It is not the Su-27, 30 or Su-35, but the MiG-29 that has been the most exported fighter by Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
The MiG-29 Fulcrum is Russia’s oldest twin-engine fighter jet, still in production today. The MiG-29 entered service for the first time in the Soviet Air Force in 1982 and the production lines are still operational to this day.
Although the MiG-29 was overshadowed by the success of the Su-27 Flanker heavy fighter, first entered service in 1985 and its successors the Su-30/33/ 34 and 35; all of which are being produced simultaneously today.
The MiG-29 fighter is designed as a light fighter, can take off from field runways and is produced in large numbers, with lower maintenance requirements and operating costs. . Both the Su-27 and MiG-29 were developed in parallel, and both had their first flight in 1977.
The MiG-29 program suffered greatly from the collapse of the Soviet Union, when domestic orders were almost completely halted; most of the MiG-29, consisting of about 800 fuselage frames, was kept in reserve. Investment in modernization has been cut, due to the priority of modernizing the Su-27 fighter for export.
However, the MiG-29 did not sit idle waiting to die, the leaders of the MiG company made many improvements, so that the MiG-29 could meet customer requirements. The most notable is the improved version of the MiG-29M, which symbolizes the rise of the MiG-29, during the recession after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
MiG-29M version, airframe redesigned to optimize performance. Its service life is increased to 4,000 hours and maintenance is made easier and operating costs are lower than that of older variants of the MiG-29A.
Russia now offers both newly built MiG-29Ms for export, as well as a number of cheaper MiG-29s, based on the Soviet-era MiG-29A airframe, now in storage; but modernized with features of 4+ generation aircraft.
Recent customers of the MiG-29M include Egypt and Algeria, which have purchased 46 and 14 aircraft respectively in 2015 and 2020. Of which, Algeria purchased the MiG-29M to replace the older MiG-29, purchased during the War. Cold painting.
Two countries that showed an interest in the MiG-29M, but ended up purchasing lower-end variants, based on the older MiG-29A fuselage (stored in storage) were Serbia and Syria.
Serbia’s interest in the MiG-29M was announced in 2012; although economic difficulties prevented the purchase of the MiG-29M. Instead, the country received six used MiG-29s, which were modernized by Russia in October 2017, in the form of military aid.
Syria is said to have ordered two squadrons of MiG-29Ms in the late 2000s, along with S-300 air defense systems and even MiG-31s; but these huge contracts were cancelled, due to the outbreak of civil war in 2011.
But in the end, Syria also received the MiG-29SMTs in 2020, but upgraded from the MiG-29A airframe, modified with the MiG-29M’s avionics, sensors, dynamics New engine and fuel tank.
The first customer of the MiG-29, and the largest foreign operator of the fighter, remains the Indian armed forces. This is the first export customer of the MiG-29 and is currently using more than 150 aircraft.
India first ordered the MiG-29A in 1985 and has modernized mid-life. Due to the use of the MiG-29A fuselage, they can be quickly assembled and modernized from the Russian spare parts reserve; can also be delivered faster, compared to the newly built MiG-29M fuselage.
India recently ordered MiG-29UPG fighters in February 2019, and during a time of high tensions with China, in July 2020, India continued to import more MiG-29s from Russia; this version closely resembles the MiG-29SMT, but modified, to meet the requirements of the Indian Air Force.
India also uses the MiG-29K version, which is based on the MiG-29M, but modified for the Navy for carrier operation. This is the best performing MiG-29 variant in service with the Indian Air Force and more orders are expected for the MiG-29K, for the country’s expanding aircraft carrier fleet.
Other recent orders have come from the Libyan National Army, which received MiG-29s in May 2020. Currently this number of MiG-29, is believed to be flown by Russian military contractors. There are dozens of MiG-29s, believed to be in service in Libya.
Another rumored, but unconfirmed, prospect; will receive the new MiG-29 aircraft, that is, North Korea, which has owned the MiG-29A since the late 1980s and purchased the production line to assemble the fighter in the 1990s.
Although the United Nations has banned all sales of fighter aircraft to North Korea, it is speculated that the unassembled MiG-29 airframes were supplied by the Soviet Union and that North Korea could domestically assembled. If so, North Korea becomes the seventh customer of the MiG-29.
Although not publicly selling the MiG-29 like selling more advanced fighters like the Su-30 or Su-35, it is possible that the MiG-29 was sold abroad by Russia, in larger quantities any other Russian fighter, in the last 5-6 years. This is also the 4th generation fighter that Russia sells the cheapest.
The MiG-29M and its most upgraded version, the MiG-35, are expected to remain in production for the next few years; while modernized MiG-29 versions, based on the MiG-29A airframe, are expected to continue to be offered for export as a cheaper option for many years. Customers such as Syria and Serbia are expected to continue the MiG-29.