It is difficult to imagine two front-line fighters of Soviet-made fighter jets that could confront each other in a battle. Actually, That happened in the skies of Africa.
For many years, the two fourth-generation fighters, the MiG-29 and the Su-27, were the backbone of the Soviet and Russian Air Forces. The MiG-29 (Fulcrum) light tactical fighter is used to gain direct superiority in the sky in the combat area, while the Su-27 (Flanker-B) supersonic heavy fighter is capable of hitting enemy aircraft from long distances.
With different missions, these two types of aircraft often support each other in skirmishes and only compete in combat training. However, in 1999, during the armed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the Su-27 and MiG-29 faced each other in a life-and-death battle.
In a direct confrontation with the larger and better armed Su-27, the MiG-29 was said to have little chance of victory. However, the outcome of the battle is determined by many factors, including the skill of the pilot to control the aircraft.
in the late 1990s Russian weapons and military equipment in East Africa appeared. Decades before that, the Soviet Union had supplied weapons to Ethiopia, sending military experts and advisers to train the country’s armed forces.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the relationship between the two sides was not completely terminated. On the other hand, after separating from Ethiopia in 1993, Eritrea also began to look to Russia to buy weapons.
When the armed conflict broke out between the two African countries related to a territorial dispute in late 1998, both countries looked to Russia when considering their intention to purchase military equipment, especially fighter aircraft. It should also be said that Ethiopia and Eritrea have different financial capabilities.
In the summer of 1998, Eritrea purchased eight MiG-29A and two MiG-29UBs. Meanwhile, with a more developed economy, Ethiopia can completely buy more expensive and powerful Su-27. In December 1998, Ethiopia signed a contract to buy 6 Su-27SK and 2 Su-27UB from Russia.
Under the agreement between Ethiopia and Russia, pilots of the Ethiopian Air Force receive theoretical and practical training at Debre Zeit Air Base, with the guidance of Russian experts. Some crew members and technical staff were sent to practice at the Krasnodar Higher Military Aviation School of Russia.
Meanwhile, Eritrea turned to Ukraine. Ukrainian training pilots and technical experts have traveled to Eritrea to support the small African country’s squadron.
Brother vs Brother
The first encounter between Su-27 and MiG-29 fighters occurred on February 21, 1999. At that time, 2 Eritrean planes tried to ambush Ethiopian fighter jets. However, the Su-27 not only escape from the trap but also knocked an enemy aircraft out of combat. The Eritrean side did not admit the loss of one aircraft.
On February 25, 1999, over the city of Badme, Eritrea, two Su-27s collided with four MiGs. The two sides hit each other with missiles at medium distances. When confronting each other at close range, the Su-27 once again prevailed. After losing one aircraft, the Eritrean side was forced to retreat.
On May 16, 1999, while patrolling over the city of Barentu, Eritrea, two MiG-29s were suddenly attacked by several Su-27s. The battle was short-lived with the result that one MiG was shot down, the second was badly damaged but managed to return to the airfield at Asmara. However, the aircraft was later rendered inoperable.
In the first encounter with the “brothers” in a real air battle, the Su-27 gained air superiority and won convincingly.
After the victory in the air, the Su-27s began to support the Ethiopian ground forces and won on the ground. The disputed territories fell to the Ethiopian army in the summer of 2000 and the two sides came to the negotiating table. However, it was not until 18 years later that the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea was resolved.
The Eritrean side is really impressed with the combat capabilities of the Su-27SK fighter. After the end of the conflict, despite the difficult economic situation, Eritrea focused its resources on purchasing a number of Russian fighters of this type.