Good afternoon, Fightersweep Fans! If you’ve been following the news, you may have heard that ISIS has claimed to shoot down a Libyan Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23, while several other of these aircraft have mysteriously crashed over the past couple of months.

It is known that Daesh may possess IR-guided SAMs, some light Anti-Aircraft Artillery, and possibly even MANPADS, but is it in fact possible for them to actually shoot down a fighter (or three)? Today, we are going to take a look at the fighter in question and see how it stacks up against a potential threat on the ground.

The MiG-23 is a fighter-interceptor, with limited air-to-ground capability. It was built in the 1960s and was primarily designed as a point-defense fighter. It was meant to be the successor the MiG-21 and there were a number of variants built since its inception. The aircraft involved in the incident, the MiG-23ML Flogger G, features an upgraded radar, IRSTS, and BVR missile capability.

Photo courtesy of i.alalam.ir.
Photo of a Libyan MiG-23 courtesy of i.alalam.ir.

Perhaps its most significant aerodynamic feature is the variable-geometry swing-wing design, influenced by the American F-111. It has a simple loadout of air-to-air missiles, including the AA-7 “Apex” and AA-8 “Aphid.” Only the most advanced variant, the MiG-23MLD Flogger K, carries the AA-11 “Archer,” but still has to cue the missile the old fashioned way without a helmet-mounted-sight.

The air-to-ground loadout is obsolete by modern standards. It can only carry a limited number of unguided rockets and general purpose bombs, requiring the pilot to roll-in on the target and have limited to no standoff capability. The GSh 23mm gun can be used in the air-to-air mode only. However, 23mm gun pods can be added for strafe capability. The only standoff weapon is the AS-7 “Kerry” missile which is guided by radio. Again, by modern standards that weapon does not provide much standoff and has limited application.

As far as the defensive suite goes, it may be adequate against a “negligible” surface-to-air threat such as in the current territory held by D’aesh, but would have no chance against a modern A2AD environment. For example, it has a SPO-10 radar-warning-receiver (RWR) which does not provide very accurate direction-of-arrival information, nor does it cover all RF threats. Of course, no RWR can protect an aircraft from IR guided missiles or optically guided Anti-Aircraft Fire. In addition, a cumbersome chaff/flare actuation system does exist, but has little to no programming capability. It merely just dispenses a fixed number of items with each actuation.

Since this aircraft can be considered a “third generation” fighter, the cockpit is not exactly user-friendly. There is very limited HOTAS built-in to the design causing the pilot to look inside the cockpit for most tasks, something you don’t want in a fighter that already has terrible cockpit visibility. This would definitely create a problem while trying to sanitize and search for surface-to-air threats over enemy territory.

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The MiG-23’s turn performance is terrible. While it is a very powerful aircraft (capable of supersonic flight at low altitude and over Mach 2 at high altitude), its design precludes it from having great maneuverability. Except for the newest Flogger K, the MiG-23 has poor control at high angles of attack. The wings need to be spread manually between each of its preset angles and must be done while not max performing. Its missiles are not very long range and for air-to-surface missions the jet must get up close and personal with the target.

  • MiG-23MLD FLOGGER K Specs:
  • Crew: One
  • Length: 56 ft 9.5 in
  • Wingspan: Spread 45 ft 10 in
  • Height: 15 ft 9.75 in
  • Wing area: 402 ft² / 367 ft²
  • Empty weight: 21,153 lb
  • Loaded weight: 34, 612 lb
  • Max. takeoff weight: 39,749 lb
  • Powerplant: 1 × turbojet
  • Dry thrust: 18,000 lb
  • Thrust with afterburner: 28,000 lb
  • Fuel capacity: 8,000 lb
Graphic courtesy of aerospaceweb.org.
Graphic courtesy of aerospaceweb.org.

So if the MiG-23 were attacked by a Daesh weapon–SAMs, MANPADS, or otherwise, the pilot would have a very hard time detecting the fact he was targeted, and even then he would have limited ability to counter the threat with chaff/flares and maneuvering.  If, and a big “if,” the Flogger minimizes its time loitering in the target area and uses its tremendous speed to egress, it certainly could have the ability to get out of Dodge before the enemy could adjust its targeting solution and engage.

So does the potential exist for Daesh to shoot down these Libyan fighters? It certainly seems within the realm of possibility. Did they actually do it? Who really knows?

(Featured photo courtesy of blog.crouze.com)