Flightline: 190 - MiG-23 (NATO Reporting Name: Flogger)
Designed to replace the MiG-21, the Flogger is the most-produced swing-wing aircraft in the world, and remains in service more than 50 years later.
The MiG-21 proved to be a fast and agile aircraft, and was more than a match for US fighters during the Vietnam War, but Soviet planners were still unsatisfied with its short range, primitive radar and limited weapons load, and in the early 1960s the Mikoyan OKB was directed to develop a replacement. Among the requirements for this new interceptor were more range, more missiles, including beyond-visual-range (BVR) models, and a shortened take-off run. In response, MiG looked at two options: the 23-01, aka MiG-23PD (Podyomnye Dvigatyeli – "lift jet", NATO reporting name: Faithless), which was a tailed delta-wing design similar to the MiG-21 but with two dedicated lift jets built into the fuselage. These two Kolesov RD-36-35 engines also provided bleed air for a boundary-layer control system to improve low-speed handling. The 23-01 first flew on 3 April 1967, but proved to be unsuited for further testing; the aircraft had poor handling qualities, particularly during landings, and the lift jets were both dead weight 95% of the time and took up space needed for fuel and/or weapons. Despite being demonstrated at the 1968 Domodedovo Air Show, the MiG-23PD was abandoned.
Schematic of the MiG-23PD. The grid even with the wing's leading edge marks the position of the lift jets. | Illustration: Airvectors
Developed in parallel to the 23-01, aircraft 23-11 (also designated Ye-231) incorporated variable-geometry wings developed at TsAGI with information gleaned from German researchers after the end of WW2. Powered by a Tumanskiy R-27-300 turbojet, 23-01's wings could be set to one of three preset sweep-angles 16°, 45° or 72°, depending on the aerodynamic need. The aircraft took its first flight on 10 June 1967, with the wing at maximum sweep for the entire flight. During a subsequent flight on 9 July, the pilot worked the wing through all three angles, finding the aircraft to be much more capable than the 23-01. Two static-test airframes and six more prototypes were completed for further testing, and in December 1967 the aircraft was approved for production as the MiG-23S. In 1968 the Ye-231 was also demonstrated at the Domodedovo Air Show, and was given the NATO reporting name Flogger.
Schematic of the Ye-231/23-11. This aircraft differed greatly from the MiG-23PD. | Illustration: Airvectors
Design and Variants
The MiG-23 is 16.7m long, and 4.82m tall. At full sweep, the wingspan is 7.779m, while at minimum sweep the span is 13.965m. Empty, the plane weighed just over 10,000kg, while at max TO it weighed 17,800kg. The variable sweep wings of the MiG-23 gave it a minimum takeoff roll of just 500m, and the plane could land in 750m with the aid of a braking chute. An afterburning turbojet developed 83.6kN of thrust dry, 127.49kN with AB (depending on the model), which pushed the Flogger to a maximum speed of 2,499kmh at altitude (Mach 2.35, depending on conditions) and 1,350kmh (Mach 1.1) at sea level. Clean (no armament or fuel tanks), the MiG-23 could climb at 230m/s, and reach a maximum altitude of 18,300m. Range varied with external loads, but clean the plane could fly 1,500km, while with a full load of missiles and three 800l drop tanks that could stretch to 2,550km. Despite being conceived as an interceptor, firing BVR missiles at distant target, the MiG-23 was also stressed for air combat maneuvering, with a G limit of 8.5G.
Orthograph of a late-model MiG-23MF. | Illustration: Kaboldy
The MiG-23 was built from mostly aluminum alloys, with a high mounted, variable sweep wing. The intake ramps, mounted just aft of the cockpit, were fitted with movable ramps to control airflow. The wings were fitted with four-section trailing-edge flaps; leading-edge flaps, and two-section spoilers. Roll control was accomplished with the spoilers and the "tailerons", the horizontal stabilizers being made not only all-moving, but designed to move independently of each other. The vertical stabilizer was fitted with a long fillet that stretched to nearly the wing's leading edge, and it was supplemented with a ventral fin that was hinged to fold to give ground clearance. The Flogger was designed for rough fields, and the steerable nose gear, equipped with twin tires, and the main gear were fitted with mud guards. In addition to the braking chute, four petal airbrakes were fitted around the exhaust, and the wing spoilers could also be used to slow the plane on landing.
Cockpit of a MiG-23. | Photo: Akpch
The MiG-23's cockpit, painted in the Soviet's chosen turquoise blue (literally, it's called "Russian Cockpit Blue [or Green]) is more ergonomic than previous aircraft, but the Flogger pilot still faced a heavy workload. In particular, early models lacked a HUD, forcing the pilot to fly "head-down" to monitor the radar set and instruments. Later aircraft added a HUD, which incorporated data from the radar, though technological limitations meant it was a narrow sweep, and the MiG-23 was dependent on ground-control interception to find targets. Although the forward view was superior to the MiG-21, the view to the side and aft was still rather poor, in part due to the head support for the ejection seat, and a periscope was incorporated into the canopy; the periscope provided a clear view behind the pilot, but it had a limited field of view.
A dummy in the pressure suit and KM-1 ejection seat used in the MiG-23. | Photo: Stefan Kühn
The Flogger pilot was seated on a KM-1 ejection seat, which was designed with high speed and altitude in mind, with leg stirrups, shoulder harness, and pelvic D-ring securing the pilot to the seat. If triggered, after the canopy was blown clear a small parachute (the size of a handkerchief) would be deployed from a telescoping rod to orient the seat and guide it above and behind the vertical stabilizer. Subsequently, the rod and 1st stage chute would separate , and a 2nd stage chute would deploy, stabilizing the seat and slowing it to allow the 3rd, largest stage chute to deploy. The KM-1 was not a zero-zero system, and would not work below 167kmh.
Schematic of the various combinations of weapons carried by the Flogger. | Illustration: Airvectors
Armament of the MiG-23 included a 23mm GSh-23L autocannon with 260 rounds, and there were six hardpoints, 2 each on the fuselage, wing gloves and wings, which could carry 3,000kg of stores or auxiliary fuel tanks. Air-to-air missiles included the R-60 (NATO reporting name AA-8 Aphid) heat-seeker or the replacement R-73 (AA-11 Archer), as well as the R-23 (AA-7 Apex) which was produced in both SARH and IR models. Despite not being built as a strike aircraft, the MiG-23 could also carry Kh-23 Grom (AS-7 Kerry) air-to-surface missiles or 500kg bombs.
MiG-23S (NATO: Flogger-A)
After the Ye-231, MiG produced roughly 60 MiG-23S (Flogger-A), which was the first production variant. Despite this, the S was an interim version, as the Sapfir-23 radar was not yet available, and as a result the RP-22SM Sapfir from the MiG-21 was equipped instead. The MiG-23S also lacked the IRST, and was fitted with a somewhat anemic R-27F-300 turbojet with dry thrust of 67.62kN and under AB of 78.5kN. Maiden flight of the 23S was on 21 May 1969, and around a dozen were built for testing by the Ministry of Aircraft Industry and VVS (Soviet Air Force), which lasted until 1973. A number of issues were uncovered during this testing, including instability at high angles of attack (AOA), a dangerous spin-entry profile, and the development of stress cracks in the fuselage and wings surrounding the sweep mechanism. Despite these flaws, and several fatal accidents, the 23S entered service with the VVS for a short time before being replaced.
Orthograph of the MiG-23S. | Illustration: Dr Dan Saranga
MiG-23 "Edition 1971" (Flogger-A)
The following model was simply designated MiG-23, but was referred to as the "Edition 1971", and incorporated an early version of the Sapfir-23L (which lacked look-down/shoot-down capacity) a TP-23 IRST and an ASP-23D gunsight/HUD, which replaced an earlier radar scope. The engine was replaced by an uprated R-27F2-300 turbojet, which had the same "dry" power but had an improved afterburner that increased thrust to 98kN. This model also added another internal fuel tank of 470l capacity, moved the horizontal tails back 86cm for better handling, and replaced the wings shared with the 23-11 and 23S with the new "Edition 2" wings, which incorporated a leading edge dogtooth, increasing the area by 20%. This resulted in the sweep angled being altered from 16°, 45° and 72° to 18:40°, 47:40° and 74:40°, though for ease of use (and to save money) the cockpit controls and pilot manuals were unchanged. The Edition 2 wings did away with the leading edge flaps to make the wings easier to manufacture. These changes, made to improve the MiG-23, had the opposite effect in practice. The dogtooth in particular generated vortices which adversely affected stability, and the lack of leading edge devices increased the run on landing and takeoffs. Approximately 100 Edition 1971 MiG-23 were completed and were sent to front-line units, where they served until 1978 when they were remanded to training squadrons.
Orthograph of the MiG-23 (Edition 1971). | Illustration Dr Dan Saranga
The definitive first-generation model, the M model had its maiden flight in June 1972 and became the VVS' chief air-superiority fighter of the 70s, with 1,300 produced (at their peak, the Znamya Truda factory was turning out 40 airframes a month) from 1972 to 1978. The M model incorporated the Sapfir-23D radar, which gave the Flogger-B a true look-down/shoot-down ability, and which proved to be more reliable than the 23L fitted to previous models. Additionally, the SAU-23A 3-axis automatic flight control and Polyot-11-23 navigational system were added. The 23M introduced the "Edition 3" wing, which was redesigned to improve handling after the blunder with the Edition2 wings. In addition to adding leading edge slats back, the Edition 3 wing also incorporated plumbed pylons, allowing the MiG-23M to carry three 800l drop tanks, one on each wing and one on the center point. The R-27 turbojet was replaced by an improved R-29-300 from Tumansky, bringing dry thrust up to 81.35kN and AB thrust to 122.5kN. Despite the redesign, production issues continued to result in stress cracks and failures of the sweep mechanisms, and as a result MiG-23 squadrons were limited to 5G maneuvers until QC changes and redesigns to strengthen the wing were introduced in 1977 resulted in a more reliable aircraft. Improved wings were retrofitted onto existing MiG-23M and Edition 1971 aircraft. The Flogger-B also introduced the Lasour-SMA automated datalink guidance system, which took information provided by GCI network and provided it to the pilot through indications on the HUD as well as audio cues. The datalink was jam resistant, and could guide a MiG-23 pilot from initial contact all the way to missile launch. In addition to the VVS, MiG-23s were also in use by PVO ("Homeland Air-Defense Organization", a stand-alone air defense force), though in smaller numbers.
Orthograph of the MiG-23M. | Illustration: the-blueprints.com
MiG-23U and UB (Flogger-C)
Two twin-seat trainer variants of the first generation Flogger were produced, with the 23U being based on the MiG-23S, only with a second cockpit behind the first, with the displaced equipment moved into a redesigned nose. Equipped with the S-21 weapons control system and Sapfir-21M, the U retained the 30mm cannon and could fire R-3S and R-13M missiles. Existing 23U were upgraded to MiG-23UB spec after that model's introduction. Structurally similar to the earlier trainer, the 23UB featured advanced avionics similar to those fitted on the 23M operational model, though the radar was later removed and replaced with ballast, limiting their use in live-fire training. Production of the 23UB began in 1970 and continued until 1978, with 760 aircraft deployed to the VVS and PVO, and 300 some-odd aircraft sold to export clients.
Orthograph of the MiG-23UB. | Illustration Dr Dan Saranga
MiG-23ML and MLA (Flogger-G)
Mikoyan worked in earnest to design out some of the flaws of the 1st generation MiG-23 models, resulting in the MiG-23ML, which first flew in 1975. A complete redesign of the fuselage made the ML lighter but stronger. Some of the weigh savings was accomplished by removing a fuel tank, and the dorsal fin fillet was trimmed as well. Aerodynamic improvements resulted in a reduction in drag, which also reduced fuel consumption. Reinforcements were added to the wings, fuselage and pivot mechanism, giving the ML and MLA a G rating of +8.5 at speeds below Mach .85 and +7.5G above that. Changes to the flying surfaces also allowed the AOA limiter to be set at 20-22° with the wings fully swept back, and 28-30° at minimum sweep. A new R-35F-300 engine increased thrust to 83.82kN (128.08kN with AB), and also increased time between overhauls to 450 hours (though use of afterburner was still limited to 10 hours or less). Avionics upgrades included a Sapfir-23ML radar and TP-23ML IRST, Polyot-21-23 navigation suite, Lasour-23SML datalink, SAU-23AM flight control system, and RV-5R Reper-M radar altimeter. The 23ML could fire both SARH and IR versions of the R-23 missile, and the new system allowed carriage of two UPK-23-250 23mm gun pods under the wings. Production of the ML ran from 1975 through 1983, and more than 1,100 were produced for the VVS as well as for export clients. The MLA, introduced in 1977, was structurally similar, but the avionics fit was upgraded with the new Sapfir-23MLA (N003) radar, which was more reliable than its predecessors, and had better range and more resistance to Western ECM. The new radar also incorporated a frequency spacing system, which allowed multiple MiG-23s to operate in the same airspace without their radars jamming each other. The MLA also added an ASP-17ML HUD/gunsight and the ability to fire the R-24R/T, an updated version of the R-23. An upgraded 26SHi IRST was also added, which could detect a fighter-sized target at 15km, or a bomber-sized one at 45km. In addition to versions for the Soviet Air Force, the MLA was manufactured in a similar fit for Warsaw Pact countries and in a downgraded variant for export to the Third World.
Orthograph of the MiG-23ML. | Illustration Dr Dan Saranga
By the late 1970s, the aircraft of the PVO were an assortment of aging Su-9/11s and MiG-19s, and the MiG-23P (perekvatchik ["interceptor"]) was developed as a specialized variant of the 23ML to take their place. As PVO concentrated on GCI control of their aircraft, the 23P was fitted with the improved Sapfir-23P (N006) radar and the ASP-23P gunsight/HUD (later upgraded to the ASP-23ML-P), which gave better look-down/shoot-down performance against low, fast targets like the USAF F-111. The SAU-23P autopilot tied into the Lasur-M datalink, which allowed GCI controllers to steer the MiG to the target, with the pilot only needed to manipulate the throttle and fire his missiles. Approximately 500 were produced, and the aircraft were flown by PVO (with upgrades) until 1998. During mock combat trials against the new Su-27s, the MiG-23P, flown by experienced pilots, proved to be to be the Flanker's equals in BVR combat. The follow-on MiG-23bis restored the IRST, which had been removed in the 23P model, and replaced the cumbersome radar scope with a new HUD.
Orthograph of a MiG-23P. | Illustration: 1999.co.jp
The last variant of the MiG-23, the MLD (D for dorabotannyi ["upgraded"]) was introduced in 1982 and incorporated numerous upgrades for the ML and MLA lines. Small strakes or "vortex generators" attached to the side of the nose pitot tube and a distinctive notch at the leading-edge root of each wing glove, both of which intended to create vortexes over the flight control surfaces of the aircraft and ensure controllability at high AOA, the drawback being that these measures imposed a drag penalty. A stronger wing pivot system was added, which introduced a new, fourth sweep setting of 33° for combat maneuvering, though it was tricky to use and was generally only employed by experienced pilots. The flight system was upgraded with an SOS-3-4 automated flight limiting system, borrowed from the MiG-29, which would prevent the aircraft from being pushed outside of its maneuvering envelope and so preventing departure from controlled flight. Two six-round KDS-23 chaff-flare dispensers were integrated into the centerline pylon. Most aircraft also had two BVP-50-60 upward-firing 60-round chaff-flare dispensers tacked onto the back of the rear fuselage. These large, boxy dispensers also added drag, but were needed for survivability. The avionics suite also saw the upgraded Sapfir-23MLA-11 AKA N008 radar with greater range, approximately 70km against a bomber-sized target. The new radar also had a lose-combat mode as well as a general enhancement of earlier features. Improvement of other avionics and aircraft systems, including the SAU-23-18 flight control system; a new Beryoza radar warning receiver (RWR), a new Klystron digital tactical radio, an automatic landing system, an improved nosewheel steering scheme and a crash-resistant flight recorder. The MLD upgrade would allow carriage of the same weapons as the MLA, and from 1984 the new R-73 (AA-11 Archer) IR missile was added. Some 500 upgrades were completed. New build MiG-23MLD were manufactured for export, but with downgraded radar and other avionics.
Orthograph of the MiG-23MLD. | Illustration Dr Dan Saranga
MiG-23B et al (Flogger D, F, H)
Mikoyan started with the MiG-23 to create a new strike aircraft, based on the MiG-23S with a redesigned forward fuselage. The Sapfir radar was removed and a PrNK Sokol-23 ground attack sight system was placed into a new, flat-bottomed nose. The Sokol included an analogue computer, a laser rangefinder and a PBK-3 bomb sight, and the nav suite and autopilot were upgraded to permit more accurate bombing. Other changes included raising the pilot's seat as well as armoring the windscreen, adding an electronic warfare system to combat Western AAA, and incorporating an inert-gas system into the plane's fuel tanks to prevent fires. In place of the R-29 engine, a Lyulka AL-21 turbojet was fitted. First flight of the MiG-23B prototype, 32-34, was on 20 August 1970, followed by two more prototypes and 24 production models. Delivery of the AL-21 was allocated to the Su-17 and -24, so the MiG-23B was not exported. This was followed in 1973 by the MiG-23BN, which had the upgraded Edition 3 wings and R-29 of the contemporary fighter version, along with minor upgrades in avionics. A total of 624 were produced between 1973 and 1985, but the type was not widely used in the VVS, and was instead widely exported (in a downrated version). A more extensive, but effective, modification of the MiG-23 into a ground-attack aircraft resulted in the MiG-27 (Flogger D/J).
Orthograph of the MiG-23BN. | Illustration: airwar.ru
The MiG-23 was introduced into regular service with the VVS on 4 January 1974, but the type still faced numerous issues before it was a true threat. Flogger pilots, limited by structural weaknesses, found themselves bested by MiG-21s in mock combat trials, and hemmed in by Soviet doctrine that utilized the MiG-23 in the same manner as the MiG-21: a point defense interceptor guided by GCI. It was not until the introduction of the MiG-23MLD that the Flogger began to be used to its full potential as both a BVR-armed interceptor and as a maneuvering air-superiority fighter. Still, "quantity has a quality all its own", and the large numbers of MiG-23s in service would have proved a major challenge had the Cold War turned hot in the late '70s or throughout the 1980s. Based on experiences over Vietnam and intelligence reports on Western fighter performance afterwards, Flogger pilots were confident that they could defeat USAF F-4 Phantoms, but the new F-16 Falcons were judged to be a fair match, and the F-15 Eagles were feared.
A Soviet MiG-23M, armed with R-60 and R-23 missiles, in 1989. | Photo: US DOD
The Flogger's advanced design and ongoing QC issues resulted in an unusually high accident rate: 12.5 losses per 100,000 flight hours. In the hands of Warsaw Pact allies it was even higher, 24.3 losses per 100k hours in the Hungarian Air Force, 20.4 for East Germany, 18 for the Bulgarian Air Force and 11.3 for Poland.
A number of MiG-23s were used during the Afghan war, with Soviet Floggers facing off against Pakistani F-16s on occasion. Exact numbers are difficult to obtain from either side, but one MiG-23 limped back to its base after being hit by a pair of Sidewinder missiles, while Pakistan claims two Floggers were shot down. An F-16 was destroyed during a skirmish on 29 April 1987, but the details are murky. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan claim that the Falcon was shot down by a pair of MiG-23s, but the Soviets state that the plane was the victim of a friendly fire incident. MiG-23s also were pressed into strike roles prior to the introduction of the MiG-27, attacking Mujahidin forces with unguided rockets and bombs.
Both the VVS and PVO claimed kills against Iranian helicopters, with two CH-47s being shot down by a PVO MiG-23M on 21 June 1978, one by cannon and the other with a pair of R-60 missiles, and two VVS MiG-23MLDs operating in Afghanistan destroying a pair of AH-1J Cobras that had strayed into Afghan airspace with R-23 missiles.
The MiG-23 was used by the Soviet Air Force as their aggressor aircraft during wargames, with the Floggers being piloted by veterans of the Afghan war. MiG-23MLDs, adorned with shark-mouths and utilizing hit-and-run tactics could best even the new MiG-29s, especially when the latter were flown by rookie pilots. After the fall of communism in 1991, the Russian Air Force began to retire the MiG-23 and MiG-27 in favor of newer, twin engined aircraft like the MiG-29 and Su-27, with the PVO's MiG-23P being the last model retired in 1998.
One of the Aggressor MiG-23s in the late 1980s. | Photo: VVS
During the 1973 war against Israel, two MiG-23MS and two MiG-23UB trainers were crated and shipped to Syria aboard An-12B transports, but reassembling the aircraft and getting them and their flight crews combat ready took time, and the war ended before they could see combat. A number of additional export variant Floggers were delivered to Syria in 1974, but the aircraft proved just as difficult to fly and maintain for the Syrians as it was for the Russians, and only 8 aircraft were operational at any given time. Several were lost in crashes during training, with their crews finding the aircraft simultaneously more complex and less effective than the MiG-21s they were to replace. In particular the radar on the export models was especially vulnerable to Israeli electronics countermeasures, removing the only real advantage the Floggers had. Despite this, on 19 April a Syrian pilot on a weapons test flight encountered a flight of IAF F-4E Kurnass ("Sledgehammer"), and attacked with missiles and cannon, shooting down two Israeli jets before being shot down by a Syrian SAM battery in a friendly fire incident. The victory of Captain al-Masry renewed Syrian interest in the aircraft, and an order of 24 MiG-23MS and a further 24 MiG-24BN strike aircraft was tendered in 1975, with deliveries beginning in 1978. Syrian Floggers continued to skirmish with IAF aircraft throughout the rest of the 70s and into the 1980s, with Syria claiming two A-4s in 1981 (The IAF deny these claims) and a BQM-34 Firebee drone on 6 June 1982. The Israelis claim to have shot down two MiG-23s in 1985, which the Syrians deny, and while numbers vary on Flogger losses, around a dozen MiG-23s were destroyed in accidents or air combat by 1985. During the Syrian Civil War, Floggers flown by al-Assad loyalists have bombed rebel forces, with a number of Floggers claimed to have been shot down by the Free Syrian Army and other groups. On 23 March 2014 a Syrian MiG-23 was shot down by a Turkish F-16 after the former was alleged to have violated Turkish airspace.
Iraq was another buyer of MiG-23s, acquiring both fighter and bomber variants. Again, verifiable numbers are difficult to come by, but Iraqi forces claimed a number of victories over Iranian F-4 and F-5 fighters, while Iranian F-14s claimed a high number of MiG-23 kills, with the majority being MiG-23BN bombers. Iranian sources claim at least 58 Flogger kills by F-14 and a further 20 by F-4s, but only 15 and 16 can be independently corroborated. Known Iraqi MiG-23 victories include 3 F-14s and one each of an F-4 and F-5. On 20 February 1986, an Iranian F27-600 carrying a delegation of military and government officials on a mission was shot down by an Iraqi MiG-23, killing all 49 crew and passengers. During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on 2 August 1990 a number of MiG-23BN and Su-22 strike aircraft conducted bombing raids in support of Iraqi ground forces, with Kuwaiti MIM-23 Hawk SAMs claiming at least one Flogger kill. During Desert Storm two USAF EF-111 Ravens were damaged by missile fire from Iraqi Floggers, while the USAF claims 8 MiGs were shot down by F-15s. Approximately 12 MiG-23s fled Iraqi into Iran to escape Coalition forces. After the establishment of two No-Fly Zones to protect Kurdish and other minority groups in Iraqi at least one MiG-23 was shot down by a USAF F-16 with AIM-120 missiles, while another was shot at by a Navy F-14 using an AIM-54 missile which missed, and the MiG fled. During Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 the Floggers (along with the rest of the Iraqi Air Force) remained grounded, with Allied forces uncovering a number of derelict MiG-23s scattered around captured air bases while they advanced on Bagdad. Documents retrieved after OIF revealed that the Iraqi Air Force had a fleet of 127 MiG-23s, including 38 MiG-23BN strike fighters and 21 MiG-23U/UB trainers during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, and document the destruction of 43 Floggers, from all causes, by the end of 1991. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked the end of MiG-23 operations by the country.
Between 1974 and 1976 Libya purchased 54 MiG-23MS and -23U, with a subsequent order adding 50 more MiG-23BN bombers. Many of these aircraft were immediately placed into storage, but at least 20 went into service, with one MS falling to an Egyptian MiG-21 during the 1977 Libyan-Egyptian War. During a subsequent border skirmish in 1979, two LARAF MiG-23s encountered a pair of EAF MiG-21s, which had been refitted to carry Western air-to-air missiles. One Libyan MiG was shot down by an AIM-9 Sidewinder, while the other escaped back into Libya. On 18 August 1981, during a US Navy Freedom of Navigation operation in the Gulf of Sidra (claimed by Libya as territorial waters), thirty-five pair of MiG-23s, -25s, Su-20s, -22s, and Mirage F1s were launched to menace the US carrier group. In response, the carrier launched seven pairs of F-14s and F-4s. One of the Foxbats may have fired a missile at the USN aircraft, but it did not track and the situation calmed. The following day, two Su-22s were launched on an apparent intercept course for a Navy S-3 Viking. Two F-14s were vectored onto the Libyan aircraft by a covering E-2 Hawkeye, and in the ensuing altercation both Su-22 were shot down. Almost eight years later, the USS Kennedy was transiting the Med on its way to Haifa for a port visit when two MiG-23s left from Al Bumbah airfield on 4 January 1989 on an intercept course. The Libyan aircraft ignored radio calls to turn back and maneuvered aggressively against the American aircraft, and as a result the RIO of the lead F-14 fired two AIM-7 Sparrows against the MiGs, but neither missile tracked. A third AIM-7 finally engaged and destroyed one of the MiGs, while the second was shot down by an AIM-9. During the 2011 Libyan Civil War, loyalist MiG-23s bombed rebel positions, while others captured by rebels attacked and sank two loyalist ships. Both sides continued to capture and restore surviving MiGs from storehouses, including one flown by the Libyan National Army which was assembled by attaching the wings from two different models of MiG-23 to the fuselage of a third. This hybrid, dubbed the "Frankenstein Flogger" was shot down by a soldier of the rival Government of National Accord on 7 December 2019.
The "Frankenstein Flogger", ostensibly a MiG-23MLD. | Photo: Twitter
The MiG-23 has also been exported to Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, India and the Sudan, as well as several former Warsaw Pact and USSR states, though almost all retired the type during the late 1990s or early 2000s.
In 1977 the USAF established the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron to test fly captured Soviet aircraft to establish their capabilities, then to fly them in mock combat against other USAF, USN and USMC squadrons to give them experience against the MiG and Sukhois they'd face. Under Project CONSTANT PEG, a number of MiG-21s and MiG-23s were acquired from Egypt in exchange for F-4 Phantom IIs. The aircraft were disassembled and shipped to Edwards AFB, afterwards they were transferred to Groom Lake and reassembled before being test flown. In order to disguise their origins, the MiG-21s were designated YF-110s, while the MiG-23s were called YF-113s. Other model MiG-23s were acquired from the ex-East German air force after reunification. The 4477th was disestablished in 1988, but the fate of their aircraft is unknown. One of the MiG-23s was sent to the USAF Museum in Dayton, while several MiG-21s were dispatched to other museums across the country. Most of the others are rumored to have been dismantled and buried in the deserts surrounding Groom Lake.
Thanks to the large number (5,047) of Floggers produced, and their export to numerous client states, MiG-23s are on display around the world, including in museums of many former adversaries of the USSR. Additionally, almost a dozen MiG-23 have been purchased by civilians in the US and are registered with the FAA.
A MiG-23 on display in Tokmok, Kyrgyzstan. | Photo: Peretz Partensky
A MiG-23MF, formerly of the Indian Air Force, on display in Gandhinagar. | Photo: Parmar uday
The prototype MiG-23 on display at the Russian Air Force Museum in Monino, Russia. | Photo: AVIA BavARia
MiG-23MLD formerly displayed outdoors at the USAF Museum. The aircraft has since been disassembled for restoration. | Photo: NMUSAF