MiG-23: A Ferrari leaving Fords behind

By MSW Add a Comment 10 Min Read


The Soviet-designed fighters were agile, too. 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.


One of the most important tactical war planes of the Soviet Union the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (NATO reporting name ‘Flogger’) was first flown in prototype form during 1966 entering service for evaluation some four years later. This air combat fighter and its ground attack MiG-27 derivative was in large scale production between 1969 and 1984

Designed to provide Frontal Aviation with a tactical fighter offering secondary ground attack capability and capable of meeting contemporary Western fighters on more than equal terms the MiG 23 was designed around the primary aim of an aircraft that could operate effectively without being tied to massive concrete runways The Mikoyan bureau is known to have adopted two approaches to this requirement first was the Ye-23 (or Ye-230) prototype which was of tailed delta configuration and incorporated high lift devices to give STOL capability powered by a single turbofan engine supplemented by a battery of Kolseov lift jets amidships for VTOL operations the alternative prototype was the Ye-231 which deleted the lift jets and replaced the delta wing by a variable geometry wing very similar to that of the General Dynamics F 111 The prototypes were evaluated during 1966 67 with a decision to develop the swing wing Ye 231 finalized probably during 1968 resulting in the pre production MiG-238 ‘Flogger-A’ which powered by a Tumansky R 27 turbojet with an afterburning thrust of 10200 kg (22 485 Ib) first entered service for operational evaluation in 197071 At about this time it must have been decided to optimize the MiG 23 as an air combat fighter and to develop a dedicated ground attack parallel version which was allocated the designation MiG 27 In consequence aerodynamic changes were made to the MiG 23 the fuselage structure being lightened and more advanced avionics being introduced by the time the initial MIG-23M version entered service in 1973 More or less simultaneously the dedicated attack variant was developed and while having much in common with the MiG 23 this was sufficiently different to warrant the allocation of the separate designation MiG-27 This differs primarily by having a completely redesigned forward fuselage providing a better field of view for the pilot increased armour protection terrain avoidance radar and provision to deploy a wide variety of air to surface weapons There appear to be only two versions of the MiG 27 differing in the shape of the nose avionics and aerodynamics and these have the NATO reporting names ‘Flogger-D’ and ‘Flogger-J’

Both the MiG 23 and MiG 27 are in large scale use with the former Soviet air force an estimated 3 000 reported being operational They served with the Warsaw Pact air forces and were exported to the air arms of Algeria Angola Bulgaria Cuba Czechoslovakia East Germany Egypt Ethiopia Hungary India Iraq Libya North Korea Poland South Yemen Syria and Vietnam The MiG 23M/K Flogger J is also currently in production in India.


Country of Origin CIS (formerly USSR)


MiG-23M Flogger B

MiG-23MF Flogger B

MiG-23UB Flogger C

MiG-23UM Flogger C

MiG-23MF Flogger E

MiG-23MS Flogger E

MiG-23BN Flogger F

MiG-23BM Flogger F

MiG-23B Flogger F

MiG-23ML Flogger G

MiG-23P Flogger G

MiG-23BK Flogger H

MiG-23BN Flogger H

MiG-23MLD Flogger K

MiG-24 (export MiG-23)

Similar Aircraft

MiG-27 Flogger D


Su-24 Fencer




MiG-23U — two

MiG-23C — two



Length 55 ft (16.6 m)

Span 46 ft, 9 in (14.26 m)

Ceiling 18600 meters

Cruise range 970 nm

In-Flight Refueling No

Internal Fuel 4600 kg

Payload 2000 kg

Sensors High Lark radar, RWR, IRST, Basic Bombsight

Drop Tanks 800 L drop tank with 639kg of fuel for 67nm range

Armament Cannon: GSh-23L 23mm
AS-7 Kerry, UV-16-57, FAB-500, AA-7, ,AA-8, AA-10, AA-11

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Czech Republic








North Korea



South Yemen






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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