By Bill French – The F-35’s performance characteristics compare unfavorable to already deployed foreign 4th-generation fighters such as the Russian-designed MiG-29 Fulcrum and Su-27 Flanker (also produced by China) in service with air forces around the world. These are the kinds of aircraft the F-35 would most likely face in air-to-air engagements against a high-end opponent. Compared to both the Su-27 and the MiG-29, the F-35 is grossly inferior in terms of wing loading (except for the F-35C), transonic acceleration, and thrust-to-weight. All F-35 variants also have significantly lower maximum speeds, Mach 1.6 for the F-35 compared to Mach 2.2 for the Su-27 and Mac 2.3 for the MiG-29.
Air-to-air simulations paint an even grimmer picture. In 2009, U.S. Air Force and Lockheed Martin analysts indicated that the F-35 could be expected to achieve only a 3-to-1 kill ratio against the decades-old MiG-29 and Su-27 despite its advantages in stealth and avionics. The results of other simulations have been far worse. In one simulation subcontracted by the RAND Corporation, the F-35 incurred a loss exchange ratio of 2.4-1 against Chinese Su-35s. That is, more than two F-35s were lost for each Su-35 shot down. While these simulations take into account a host of other factors and include assumptions about the context in which the engagements take place, they nevertheless underscore the need for skepticism regarding the F-35’s air-to-air capabilities.
By Alexander Shtorm
MiG-29 airplanes, which are still in service with the Polish Air Force, have proven themselves brilliantly for decades. In addition to excellent combat performance, they also featured high reliability in operation: for almost 30 years of their service, not a single crash occurred. And suddenly the last months brought a whole series of tragedies: literally every six months, one MiG-29 was broken. What is the matter? What suddenly changed?
The first MiG-29 aircraft appeared in Poland in 1989 – at times quite unfavorable for the Soviet military, as, indeed, for every other technology originally from the USSR. When they arrived at the Mazovian Mazovian military airfield in Minsk (a city belonging to the Warsaw agglomeration, located 30 km east of the Polish capital), the era of the Polish People’s Republic ended in the country, the new authorities began a sharp turn to the West, towards “Western values” and to the western allies.
The NDP intended to buy more than a hundred of such MiGs, but the matter was limited to only twelve vehicles. In addition, the Warsaw Pact was dissolved in 1991, and then the Soviet Union collapsed. Polish pilots, who managed to fly on new MiGs, were fascinated by these machines. Behind the banal assertion that it was a world-class aircraft, concrete facts were hidden: excellent radar, combat missiles of considerable range, first-class navigation equipment, and excellent maneuverability.
Before the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, Czechoslovakia managed to buy 20 such aircraft, and then after dividing the country, the Czech Republic and Slovakia divided them in half. The Czechs did not shout about the “Russian military threat” and never had militaristic inclinations, therefore they willingly got rid of their expensive and deadly toys.
Later, the Polish military aviation turned up even more profitable option to receive the next MiG-29. At the time of the unification of Germany in the GDR there were 24 cars of this type. They have become a valuable trophy for NATO, and with a very practical significance. The Germans sent these cars to all sorts of exercises, since every American, British or French ace wanted to test their strength in an air duel with the most formidable enemy that was then the MiG-29. And the Germans drove their cars almost to death. And then they decided to sell Poland at a symbolic price: 1 euro per plane (thus they avoided tax on the gift).
As a result, Poland received 22 such aircraft (out of 24 cars originally from the GDR, one crashed in Germany after unification, and one Germans left in their museum as a souvenir). From the received batch of aircraft, only 10 cars after serious repairs were able to put into service the Polish Air Force. The rest were used as a kind of spare parts stores during repairs, and two of them went to museums as exhibits.
As a result of these exchange operations, the number of MiGs in the Polish military aviation increased significantly: up to 32 aircraft. Of these, it was possible to create two squadrons of 16 vehicles each: one with a location in the above-mentioned Minsk Mazovian, and the other in Malbork (in the north of the country, near Gdansk).
For many years, these planes flawlessly served in the Polish sky. However, their failure-free operation ended on December 18, 2017, when the first MiG-29 crashed while landing at the airfield in Minsk Mazowiecki, its pilot survived, although he did not manage to eject (the plane was from among those received directly from the USSR). On July 6 last year, another disaster occurred, this time with a deadly ending for the pilot: he managed to eject, but did not survive (the plane came to Poland from Germany). Finally, on March 4 of this year, the third accident took place: a few minutes after the start from the base in Minsk Mazowiecki, another MiG-29 crashed, the pilot managed to successfully eject (this time it was a car received from the Czech Republic).
The leadership of the Polish Ministry of National Defense as a whole reticently commented on the MiG catastrophes, noting that the outdated post-Soviet aircraft (MiG-29 and Su-22, which are in service with the Polish Air Force) are characterized by “little suitability in today’s battlefield.” In the political environment, comments were limited to condescending “no wonder: post-Soviet flying scrap metal is dangerous for flying.”
Undoubtedly, “Moscow’s hand” in these catastrophes would have been easily found by Anthony Macherevich , who headed the defense department from November 2015 to January 2018, and because of the pathological Russophobia many Poles called the “minister of war with Russia”.
He zealously sought “his own truth” about the Smolensk disaster on April 10, 2010, in which 96 people from the official delegation led by Polish President Lech Kaczynski died . And I found this “truth”, despite the absolutely unequivocal results of the investigations carried out by the Interstate Aviation Committee (IAC) in Moscow and a special Polish commission.
The “Truth” found by Macherevich about the causes of the Smolensk disaster is as follows:
“The Russians, with the approval of the government of Prime Minister Tusk [the then Prime Minister of Poland, now the chairman of the European Council], created a pyramid of deception, deliberately destroyed and hid aircraft wreckage, forged“ black boxes ”, destroyed other evidence. How to call a situation when the entire elite is killed, when people are cut off their heads ?! This is a declaration of war by Russia, even if the next attack comes in a year, two, five years, you need to be aware that this is a declaration of war! ”
Meanwhile, the circumstances of at least one of the MiG catastrophes are very similar to the situation near Smolensk: difficult weather conditions, an inexperienced pilot and his bravado …
Official Warsaw used a series of MiG wrecks to justify another round of the arms race, in which Poland voluntarily participates in NATO. At the recent celebrations on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of Poland’s membership in the North Atlantic Alliance, representatives of the leadership announced their intention to increase military spending to 2.5% of GDP, although Poland is already in a small group of record holders among NATO member countries that are sent for military needs 2 % Of GDP.
With regard to the modernization of military aviation, it was announced the decision to purchase until 2026, 32 American fifth-generation combat aircraft F-35. Just a few days later, the appetite of the Polish leadership increased to 48 such aircraft – the same number of American F-16 aircraft are now in service with the Polish Air Force.
It is not a secret for anyone that such a deal will open up the possibility for multi-billion and long-term drainage of the Polish budget – not only the budget of the Ministry of Defense. Poland paid $ 3.5 billion for 48 F-16s in 2003, and Belgium recently ordered 34 F-35s for $ 4 billion.
Therefore, Polish President Andrzej Duda has already prudently come up with the idea of financing this contract in the form of a nationwide program – a project that goes beyond the defense budget.