Learn more about Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23
|Retired|| 1994, Russia|
Remains in service with foreign users
|Primary user||Soviet Air Force|
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-23; NATO reporting name: "Flogger") is a variable geometry, swept-wing fighter aircraft, originally built by the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau in the Soviet Union. Produced in large numbers, it remains in limited service with various export customers.
The MiG-23's predecessor, the MiG-21 (NATO reporting name 'Fishbed'), was fast and agile, but limited in its operational capabilities by its primitive radar, short range, and limited weapons load (restricted in some aircraft to a pair of short-range air-to-air missiles). The MiG-23 was to be a heavier, more powerful machine designed to remedy these deficiencies, and, it was hoped, rival Western aircraft like the F-4 Phantom. The new fighter was to feature a totally new S-23 sensor and weapon system suite capable of firing beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles.
A major design consideration was take-off and landing performance. The existing Soviet fast jets required very long runways, which combined with their limited range, limited their tactical usefulness. The Soviet Air Force demanded that the new aircraft have a much shorter take-off run. Low-level speed and handling was also to be improved over the MiG-21. This led Mikoyan to consider two alternatives: lift jets, to provide an additional lift component, and variable-geometry wings, which had been developed by TsAGI for both "clean-sheet" aircraft designs and adaptations of existing designs.
The first prototype, called "23-01" but also known as the MiG-23PD, was a tailed delta-wing design similar to the MiG-21 but with two lift jets in the fuselage. However, it became apparent very early that this configuration was unsatisfactory, as the lift jets became useless dead weight once airborne. The second prototype, known as "23-11", featured variable-geometry wings which could be set to angles of 16, 45 and 72 degrees, and it was clearly more promising. The maiden flight of 23-11 took place on June 10 1967, and three more prototypes were prepared for further flight and system testing. All featured the Tumansky R-27-300 turbojet engine with a thrust of 7850 kg. The order to start series production of the MiG-23 was given in December 1967.
The General Dynamics F-111 and McDonnell Douglas F-4 were the main Western influences on the MiG-23. The Russians, however, wanted a much lighter, single-engine fighter to maximize agility. Both the F-111 and the MiG-23 were designed as fighters, but the heavy weight of the F-111 turned it into a long-range interdictor and kept it out of the fighter role. The MiG-23's designers kept the MiG-23 light enough to dogfight with enemy fighters.
 First-generation MiG-23s
- The Ye-231 was the prototype built for testing, and it lacked the sawtooth leading edge that later appeared on all MiG-23/27 models. This experimental model was the common basic design that both the MiG-23/27 and Sukhoi Su-24 were based on, but the Su-24 experienced much greater modifications from Ye-231 baseline than did the MiG-23/27.
- The MiG-23 was the pre-production model that lacked the hardpoints on later production versions, but the sawtooth leading edge appeared on this model, and it was also armed with guns. This model marked the divergence of the MiG-23/27 and Su-24 from their common Ye-231 ancestor.
- The MiG-23S was the initial production variant. Only around 60 were built between 1969-70. These aircraft were used for both flight and operational testing. The MiG-23S had an improved R-27F2-300 turbojet engine with a maximum thrust of 9980 kg. As the Sapfir-23 radar was delayed, the aircraft were installed with the S-21 weapons control system with the RP-22SM radar — basically the same weapons system as in the MiG-21MF/bis. A twin-barreled 23 mm GSh-23L gun with 200 rounds of ammunition was fitted under the fuselage. This variant suffered from various teething problems and was never fielded as an operational fighter.
- The MiG-23SM was the second pre-production variant, which was also known as the MiG-23 Type 1971. It was considerably modified compared to the MiG-23S: it had the full S-23 weapons suite, featuring a Sapfir-23L radar coupled with Vympel R-23R (NATO: AA-7 'Apex') BVR missiles. It also had a further improved R-27F2M-300 (later redesignated R-29-300) engine with a maximum thrust of 12,000 kg. The modified "type 2" wing had an increased wing area and a larger sawtooth leading edge. The slats were deleted and wing sweep was increased by 2.5 degrees; wing positions were changed to 18.5, 47.5 and 74.5 degrees, respectively. The tail fin was moved further aft, and an extra fuel tank was added to the rear fuselage, as in the two-seat variant (see below). Around 80 examples were manufactured. The overall reliability was increased over the previous variant, but the Sapfir radar proved to be still immature.
- MiG-23M. This variant first flew on June 1972. It was the first truly mass-produced version of the MiG-23, and the first VVS fighter to feature look-down/shoot-down capabilities (although this capability was initially very limited). The wing was modified again and now featured leading-edge slats. The R-29-300 (R-29A) engine was now rated for 12,500 kg. It finally had the definitive sensor suite: an improved Sapfir-23D (NATO: 'High Lark') radar, a TP-23 infra-red search and track (IRST) sensor and an ASP-23D gunsight. The 'High Lark' radar had a detection range of some 45 km against a high-flying, fighter-sized target. It was not a true Doppler radar, but instead utilized the less effective "envelope detection" technique, similar to some radars on Western fighters of the 1960s.
- MiG-23MF ("Flogger-B"). This was an export derivative of the MiG-23M originally intended to be exported to Warsaw Pact countries, but it was also sold to many other allies and clients, as most export customers were dissatisfied with the rather primitive MiG-23MS. It actually came in two versions. The first one was sold to Warsaw Pact allies, and it was essentially identical to Soviet MiG-23M, with small changes in "identify friend or foe" (IFF) transponders and communications equipment. The second variant was sold outside Eastern Europe and it had a different IFF and communications suite (usually with the datalink removed), and downgraded radar, which lacked the electronic counter-countermeasure (ECCM) features and modes of the baseline 'High Lark'. This variant was more popular abroad than the MiG-23MS and considerable numbers were exported, especially to the Middle East.
- The infrared system had a detection range of around 30 km against high-flying bombers, but less for fighter-sized targets. The aircraft was also equipped with a Lasur-SMA datalink. The standard armament consisted of two radar- or infrared-guided Vympel R-23 (NATO: AA-7 'Apex') BVR missiles and two Molniya R-60 (NATO: AA-8 'Aphid') short-ranged infrared missiles. From 1974 onwards, double pylons were installed for the R-60s, enabling up to four missiles to be carried. Bombs, rockets and missiles could be carried for ground attack. Later, compatibility for the radio-guided Zvezda Kh-23 (NATO: AS-7 'Kerry') ground-attack missile was added. Most Soviet MiGs were also wired to carry tactical nuclear weapons. Some 1300 MiG-23Ms were produced for the Soviet Air Force (VVS) and Soviet Air Defense Forces (PVO Strany) between 1972-78. It was the most important Soviet fighter type from the mid-to-late 1970s.
- MiG-23U. The MiG-23U was a twin-seat training variant. It was based on the MiG-23S, but featured a lengthened cockpit with a second crew station behind the first. One forward fuel tank was removed to accommodate an extra seat — this was compensated for by adding a new fuel tank in the rear fuselage. The MiG-23U had the S-21 weapon system, although the radar was later mostly removed. During its production run, both its wings and engine were improved to the MiG-23M standard. Production began at Irkutsk in 1971 and eventually converted to the MiG-23UB.
- MiG-23UB. Very similar to MiG-23U except that the R-29 turbojet engine replaced the older R-27 installed in the MiG-23U. Production continued until 1985 (for the export variant). A total of 769 examples were built, including conversions from the MiG-23U.
- MiG-23MP. Similar to the MiG-23MS (described below), but produced in much fewer numbers and was never exported. Virtually identical to MiG-23MS except the addition of a dielectric head above the pylon, which was often associated with the ground-attack versions — for which it might have been a developmental prototype.
- MiG-23MS. This was an export variant, as the '70s MiG-23M was considered too advanced to be exported to Third World countries. It was otherwise similar to MiG-23M, but it had the S-21 standard weapon system, with a RP-22SM (NATO: 'Jay Bird') radar in a smaller radome, and the IRST was removed. Obviously, this variant had no BVR capability, and the only air-to-air missiles it was capable of using were the R-3S (NATO: AA-2a 'Atoll') and R-60 (NATO: AA-8 'Aphid') IR-guided missiles and the R-3R (NATO: AA-2d 'Atoll') semi-active radar homing (SARH) missile. The avionics suite was very basic. This variant was produced between 1973-78 and exported principally to North Africa and the Middle East.
 Second-generation MiG-23s
- MiG-23P. This was a specialized air-defense interceptor variant developed for the PVO Strany. It had the same airframe and powerplant as the MiG-23ML, but there is a cut-back fin root fillet instead of the original extended one on other models. Its avionics suite was improved to meet PVO requirements and mission profiles. Its radar was the improved Sapfir-23P, which could be used in conjunction with the gunsight for better look-down/shoot-down capabilities to counter increasing low-level threats like cruise missiles. The IRST, however, was absent. The autopilot included a new digital computer, and it was linked with the Lasur-M datalink. This enabled ground-controlled interception (GCI) ground stations to steer the aircraft towards the target; in such an intercept, all the pilot had to do was control the engine and use the weapons. The MiG-23P was the most numerous PVO interceptor in the 1980s. Around 500 aircraft were manufactured between 1978-81. The MiG-23P was never exported and served only within the PVO in Soviet service.
- MiG-23bis. Similar to the MiG-23P except the IRST was restored and the cumbersome radar scope was eliminated because all of the information it provided could be displayed on the new head-up display (HUD).
- MiG-23ML. The early Flogger variants were intended to be used in high-speed missile attacks, but it was soon noticed that fighters often had to engage in more stressful close-in combat. Early production aircraft had actually suffered cracks in the fuselage during their service career. Maneuverability of the aircraft was also criticized. A considerable redesign of the airframe was performed, resulting in the MiG-23ML (L - lightweight), which made it in some ways a new aircraft. Empty weight was reduced by 1250 kg, which was achieved partly by removing a rear fuselage fuel tank. Aerodynamics were refined for less drag. The dorsal fin extension was removed. The undercarriage was redesigned, resulting in a lowered nose attitude on the ground. The airframe was now rated for a g-limit of 8.5, compared to 8 g for the early generation MiG-23M/MF 'Flogger-B'. A new engine model, the R-35F-300, now provided a maximum dry thrust of 8550 kg, and 13,000 kg with afterburner. This led to considerable improvement in maneuverability and thrust-to-weight ratio. The avionics set was considerably improved as well. The S-23ML standard included Sapfir-23ML radar and TP-23ML IRST. The new radar was more reliable and a had maximum detection range of about 65 km against a fighter-sized target (25 km in look-down mode). The navigation suite received a new, much improved autopilot. New radio and datalink systems were also installed. The prototype of this variant first flew in 1976 and production began 1978.
- MiG-23MLA. The later production variant of the 'ML' was redesignated the 'MLA'. Externally, the 'MLA' was identical to 'ML'. Internally, the 'MLA' had an improved radar with better ECM resistance, which made co-operative group search operations possible as the radars would now not jam each other. It also had a new ASP-17ML HUD/gunsight, and the capability to fire improved Vympel R-24R/T missiles. Between 1978 and 1982, around 1100 'ML/MLA's were built for both the Soviet Air Force and export customers. As with the MiG-23MF, there were two different MiG-23ML sub-variants for export: the first version was sold to Warsaw Pact countries and was very similar to Soviet aircraft. The second variant had downgraded radar and it was sold to Third World allies.
- MiG-23MLD. The MiG-23MLD was the ultimate fighter variant of the MiG-23. The main focus of the upgrade was to improve maneuverability, especially during high angles of attack (AoA). The pitot boom was equipped with vortex generators, and the wings' notched leading edge roots were 'saw-toothed' to act as vortex generators as well. The flight-control system was modified to improve handling and safety in high-AoA maneuvers. Significant improvements were made in avionics and survivability: the Sapfir-23MLA-II featured improved modes for look-down/shoot-down and close-in fighting. A new SPO-15L radar warning receiver was installed, along with chaff/flare dispensers. The new and very effective Vympel R-73 (NATO: AA-11 'Archer') short-range air-to-air missile was added to inventory. No new-build 'MLD' aircraft were delivered to the VVS, as the more advanced MiG-29 was about to enter production. Instead, all Soviet 'MLD's were former 'ML/MLA' aircraft modified to 'MLD' standard. Some 560 aircraft were upgraded between 1982-85. As with earlier MiG-23 versions, two distinct export variants were offered. Unlike Soviet examples, these were new-build aircraft, though they lacked the aerodynamic refinements of Soviet 'MLD's; 16 examples were delivered to Bulgaria, and 50 to Syria. These were the last single-seat MiG-23 fighters made, and the last example rolled off the production line in December 1984.
 Ground-attack variants
- MiG-23B. The requirement for a new fighter-bomber had become obvious in the late 1960s, and the MiG-23 appeared to be suitable type for such conversion. The first prototype of the project, "32-34", flew for the first time on August 20 1970. The MiG-23B had a redesigned forward fuselage, but was otherwise similar to the MiG-23S. The pilot seat was raised to improve visibility, and the windscreen was armored. The nose was flat-bottomed and tapered down. There was no radar; instead it had a Sokol-23 ground attack sight system, which included an analog computer, laser rangefinder and PBK-3 bomb sight. The navigation suite and autopilot were also improved to provide more accurate bombing. It retained the GSh-23L gun, and its maximum warload was increased to 3000 kg by strengthening the pylons. Survivability was improved by an electronic warfare (EW) suite and inert gas system in the fuel tanks to prevent fire. The first prototype had a MiG-23S type wing, but subsequent examples had the larger "type 2" wing. Most importantly, instead of an R-29 variant, aircraft was powered by the AL-21F-3 turbofan with a maximum thrust of 11,500 kg. The production of this variant was limited, however, as the supply of AL-21 engines was needed for the Sukhoi Su-17 and Su-24 production lines. In addition, this engine was not cleared for export. Only three MiG-23B prototypes and 24 production aircraft were produced in 1971-72.
- MiG-23BN. The MiG-23BN was the definitive fighter-bomber variant. It was otherwise the same as MiG-23B, but had the same R-29-300 engine as contemporary fighter 'Floggers'. They were also fitted with "type 3" wings. There were other minor changes in electronics and equipment, and some changes were made during its long production run. This variant proved to be fairly popular and effective and it was extensively exported. As usual, a downgraded version was sold to Third World customers. Serial production began in 1973 and lasted until 1985, with at least 500 examples built. Most of them were exported, as the Soviets always viewed it as an interim type and only a small number served in Frontal Aviation regiments. The most distinctive identifying feature between the MiG-23B and MiG-23BN was that the former was rather a developmental aircraft and had the dielectric head just above the pylon, but this was removed from the MiG-23BN.
- MiG-23BK. Similar to MiG-23BN. These were exported to Warsaw Pact countries — but not to Third World customers — and thus had the PrNK-23 navigation and attack system. Additional radar warning receivers were also mounted on the intakes.
- MiG-23BM. This was a MiG-23BK upgrade, with the PrNK-23M replacing the original PrNK-23, and a digital computer replacing the original analog computer.
- MiG-23BM experimental aircraft. The MiG-23 ground-attack versions had too much "fighter heritance" for an attack aircraft, and a new design with more radical changes was developed. This was eventually redesignated as the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-27 (NATO: 'Flogger-D') and is described separately in that entry. The MiG-23BM experimental aircraft served as a predecessor to the MiG-27 and it differs from the standard MiG-23BM and other MiG-23 models in that its dielectric heads were directly on the wing roots, instead of on the pylons.
 Proposed variants and upgrades
The MiG-23R was a proposed reconnaissance variant; the project was never finished. The MiG-23MLGD, 'MLG' and 'MLS' were further fighter upgrades with new radar and EW equipment, partly the same as in MiG-29; these variants were also fitted with helmet-mounted sights and were basically MiG-23MLD subvariants. They were abandoned in favor of the then ongoing MiG-29 program. The MiG-23K was a carrier-borne fighter variant based on the MiG-23ML, and the MiG-23A was a multirole variant based on the 'K'. It was planned to develop the MiG-23A into three different subvariants: MiG-23AI, MiG-23AB and MiG-23AR. The MiG-23AI was to be a dedicated fighter, the MiG-23AB was to be an attack-dedicated variant, and the MiG-23AR a dedicated reconnaissance variant. However, cancellation and subsesquent redesign of the Soviet aircraft carrier project also caused cancellation of the MiG-23A and MiG-23K variants and subvariants.
There were other MiG-23 variants such as the MiG-23MLK that was planned to be powered by either two new R-33 engines or one R-100, and the MiG-23MD that was basically a MiG-23M fitted with a Saphir-23MLA-2. The MiG-23ML-1 was a variant that had several possible options of powerplant types and engine arrangements; its single-engine options were either one R-100 or one R-69F engine, while its twin-engine arrangement was to be fitted with two R-33 engines. It was planned to be armed with a new air-to-air missile, the R-146.
In the late '90s, the Mikoyan Design Bureau, following their successful MiG-21 upgrade projects, offered a MiG-23-98 upgrade which featured a new radar, a new self-defense suite, new avionics, improved cockpit ergonomy, a helmet-mounted sight, and the capability to fire Vympel R-27 (NATO: AA-10 'Alamo') and Vympel R-77 (NATO: AA-12 'Adder') missiles. The projected cost was around US$1 million per aircraft. Smaller upgrades were also offered, which consisted of only improving the existing Sapfir-23 with newer missiles and upgrades of other avionics. Airframe life extension was offered as well.
So far these upgrades have been met with little interest. However, in 2005, Angola had the upgrade of the Saphir radar fitted to their MiG-23MLs; this radar upgrade allows the Angolan MiG-23s to fire new types of air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons. This radar upgrade seems to be the same offered as part of the MiG-23-98-2 radar upgrade. In 2006, India also chose to retrofit the Indian Air Force's MiG-23BN and MiG-27 fleet with newer AL-31 engines replacing the older R-29B-300. This was one of the most recent upgrades offered to MiG-23 users by Lyulka.
Total production of MiG-23 fighter, attack and trainer versions was over 5000 aircraft (not including the MiG-27), of which 3630 were fighter variants.
MiG-23 and Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25 were used as first jet fighter platforms to test a new in-cockpit warning system which would use a pre-recorded female voice to inform pilots about various flight parameters. The female voice was chosen specifically to provide a clear and intuitive distinction between communication messages that originated from the ground and the ones that originated from the airplane's internal systems, since ground communications virtually always came in male voice in Soviet Air Force. The idea to use a female voice for that purpose proved successful for many reasons besides the original one, and was later heavily borrowed by Western aircraft manufacturers, eventually becoming standard in all jet fighters around the World.
- The MiG-23 had the advantage of being quite cheap in the early 1980s. For example, the MiG-23MS was priced between US$3.6 million and US$6.6 million depending on the customer; on the other hand in 1980, the F-16 Fighting Falcon was prized at US$14 million, and the Flogger's closest Western competitor was the Kfir C2 with a price of US$4.5 million.
 Service career
Western and Russian aviation historians usually differ in respect to the MiG-23's combat record, in part due to the bias they practice for their respective national aircraft industries. They also usually accept claims that go along with their respective political views.
The first MiG-23s to see combat were export variants with many limitations. For example, the MiG-23MS lacked such a basic system as the radar warning receiver. In addition, compared to the MiG-21, the aircraft was mechanically complex and expensive. Early export variants also lacked many "war reserve modes" in their radars, making them vulnerable against electronic countermeasures (ECM), which the Israelis were especially proficient at. Nonetheless, according to Soviet/Russian historians, the MiG-23MS did achieve kills. One of these victories was achieved on June 11 1982, when a pair of MiG-23MS pilots, named Heyrat and Zabi, brought down an Israeli F-4 with two AA-2 'Atolls'. Both MiG-23MS pilots were then shot down.<ref name=МиГ-23 на Ближнем Востоке >http://www.airwar.ru/history/locwar/bv/mig23/mig23.html</ref>
The MiG-23MS/MF took part in the 1982 Lebanon War. Israeli reports (which have been endorsed by the majority of Western historians) claim that during the period of intense fighting from June 6 to 11 of 1982, 85 Syrian aircraft were shot down in air combat by the Israelis with no Israeli losses. At least 30 of these aircraft were reported by Israeli sources to be MiG-23s.
According to Soviet/Russian sources, the Syrians lost only six MiG-23MFs and four downgraded export MiG-23MS fighters during that period in June over the Bekaa Valley, while the rest of the MiG-23s shot down by the Israelis were fourteen ground-attack variant MiG-23BNs. At the same time, Syrian MiG-23s managed to shoot down at least five F-16s, two F-4Es, and a BQM-34 unmanned reconnaissance plane. These are some of the Syrian MiG-23 kills as described in a Soviet/Russian source: <ref name=МиГ-23 на Ближнем Востоке>http://www.airwar.ru/history/locwar/bv/mig23/mig23.html</ref>
On June 7 1982, three MiG-23MFs (pilots Hallyak, Said, and Merza) attacked a group of F-16s. Captain Merza detected the F-16s at a distance of 25 km and brought down two F-16s with R-23 (AA-7 'Apex') missiles (one from 9 km and another within the distance of 7 or 8 km) before he himself was shot down. On June 8 1982, two MiG-23MFs again met with F-16s. Major Hau's MiG-23 detected an F-16 at a distance of 21 km and shot it down with an R-23 from a distance of 7 km. Again, the Syrian pilot was himself shot down by an AIM-9 Sidewinder fired from another F-16. On June 9 1982, two MiG-23MFs, piloted by Dib and Said, attacked a group of F-16s. Dib brought down an F-16 from a distance of 6 km with an R-23, but was then shot down, most likely by a Sidewinder.
Soviet/Russian sources state that three Israeli F-15s and one F-4 were shot down in October 1983 by the newly delivered MiG-23MLs, with no loses since then. <ref name=МиГ-23 на Ближнем Востоке>http://www.airwar.ru/history/locwar/bv/mig23/mig23.html</ref> Western historians deny these kills and believe that Syria lost at least two MiG-23MLs to Israeli F-15s in 1985.
The MiG-23 took part in the Iran-Iraq War, but its air combat results with the Iraqi Air Force are difficult to determine. Cuban MiG-23MLs and South African Mirage F1s had several encounters during Angolan War, one of which resulted in a Mirage being lost after it was damaged by an R-60 (NATO: AA-8 'Aphid') missile fired by a Cuban MiG-23ML. The South African pilot barely managed to save his life after the Mirage suffered several malfunctions that forced him to crash land, severely damaging the aircraft and causing it to be written off.Soviet MiG-23MLDs and Pakistani F-16s clashed a few times during the Soviet-Afghan War. One F-16 was lost in 1987 with the circumstances of the loss not clear. Pakistan insists that it was a friendly fire incident, but it could have been destroyed by a MiG-23 as the Russians have claimed. A year later, Soviet MiG-23MLDs using R-24s (NATO: AA-7 'Apex') downed two Iranian AH-1J Cobras that had intruded into Afghani airspace.
Many potential enemies of the USSR and its client states have 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 U.S., these MiG-23MS and other variants acquired later from Germany were used as part of the evaluation program of Soviet military hardware. The 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 that the MiG-23ML has superiority on the vertical plane over early F-16 variants, is just slightly inferior to the F-16A on the horizontal plane, and has superior BVR capability.
The Israelis tested a MiG-23MLD that defected from Syria and found that it had better acceleration than the F-16 and F/A-18.
Another MiG-23 evaluation finding in the U.S. and Israel reports was that the MiG-23 has a 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 that can act as a radarscope as well. 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 U.S. 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.
Because of its distinctive appearance with large air intakes on both sides of the fuselage the aircraft was nicknamed "Cheburashka" by some Soviet pilots after a popular Russian cartoon character representing a fictional animal with big ears on both sides of its head. The nickname did not stick to Mig-23 and was later firmly assigned to Antonov An-72/74, although to this day this nickname is sometimes applied to different aircraft with similar exterior features, including the USAF A-10 Thunderbolt.
The aircraft was not used in large numbers by the non-Soviet air forces of the Warsaw Pact as originally envisioned. When the MiG-23s were initially deployed, they were considered the elites of the Eastern Bloc air forces. However, very quickly the disadvantages became evident and the MiG-23 did not replace the MiG-21 as initially intended. The aircraft had some deficiencies that limited its operational serviceability and its hourly operating cost was thus higher than the MiG-21’s. The Eastern Bloc air forces used their MiG-23s to replace MiG-17s and MiG-19s that were still in service.
By 1990, over 1500 MiG-23s of different models were in service with the Soviet Union's VVS and PVO. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Air Force began to cut back its fighter force, and it was decided that the MiG-23s and MiG-27s were among the types which were to be retired to operational storage. The last model to serve was the MiG-23P, which was retired in 1998.
When East and West Germany reunified, no MiG-23s were transferred to the Luftwaffe, but 12 former East German MiG-23s were supplied to the U.S. When Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the Czechs received all the MiG-23s, which were retired in 1998. Hungary retired their MiG-23s in 1996, Poland in 1999, Romania in 2000, and Bulgaria in 2004.
Most Libyan and Cuban MiG-23s have not flown for years.
Some MiG-23s ended up becoming part of private collections or aircraft monuments.
The MiG-23 was the Soviet Air Force's "Top Gun"-equivalent aggressor aircraft from the late 1970s to the late 1980s. It proved to be a difficult opponent for early MiG-29 variants flown by inexperienced pilots. Exercises showed that 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 close combat dogfights. Usually the aggressor MiG-23MLDs had a shark mouth painted on the nose just aft of the radar dome and many of these were piloted by Soviet-Afghan War veterans. In the late 1980s, these aggressor MiG-23s were replaced by MiG-29s, also featuring shark mouths on their noses.
 Former Operators
- Bulgaria, Czech Republic, China (2 MiG-23MF, 2 MiG-23BN, 2 MiG-23U were purchased from Egypt for evaluation), Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Iraq, Poland, Romania, Russia/Soviet Union, Sudan, Ukraine
 Current Operators
- Algeria - 29 MiG-23BN/MS/UB, Angola - 32 MiG-23M/UB, Cuba - 69 MiG-23MF/ML/UB, Ethiopia - 32 MiG-23BN/UB, India - 108 MiG-23ML/BN/UB, Kazakhstan - 100 MiG-23M/UB, Libya - 130 MiG-23MS/BN/UB, North Korea - 56 MiG-23ML/UB, Syria - 146 MiG-23MS/MF/ML/MLD/BN/UB, Turkmenistan - 230 MiG-23M/UB, Yemen - 25 MiG-23BN/UB, Zimbabwe - 3 MiG-23M/UB. <ref name=TARGET&ЗВО>http://commi.narod.ru/txt/2002/0801.htm</ref>
The status of the Belarussian MiG-23s is uncertain. While some sources say they are operational or at least in a low operational capability, others claim they have been retired.
 Specifications (MiG-23MLD Flogger-L)
- Crew: One
- Length: 16.70 m (56 ft 9.5)
- Wingspan: Spread, 13.97 m (45 ft 10 in)
- Height: 4.82 m (15 ft 9.75 in)
- Wing area: 37.35 m² spread, 34.16 m² swept (402.05 ft² / 367.71 ft²)
- Empty weight: 9,595 kg (21,153 lb)
- Loaded weight: 15,700 kg (34,612 lb)
- Max takeoff weight: 18,030 kg (39,749 lb)
- Powerplant: 1× Khatchaturov R-35-300 afterburning turbojet, 83.6 kN dry, 127 kN afterburning (18,850 lbf / 28,700 lbf)
According to the MiG-23ML manual, the MiG-23ML has sustained turn rate of 14.1 deg/sec and a maximum instantaneous turn rate of 16.7 deg/sec.
The MiG-23ML accelerates from 600 km/h to 900 km/h in just 12 seconds at the altitude of 1000 meters.
The MiG-23 accelerates at the altitude of 1 km from the speed of 630 km to 1300 km in just 30 seconds and at the altitude of 10-12 km will accelerate from Mach 1 to Mach 2 in just 160 seconds.
- Maximum speed: Mach 2.35, 2,500 km/h at altitude; Mach 1.14, 1,350 km/h at sea level (1,553 mph / 840 mph)
- Range: 1,150 km with six AAMs combat, 2,820 km ferry (570 mi / 1,750 mi)
- Service ceiling: 18,500 m (60,695 ft)
- Rate of climb: 240 m/s (47,245 ft/min)
- Wing loading: 420 kg/m² (78.6 lb/ft²)
- Thrust/weight: 0.88
The MiG-23's armament evolved as the type's avionics were upgraded and new variants were deployed. The earliest versions, which were equipped with the MiG-21's fire control system, were limited to firing variants of R-3 (AA-2 'Atoll'). The R-60 (AA-8 'Aphid') replaced the R-3 during the '70s, and from the MiG-23M onwards the R-23/R-24 (AA-7 'Apex') was carried. Third-generation Floggers were capable of firing R-73 (AA-11 'Archer') when it became available, but this missile was not exported until the MiG-29 was released for export. The helmet-mounted sight associated with the AA-11 'Archer' (R-73) was fitted on the MiG-23MLD/MLDG experimental subvariants that never entered production as had been originally planned. The reason was that these MiG-23MLD subvariants had less priority than the then ongoing MiG-29 program, and the Mikoyan bureau therefore decided to concentrate all their efforts on the MiG-29 program and halted further work on the MiG-23s. Nevertheless, a helmet-mounted sight is now offered as part of the MiG-23-98 upgrade. There were reports about the MiG-23MLD being capable of firing the AA-10 'Alamo' (R-27) beyond its firing experimental tests; however, it seems only Angola's MiG-23-98 are capable of doing so. A MiG-23 was used to test and fire the AA-10, AA-11 and AA-12 air-to-air missiles during their early flight and firing trials. Ground-attack armament included 57 mm rocket pods, general purpose bombs up to 500 kg in size, gun pods, and Kh-23 (AS-7 'Kerry') radio-guided missiles. Up to four external fuel tanks could be carried.
- The MiG-23 served as the aircraft for Patrick Reed from Area 88.
 External links
- MiG-23 on FAS.org
- MiG-23 FLOGGER at Global Security.org
- MiG-23 Flogger at Global Aircraft
- Angola awards life-extension contract for MiG-23ML fleet-05/04...
- МиГ-23 против F-15 и F-16
- МиГ-23 на Ближнем Востоке
- Ангольское противостояние
- MIG-23 Flogger at Russian Military Analysis
- Земское обозрение "Боевой состав ВВС СНГ"
- Cuban MiG-23
- Cuban MiG-23 in Angola
 Related content
Related development<h3> MiG-27 'Flogger-D'
<h3>Comparable aircraft<h3> McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II –
Sukhoi Su-24 <h3>Designation sequence<h3> MiG-17 - MiG-19 - MiG-21 - MiG-23 - MiG-25 - MiG-27 - MiG-29 - MiG-31 <h3>Related lists<h3> List of military aircraft of the Soviet Union and the CIS - List of fighter aircraft