Mig-29UBS bort number 5304 was also handed over to Ukraine. The picture was taken at SIAF 2019.
Migs fly East!
Text: Miro Baric
Photo: Ukrainian Armed Forces, social media and other public sources.
The war in Ukraine carried over to the next year. From March 1 to March 31, period we cover in this episode, the most important event of the air war were reinforcements in the form of Mig-29 fighter from Poland and Slovak Republic and an incident during which the American MQ-9 Reaper drone and Russian Su-27 fighter collided in the international airspace over the Black Sea. Let look closer at both events.
It is admirable how long the Ukrainian defenders resist the Russian “three-day” special operation. Even the next large-scale counterattack is being prepared of course preceded by a large amount of the disinformation to confuse the enemy. It is certain that the Russian attempt at the winter offensive vanished. In Bakhmut the Russians make slow progress but it has been eight months since the operation to capture it started and 58th largest city in Ukraine still resists.
The Russian advance at Vuhledar gradually stopped and the occupier’s efforts on Svatovo-Kremnina line are not bearing fruits. There were hard time for Avdiyivka though. The Russians took advantage of the fact that the city sticks out of the frontline, and they control both right and left wings. The Ukrainian AA defense has to operate further from the front and the Russians could achieve the local air superiority. The coordinated deployment of the electronic warfare, artillery and ground-air missiles to suppress the Ukrainian AA defense creates a small window through which the Russian bombers can attack unmolested. Russain Mig-31 and Su-35 armed with air-to-air missiles engage the Ukrainian fighters equipped with similar rockets but of shorter range. Price paid is the increased number of the Russian ground radars and jammers destroyed. Those are not only hit by HARM rockets launched from the Ukrainian aircraft but due to the vicinity of the frontline by the Ukrainian artillery as well.
American drone vs. Russian fighter
On Tuesday, March 14, the most serious incident occured between the Russian and Western armed forces since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Two Su-27 fighters attacked the American MQ-9 Reaper drone in the international airspace above the Black Sea and caused the drone’s crash. It was maneuvering approximately 60 km south-west from the occupied Crimea. The whole incident lasted 30–40 minutes. According to the American statements the pair of Su-27 fighters approached the drone as many as 19 times. During the last three or four passes they splashed it with fuel in an effort to blind or damage the drone. In the end one of the fighters crashed into it from behind and destroyed its propeller. The drone could not sustain the flight and an operator guided it into the water. Washington called upon the Russian ambassador who, in the line with the Russian propaganda, claimed that it was an American provocation. Moscow maintained that Russia is not responsible, there was no physical contact made and MQ-9 Reaper crashed due to the abrupt maneuvers. It’s interesting that the ambassador stressed out several times that the Russian fighters had not deployed any of the on-board weapons, regardless no one made such an accusation.
Two days after an incident Pentagon published a video captured by drone’s camera which again proved the Russian lies. The only aircraft maneuvering abruptly were the Russian fighters. Until the impact Reaper maintained the stable course. First it could be seen that the Russian fighter rushed in from behind and below, flew closely above the drone and released the fuel at the same time. Drone however maintained its altitude and heading. Next the Russian fighter performed an attack while releasing the fuel. This time the pilot miscalculated. He started to disengage too late, and Su-27 closed in too much and hit the drone. At the moment of impact, the communication was lost briefly. Once re-established one of the propeller blades was deformed and cut off. That was the reason Reaper could not sustain the flight and the operators guided it into the sea. Despite the fact that the close approaches were intended, the USA qualified the collision as an accident and were not interested in the conflict escalation. Even though the Russians lied that there had not been any collision, the fighter pilot was awarded for destroying the American drone, despite the fact that due to his inability and idiotic behavior he jeopardized himself and his aircraft in the first place.
Only after this incident the details of other previous encounters between western and Russian aircraft appeared, which only by sheer luck did not result in a disaster. On September 29, 2022, very dangerous situation took place when two armed Su-27 fighters for approximately 90 minutes shadowed the British RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft in the international airspace above the Black Sea. One of the fighters released the air-to-air missile which luckily missed the British plane. Consequently, the western aircraft started to fly escorted missions. Despite this fact, on December 30, 2022, another Rivet Joint escorted by two Typhoons fighters was closely shadowed by the Russian fighters which closed in to barely 30 meters.
Raid and fuel released from the Russian Su-27 fighter onto an American MQ-9 Reaper drone on March 14. No retaliation this time.
The damage of the drone’s propeller blade is clearly visible.
Despite all those incidents the Allied reconnaissance flights above the Black Sea (Baltic Sea as well) continue. The military supplies continue as well and during this reporting period culminated by employment of the modern Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 MBTs together with trained crews to Ukraine and also with public offer to provide the supersonic fighters. Already in April 2022, the Ukrainians received 21 Mig-29s. However, these were non-airworthy aircraft which had been acquired by the USA in Moldova and were offered for the spare parts at the beginning of the invasion. That helped to repair several grounded Ukrainian AF fighters. The Ukrainians also received 14 Su-25 fighter-bombers from Bulgaria but this delivery was provided by the third party and not publicized at that time.
Both Poland and Slovakia spoke about possible Mig-29 fighter deliveries to Ukraine during the first days of the Russian invasion in 2022. At that time, this matter sadly ended in the political chaos and effort to avoid the direct supply. The discussion was seriously revisited only this year. Poland and Slovak Republic coordinated their actions this time. On March 16, Poland was the first to announce four airworthy Mig-29 delivery to Ukraine with more to follow. Slovakia joined the suite the following day.
Anti-aircraft tank Gepard in the Ukrainian service. Except of the small number 52 painted on the armor the only other markings are the kills marked on the right side of the turret – three Shahed-136 drones and two cruise missiles.
During 1989-1990, Polish AF bought 12 Mig-29s from the Soviet Union. There were nine single-seaters (9.12 version) and three two-seaters. Consequently, in 1995 10 aircraft were sourced from the Czech Republic (9 single-seaters and one two-seater) as a barter for 11 PZL W-3 Sokol helicopters. In 2002 Poland bought 22 aircraft from Germany for a symbolic price one euro per aircraft. There were airplanes originally flown by East Germany AF. Four of them were two-seaters, rest of them single seaters. Due to the fact that these airplanes had served for quite some time, only 14 of them, those in the best condition, were assigned to the regular duty. In the beginning of the year, Polish AF had 28–29 Mig-29s on the strength. They decided to donate 14 of them to Ukraine. Four fighters flew over to Ukraine in March, four of them were in the process of transfer during March and April and another six were being prepared for the transfer in the coming weeks. Poland announced that the remaining Migs would be delivered as well if necessary. It was clarified later that these remaining aircraft were in fact of German origin. Therefore, Poland requested Germany’s approval for the transaction and German government promptly approved it. At this time, it is quite possible that another batch of Polish Migs are being prepared for the handover.
After the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, Slovak AF received nine Mig-29A (9.12) single-seaters and one Mig-20UN two-seater. As a compensation for the trade deficit with Russia, further 12 single-seaters and two two-seaters were delivered from Russia to Slovakia. During 2005-2006 Aircraft Repair Facility in Trenčín performed a partial upgrade of 10 single-seaters to AS version and two two seaters to UBS version. They were equipped with the western avionics, but the armament remained the same. As of 2006 the service of the Slovak fighter was contracted to the Russian company RSK MIG.
And that became a hot issue in operating the Slovak aircraft. The standard maintenance was provided by Slovak ground personnel, but more complicated jobs could only be performed by the Russian civilian technicians. Their long-term presence at the NATO airbase caused the raised eyebrows of the Slovakia’s allies. The Russian service was neither reliable nor financially feasible. According to the contract at least eight fighters were supposed to be airworthy at all times, but this number varied around four to five aircraft and pilots could not log the required flight hours. In 2018 the purchase of new F-16C/D Block 70 was approved and after their arrival Migs were to be struck of charge.
After the Russian invasion to Ukraine the situation became unsustainable. Therefore, Slovakia made agreement with Czech, Polish and later Hungarian neighbors to protect the Slovak airspace. On September 9, 2022, after 30 years in service, Mig-29s were officially grounded. Even after this deadline some of them performed the sporadic training flights. Even though the talks about their transfer to Ukraine were going on for a whole year this only took place in March 2023. Officially Ukraine received 10 airplanes from Slovakia in airworthy (repairable) conditions and three grounded without engines for a long time as a source of the spare parts. In reality only eight aircraft, flying until the official grounding on September 9, 2022, went to Ukraine. Remaining five had been struck of charge before this date. Donated single-seat fighter carried the following bort numbers: 0619, 0820, 0921, 2123, 3709, 3911, 5113, 6124, 6425, 6627 and 6728. Two two-seaters were coded 1303 and 5304.
Airframes 5113 and 0820 were not upgraded to AS version and it is safe to say that they belonged to three engine-less airframes stored for spare parts. 5113 was from original Czechoslovak batch. 3709 and 3911 belonged to those as well and even though they were upgraded to AS standard in 2018 they were beyond their airframe life and in 2019 they were struck of charge. The last of five decommissioned aircraft was Mig-29UBS two-seater, bort number 1303 which technical life was exhausted in the beginning of 2022. As of the end of 2018 the second two-seater marked 5304 reached the end of its airframe resource but some maintenance was performed on it and it flew until September 9, 2022. In addition, the following single-seaters Mig-29AS were grounded: 0619, 0921, 2123 from the first Russian batch and 6124, 6425, 6627 and 6728 from the second one.
Before the airplanes were handed over to Ukraine the US origin equipment (navigational, communication aids and friend-foe identification) had to be removed from the AS and UBS versions. A week before the hand over the Ukrainian technicians arrived in Sliač and brought with them their own devices and parts which they installed into Migs in place of those of the western origin. On March 23, 2023, four aircraft were flown over to Ukraine. They were 2123, 6124 and 6627 in the grey-green camouflage and 0921 sporting the digital camouflage. The Slovak national markings on the wings and vertical tail surfaces as well as unit markings on the engine intakes were overpainted. Only bort numbers were retained. The freshly painted areas can be identified by the higher sheen. The Ukrainian pilots flew them eastbound, towards the border. According to the official sources these four MiGs were immediately deployed to the Kharkiv area defense. The remaining nine airframes were delivered to Ukraine by ground.
Besides the fighters Slovakia also delivered fuel, lubricants, spare parts and ground equipment to Ukraine. AA systems 2K12 Kub (SA-6 Gainfull) with 200 missiles were donated as well. For the delivered fighters and rockets, Slovakia was compensated from EU funds. At the same time Slovakia was offered to purchase 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helicopters. These aircraft were originally manufactured for Pakistan, but the Americans ultimately cancelled the sales. Slovakia should receive them at one third of the original price. It’s a compensation for Mig-29 transfer to Ukraine as well as delayed delivery of new F-16s.
Four Slovak Mig-29AS are getting ready to depart from Sliač to Ukraine. The aircraft bort number 6124 is in the foreground.
The photograph from SIAF 2018 held at Sliač shows Mig-29AS bort number 6627. The tape in front of the windshield indicates rather poor technical condition but in the end this aircraft was one of those which did fly to Ukraine.
Mig-29AS bort number 0921 sporting digital camouflage is getting ready to depart for Ukraine on March 23, 2023.
Falklands war veteran
It took more than a year to deliver fighters from Poland and Slovakia since the talks about it started. It’s not an isolated case though. For example, the delivery of 14 Mi-8 helicopters from Croatia was mentioned the first time in November 2022 and they are not in Ukraine yet, even though the talks resumed recently. However, Ukraine is already flying Sea King and Black Hawk helicopter which deliveries we mentioned in the previous articles of this series. Black Hawk is an upgrade of the older model UH-60A and was received by the military intelligence. So far, a video was published supposedly showing the special units’ training with this helicopter. Sea King’s history is even more interesting. Two of them have been delivered so far, the third aircraft was still in Britain at the time of this article release. It has been several year the helicopters were stuck of charge from the Royal Navy so they needed to be commissioned again. BBC journalists spoke with two Ukrainian technicians who had trained for maintenance of this type for seven months and they were very satisfied with the it.
As per their account very little remains from the original equipment as most of the components were upgraded. Even more interesting, the BBC report was made on board of one the Sea Kings which is already in Ukraine. It appears that these aircraft had served in 1982 during the Falklands War, therefore its Ukrainian crew is younger than their helicopter! In addition, more than 40 years ago it played an important part in the conflict. Flown by the 820th Squadron commander, Ralph Wykes-Sneyd, it flew through the storm to bring the British ground forces commander, General Jeremy Moore to Port Stanley to accept the Argentinian surrender on June 14, 1982. No other aircraft could make it through the storm at that time. “It was very interesting operation,” retired Rear Amiral Ralph Wykes-Sneyd told BBC. “The armistice has not been signed yet so on our flight to Stanley we not only faced the bad weather but also several rather hostile Argentinians.
This helicopter, currently in Ukraine, had been flown several times by Prince Andrew who in the Falklands War served as a naval pilot. Speaking about esteemed war veteran the Ukrainian pilots highly praise Sea King. They say it’s easily controllable in the difficult conditions, has a lot of space, good payload and operational economy. These helicopters fly the soldiers and supplies missions, but their most important role is for the search and rescue missions. That, according to its pilots, includes flying behind the enemy lines. If the Ukrainian aircraft is hit and pilot has to eject Sea King sometimes has to fly over the territory which is not under Ukrainian control.
Images from the BBS documentary on Sea King helicopter deployment in Ukraine.
As stated before, not all kills could have been documented and more often than not are confirmed after a long period of time (if confirmed at all). During this reporting period there were only two confirmed losses on the Ukrainian side and in neither case it was necessary to cross the frontline. On March 1, near Bakhmut, Su-24 bomber form the 7 Brigade of the Tactical AF was shot down. Its crew, Lt. Col. Viktor Volynets and Lt. Igor Solomenikov lost their lives. The flight of Su-27 fighter, bort number “blue 30”, which took off on March 27 at 10:20 pm from Myrghorod in Poltave region, ended tragically. The pilot ws Major Denys Kyrylyuk credited with 80 combat missions in the defense of the motherland from the Russian invasion. On March 28, at 12:45 am, after intercepting Shahed-136 Iranian-made drones he crashed at Tovkachivka village in Tchernighyv region and was killed.
Deputy commander of the 831 Brigade of the Tactical AF, Major Denyc Kyrylyuk, was shot down on March 28 while flying Su-27 „blue 30“. He was probably hit from large distance by a R-37 missile launched from the Russian Su-35.
A Ukrainian Su-24 from the 7 Brigade of the Tactical AF, shot down on March 1 near Bakhmut. Lt. Col. Viktor Volynets and Lt. Igor Slomenikov were killed.
The confirmed Russian losses during the reporting period are higher than Ukrainian ones – at least four aircraft destroyed and two helicopters. On March 1, the images were published from the crash site of a Russian Su-25 which was shot down at the unknown location in Ukraine. It’s pilot successfully ejected a was rescued by a Mi-8. On March 3, the friendly fire destroyed the Russian Su-34 fighter-bomber new the town on Yenakiev in Donetsk region. It was hit by Nikopol’s AA rocket regiment. Both crew members ejected however Major Alexander Bondarev did not survive. Another Russian Su-25 was shot down near Bakhmut by the 93 Mechanized Brigade of the Ukrainian armed forces. The aircraft crashed near the village of Zaitsevo. A pilot, supposedly member of the Wagner’s mercenary group ejected.
The fourth aircraft was lost under the unusual circumstances. Su-27 fighter burnt at the Uglovoye airport in Primorsk area in the Russian far east. Normally such a loss would not have been relevant to the war in Ukraine, however, the attack was claimed by a partisan group and a video of the burning aircraft was published on March 10 by Liberty for Russia Legion.
Two destroyed helicopters were both Kamov Ka-52. Since the beginning of the invasion Russia has lost at least 33 aircraft of this type. First, on March 6 a video of a Ka-52 wreck near Vuhledar was published. More details about this loss are still unknown. Another one crashed on March 16 after it hit the high voltage lines. Both crew members were killed. Some sources state this took place near Orichiv in Zaporozhiye region, others say it happened south-east of Donetsk.
Ka-52 wreck found on March 6 near Vuhledar.
On March 15 a Su-25 was shot down near Bakhmut. It was supposedly flown by a Wagner’s mercenary. A deployed parachute is visible in one of the pictures.
The picture released by the Russian Department of Defense captures Ka-52 in action. At least 33 helicopters of this type were lost in Ukraine.
The military intelligence released the images from the training on Black Hawk.
In addition to the national markings the marking of the military intelligence air force was added to the nose of the aircraft.
The Ukrainian armed forces published the video featuring Mi-24 helicopters of the Czech origin. The video contains the older images, for example those showing the sunflowers.
A series of photographs capturing the pilots and ground personnel servicing the Ukrainian Mig-29s. Their bort numbers were censored.
A Ukrainian Su-24 bort number “yellow 54” carrying yellow-blue painted drop tanks. The inscription on the side of the tank, PTN-PNCH, could be translated as “Putin poshol na khuy” (Putin is screwed up).
Another aircraft bort number 60 is visible behind Su-24 “yellow 54” tail.
This Ukrainian Mig-29 is not only interesting due to its Easter messaged to the occupiers painted on the HARM missile but also featuring a shark mouth.