Mikoyan MIG-23

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Mikoyan MIG 23


The Soviet-designed fighters were agile. In an engagement, the enemy’s first turn would be eye-watering—unless, that is, the model in question was a MiG-23. Then, there typically was no turn at all. The MiG-23 would simply tear away so fast that it seemed like a Ferrari leaving Fords behind. A MiG-23, such had one chance to make a pass and run. Once the pilot tried to turn, he was done.

MiG-23 Floggers were the MiG-21’s replacement. Their swing-wing was patterned on that of the F-111, but unlike their US antecedent, the MiG-23s were small and light enough to serve as dogfighters. On the whole, the aircraft weren’t as capable as US models, say those who flew them. Their fit and finish were vastly inferior, characterized by such defects as protruding rivets. That does not mean they could be written off. Far from it. They performed very well for the state of technology they had.

The MiG-23 that was the maintainers’ nightmare. The Flogger was a compromised design, in the US view. Made light for speed, the airframe didn’t have sufficient strength. The wing box which carried the weight of the swing wings was particularly prone to cracks.

Performance tests

Many potential enemies of the USSR and its client states had a chance to evaluate the MiG-23’s performance. In the 1970s, after a political realignment by the Egyptian government, Egypt gave their MiG-23MS to the United States and the People’s Republic of China in exchange for military hardware. These MiG-23MS helped the Chinese to develop their Shenyang J-8II aircraft by borrowing some MiG-23 features, such as its ventral fin and air intakes, and incorporating them into the J-8II. In the US, these MiG-23MS and other variants acquired later from Germany were used as part of the evaluation program of Soviet military hardware. Dutch pilot Leon Van Maurer, who had more than 1200 hours flying F-16s, flew against MiG-23ML Flogger-Gs from air bases in Germany and the U.S. as part of NATO’s aerial mock combat training with Soviet equipment. He concluded the MiG-23ML was superior in the vertical to early F-16 variants, just slightly inferior to the F-16A in the horizontal, and has superior BVR capability.

The Israelis tested a MiG-23MLD that defected from Syria and found it had better acceleration than the F-16 and F/A-18.

Another MiG-23 evaluation finding in the US and Israel reports was that the MiG-23 has a Heads-Up Display (HUD) that doubles as a radarscope, allowing the pilot to keep his eyes focused at infinity and work with his radar. It also allowed the Soviets to dispense with the radarscope on the MiG-23. This feature was carried over into the MiG-29, though in that aircraft a cathode ray tube (CRT) was carried on the upper right corner to double as a radarscope. Western opinions about this “head-up radarscope” are mixed. The Israelis were impressed, but an American F-16 pilot criticizes it as “sticking a transparent map in front of the HUD” and not providing a three-dimensional presentation that will accurately cue a pilot’s eyes to look for a fighter as it appears in a particular direction.

Besides the Syrian defection, a Cuban pilot flew a MiG-23BN to the US in 1991 and a Libyan MiG-23 pilot also defected to Greece in 1981. In both cases, the aircraft were later returned to their countries.

The MiG-23 was the Soviet Air Force’s “Top Gun”-equivalent aggressor aircraft from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. It proved a difficult opponent for early MiG-29 variants flown by inexperienced pilots. Exercises showed when well-flown, a MiG-23MLD could achieve favorable kill ratios against the MiG-29 in mock combat by using hit-and-run tactics and not engaging the MiG-29s in dogfights. Usually the aggressor MiG-23MLDs had a shark mouth painted on the nose just aft of the radome, and many were piloted by Soviet-Afghan War veterans. In the late 1980s, these aggressor MiG-23s were replaced by MiG-29s, also featuring shark mouths.

NATO reporting names: Flogger-A, B, C, E, F, G, H and K

Country of origin: Russia

Type: Single-seat variable geometry air combat fighter and two-seat operational trainer.

Powerplant: MIG-23ML – One 83.8kN (18,850lb) dry and 127.5kN(28,660lb) with afterburning Tumansky (now Soyuz) R-35-300 turbojet.

Performance: MIG-23ML – Max speed with weapons Mach 2.35 or 2500km/h (1349kt).

Max initial rate of climb 47,250ft/min.

Service ceiling 59,055ft.

Combat radius with six AAMs 1150km (620nm), combat radius with 2000kg (4,410lb) of bombs 700km (378nm).

Weights: MIG-23ML – Empty 10,200kg (22,485lb), max takeoff 17,800kg (39,250lb).

Dimensions: MIG-23ML – Span wings spread 13.97m (45ft 10in), span wings swept 7.78m (25ft 6in), length overall exc probe 15.88m (52ft 1in), height 4.82m (15ft 10in). Wing area wings spread 37.3m2 (401.5sq ft), wing area wings swept 34.2m2 (368.1 sq ft).

Accommodation: Pilot only, or two in tandem MIG-23UM and UB.

Armament: One twin barrel 23mm GSh-23 cannon. Five external hardpoints (one centreline, two under fuselage and two underwing) can carry a max external load of 2000kg (4,410lb) on MIG-23ML. Typical air-to-air configuration of two R-60 (AA-8 ‘Aphid’) and two R-23 (AA-7 ‘Apex’) AAMs.

History: From the mid-1970s and into the 1980s the MiG-23 (NATO reporting name ‘Flogger’) was the Soviet Unions’ most capable tactical fighter.

The MiG-23 was developed to replace the MiG-21, with improvements in overall performance and in particular short field performance. Two Mikoyan designed prototypes were built, the swept wing 23-01 ‘Faithless’ and the swing wing 23-11. The 23-11 first flew on April 10, 1967 and was ordered into production as the MIG-23S, fitted with the MiG-21 S’ RP-22 radar. Fifty were built for evaluation.

The MIG-23M (‘Flogger-B’) was the first model to introduce the specially designed Sapfir-23 pulse doppler radar in a larger nose radome and also featured a more powerful engine and IRST and R-23 missile compatibility. The down spec export MIG-23MS (‘Flogger-E’) was similar, while the export and further down spec MIG-23MF (‘Flogger-B’) features the RP-22 radar and smaller nose.

Subsequent fighter MiG-23s were the lightened MIG-23ML (‘Flogger-G’) with less fuel and no dorsal fin extension, the MIG-23P interceptor that could be automatically guided to its target by ground controllers and the MIG-23MLD (‘Flogger-K’) with aerodynamic changes. The MIG-23UB (‘Flogger-C’) meanwhile is the two-seat conversion trainer.

Various MiG-23 models were also built specifically for ground attack. The first to appear was the MIG-23B with a pointy, radar-less nose and a Lyulka AL-21 turbojet. The improved MIG-23BN returned to the Tumansky turbojet. NATO called both the MIG-23B and MIG-23BN the ‘Flogger-F’. Further improved MiG-23 attack variants were the MIG-23BK and MIG-23BM, both of which borrowed nav attack systems from the MiG-27.


MiG-23-11 (`Flogger-A’): Prototype shown at Domodyedovo 9 July 1967. One Lyulka AL-7F-1 afterburning turbojet, rated at 98.1 kN (22,046 lb st).

MiG-23S (`Flogger-A’): Initial production version, with R-27-300 turbojet engine. Issued to complete fighter regiment in 1971 for development.

MiG-23SM (`Flogger-A’): As MIG-23S, but with four APU-13 pylons for external stores added under engine air intake ducts and fixed inboard wing panels.

MiG-23M (`Flogger-B’): Most produced production version; first flown June 1972; single-seat air combat fighter; first aircraft of former Soviet Union with demonstrated ability to track and engage targets flying below its own altitude; Soyuz/Khachaturov R-29-300 turbojet, rated at 122.5 kN (27,540 lb st) with afterburning; no wing leading-edge flaps initially (retrofitted later); Sapfir-23D-Sh J-band radar (NATO `High Lark’); Sirena-3 radar warning system; Doppler; TP-23 infra-red search/track pod under cockpit; standard in Soviet air forces from about 1975.

MiG-23MF (`Flogger-B’): Export version of MiG-23M, in service with non-Soviet Warsaw Pact air forces from 1978. MiG-23UB (`Flogger-C’): Tandem two-seat operational training/combat version; Tumansky R-27F2M-300 turbojet, rated at 98 kN (22,045 lb st) with afterburning; individual canopy over each seat; rear seat raised, with retractable periscopic sight; deepened dorsal spine fairing aft of rear canopy. First flown May 1969; in production 1970 to 1978.

MiG-23MS (`Flogger-E’): Export version of MiG-23M with R-27F2M-300 engine; equipped to lower standard; smaller radar (`Jay Bird’, search range 15 n miles; 29 km; 18 miles, tracking range 10 n miles; 19 km; 12 miles) in shorter nose radome; no infra-red sensor or Doppler; armed with R-3S (K-13T; NATO AA-2 `Atoll’) or R-60 (K-60; NATO AA-8 `Aphid’) air-to-air missiles and GSh-23 gun.

MiG-23B (`Flogger-F’): Single-seat light attack aircraft based on MiG-23S interceptor airframe; forward fuselage redesigned; instead of ogival radome, nose sharply tapered in side elevation, housing PrNK Sokol-23S nav/attack system; twin-barrel 23 mm GSh-23L gun retained in bottom of centre-fuselage; armour on sides of cockpit; wider, low-pressure tyres; Lyulka AL-21F-300 turbojet, rated at 11.27 kN (25,350 lb st) with afterburning; fuel tanks designed to fill with neutral gas as fuel level drops, to prevent explosion after impact; active and passive ECM; six attachments under fuselage and wings for wide range of weapons; project started 1969; first flight 20 August 1970; 24 built; developed as MiG-23BN/BM/BK and MiG-27 series.

MiG-23BN (`Flogger-F’): As MiG-23B except for Soyuz/Khachaturov R-29B-300 turbojet, rated at 11.27 kN (25,350 lb st) with afterburning, and Sokol-23N nav/attack system. Version from which MiG-27 evolved, together with MiG-23BN and MiG-23BK.

MiG-23BM (`Flogger-F’): As MiG-23BN except for PrNK-23 nav/attack system slaved to a computer. MiG-23BK: Further equipment changes, NATO reporting name `Flogger-H’ identifies aircraft with small fairing for radar warning receiver each side of bottom fuselage, forward of nosewheel doors. Iraqi aircraft have Dassault-type fixed flight refuelling probe forward of windscreen.

MiG-23ML (`Flogger-G’): Much redesigned and lightened version (L of designation for logkiy: light) built in series 1976 to 1981; basically as MiG-23M, but Soyuz/Khachaturov R-35-300 turbojet; rear fuselage fuel tank deleted; much smaller dorsal fin; modified nosewheel leg; Sapfir-23ML lighter weight radar; new undernose pod for TP-23M IRST; new missiles. Detailed description applies to MiG-23ML.

MiG-23P (`Flogger-G’): Modified version of MiG-23ML; digital nav system computer guides aircraft under automatic control from the ground and informs pilot when to engage afterburning and to fire his missiles and gun.

MiG-23MLD (`Flogger-K’): Mid-life update of MiG-23ML (D of designation stands for dorabotannyy: modified); identified by dogtooth notch at junction of each wing glove leading-edge and intake trunk; system introduced to extend and retract leading-edge flaps automatically when wing sweep passes 33º (system disengaged and flaps retracted when speed exceeds 485 kt; 900 km/h; 560 mph and wings at 72º sweep); new IFF antenna forward of windscreen; R-73A (NATO AA-11 `Archer’) close-range air-to-air missiles on fuselage pylons two R-24R on wings and two R-73 on fuselage or two R-24R on wings and four R-60 on fuselage; pivoting pylons under outer wings; radar warning receivers and chaff/flare dispensers added; built-in simulation system enables pilot to train for weapon firing and air-to-surface missile guidance without use of gun or missiles.


Czech Republic: The Czech Air Force has evaluated Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral) AIM-9P-5 Sidewinder and Matra Magic 2 air-to-air missiles as possible armaments for its fleet of MiG-23ML/MF interceptor aircraft. No order placed yet.

Hungary: The Hungarian Air Force has retrofitted its MiG-23 aircraft with the same radio and IFF equipment as its MiG-21 aircraft. `MAPO’ MIG: MiG-23MLD `Flogger-K’ mid-life update of MiG-23ML. See Versions.

Phazatron: Actively promoting retrofitting the MiG-23 with its N019M topaz radar. This would facilitate integration of active radar including the RVV-AE (AA-12) in the search mode and the simultaneous engagement of two targets.

Syria: Requirement exists for a radar, computer and other upgrades although this would rely on funds becoming available.

Operators Versions of the MiG-23 are in service with the armed forces of the following countries: Algeria (30); Angola(20); Belarus (44); Bulgaria (76, of which 46 shortly to be withdrawn); Cuba (65); Ethiopia (24); India (115); Iraq (60); Kazakhstan (71); Korea, North (55); Libya (120); Romania (29); Russian Federation (420); Sudan(6); Syria (146); Ukraine (153); and Yemen (25).

Design Features

Shoulder-wing variable geometry configuration; sweep variable manually in flight or on ground to 16º, 45º or 72º (values given in manuals and on pilot’s panel; true values 18º 40′, 47º 40′ and 74º 40′ respectively); two hydraulic wingspeed motors driven separately by main and control booster systems; if one system fails, wing sweep system remains effective at 50 per cent normal angular velocity; rear fuselage detachable between wing and tailplane for engine servicing; lower portion of large ventral fin hinged to fold to starboard when landing gear extended, for ground clearance; leading-edge sweepback 72º on fixed-wing panels, 57º on horizontal tail surfaces, 65º on fin.

Flying Controls

Hydraulically actuated; full-span single-slotted trailing-edge flaps, each in three sections; outboard sections operable independently when wings fully swept; no ailerons; two-section upper surface spoilers/lift dumpers, forward of mid and inner flap sections each side, operate differentially in conjunction with horizontal tail surfaces (except when disengaged at 72º sweep), and collectively for improved runway adherence and braking after touchdown; leading-edge flap on outboard two-thirds of each main (variable geometry) panel, coupled to trailing-edge flaps; all-moving horizontal tail surfaces operated differentially and symmetrically for aileron and elevator function respectively; ground adjustable tab on each horizontal surface; rudder actuated by hydraulic booster with spring artificial feel; four door-type airbrakes, two on each side of rear fuselage, above and below horizontal tail surface.


All-metal; two main spars and auxiliary centre spar in each wing; extended chord (dogtooth) on outer panels visible when wings swept; fixed triangular inboard wing panels; welded steel pivot box carry-through structure; basically circular section semi-monocoque fuselage, flattened each side of cockpit; lateral air intake trunks blend into circular rear fuselage; splitter plate, with boundary layer bleeds, forms inboard face of each intake; two rectangular auxiliary intake doors in each trunk, under inboard wing leading-edge, are sucked open to increase intake area at take-off and low airspeeds; pressure relief vents under rear fuselage; fin and forward portion of horizontal surfaces conventional light-alloy structures; rudder and rear of horizontal surfaces have honeycomb core.

Landing Gear

Hydraulically retractable tricycle type; single wheel on each main unit and steerable twin-wheel nose unit; mainwheel tires size 830 x 300 mm; nosewheel tires size 520 x 125 mm; main units retract inward into rear of air intake trunks; main fairings to enclose these units attached to legs; small inboard fairing for each wheel bay hinged to fuselage belly. Nose unit, with mudguard over each wheel, retracts rearward. Mainwheel disc brakes and anti-skid units. Brake parachute, area 21 m2 (226 sq ft), in cylindrical fairing at base of rudder with split conic doors.

Power Plant

One Soyuz/Khachaturov R-35-300 turbojet, rated at up to 127.5 kN (28,660 lb st) with maximum afterburning. Three fuel tanks in fuselage, aft of cockpit, and six in wings; internal fuel capacity 4,250 litres (1,122 US gallons; 935 Imp gallons). Variable geometry air intakes and variable nozzle. Provision for jettisonable external fuel tank, capacity 800 litres (211 US gallons; 176 Imp gallons), on underfuselage centreline; two more under fixed-wing panels. Two additional external tanks of same capacity may be carried on non-swivelling pylons under outer wings for ferry flights, with wings in fully forward position. Attachment for assisted take-off rocket each side of fuselage aft of landing gear.

Accommodation Pilot only, on zero/130 ejection seat in air conditioned and pressurised cockpit, under small actuated rearward-hinged canopy. Bulletproof windscreen.


Modernised SAU-23AM automatic flight control system coupled to Polyot short-range navigation and flight system. Sapfir-23ML J-band multimode radar (NATO `High Lark 2′: search range 38 n miles; 70 km; 43 miles, tracking range 29 n miles; 55 km; 34 miles) behind dielectric nosecone; no radar scope; instead, picture is projected onto head-up display. RSBN-6S short-range radio nav system; ILS, with antennas (NATO `Swift Rod’) under radome and at tip of fin trailing-edge; suppressed UHF antennas form tip of fin and forward fixed portion of ventral fin; yaw vane above fuselage aft of radome; angle of attack sensor on port side. SRO-2 (NATO `Odd Rods’) IFF antenna immediately forward of windscreen. TP-23M undernose infra-red sensor rod, Sirena-3 radar warning system, and Doppler equipment standard on RFAS version. Sirena-3 antennas in horns at inboard leading-edge of each outer wing and below ILS antenna on fin.


ASP-17ML gunsight; small electrically heated rearview mirror on top of canopy; retractable landing/taxying light under each engine air intake.


One 23 mm GSh-23L twin-barrel gun in fuselage belly pack; large flash eliminator around muzzles; 200 rounds. Two pylons in tandem under centre-fuselage, one under each engine air intake duct, and one under each fixed inboard wing panel, for radar-guided R-23R (K-23R; NATO AA-7 `Apex’), infra-red R-23T(K-23T; AA-7 `Apex’) and/or infra-red R-60T (AA-8 `Aphid’) air-to-air missiles, B-8 pack of 20 80 mm S-8 air-to-surface rockets, UB-32-57 packs of 32 57 mm S-5 rockets, S-24 240 mm rockets, bombs, container weapons, UPK-23-250 pods containing a GSh-23L gun, various sensor and equipment pods or other external stores. Use of twin launchers under air intake ducts permits carriage of four R-60 missiles, plus two R-23 on underwing pylons.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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