the ground, invariably there was no room for effective combat maneuvering by the attacking fighters.

Low-level attacks were problematic for the Il-2 pilots as well, however, as they found navigating to and from the target area no easy proposition. The short time they spent over the latter also made it difficult for commanders to coordinate their individual attack runs effectively. Combat experience, and follow-up firing-range tests, demonstrated that low-level operations did not allow the Il-2 to capitalise on its capabilities. The fact was that such tactics were the wrong ones, and could only be justified by the small number of Il-2s then in service, and the poor organisation of escorting fighter units. Western Front Air Force headquarters put it this way in a directive dated 8 August 1941;
‘Il-2 attack aircraft suffer especially inept employment. Il-2 pilots are afraid of being shot down, and often unreasonably resort to low-level flight and lose their bearings, with the result that their missions fail.’

From August, therefore, in an effort to improve the effectiveness of attacks on small targets, groups of Il-2s were led by a mission controller in a Sukhoi Su-2, a Petlyakov Pe-2 or a fighter. They would designate the target by dropping bombs or AZh-2 incendiary spheres on it.