On 6 May, the aerobatic display team of the Russian Air Force, Swifts (Strizhi in Russian), one of the most famous military aerobatic groups, celebrated its 30th anniversary. Swifts is the only aerobatics demonstrator in the world that flies on the MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets presenting one of the most known showpieces of Russian aviation. In 2021, for the first time Swifts will showcase the new group aerobatics maneuvers on MiG-29 jets with nine crews in the air at once.
The Russian Ministry of Defence, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Swifts, said that in 2004, the set of demonstrations included a joint flight of the aerobatic teams Swifts and Russian Knights consisting of nine aircraft (5 Su-27 and 4 MiG-29) in the rhombus formation with the implementation of a full set of aerobatics. “This became a world record in the history of aviation. This is called the Cuban diamond…The flight program is constantly being improved. In 2021, the Swifts aerobatic team radically updated its program and for the first time will demonstrate group aerobatics with a large number of reforms in the air with nine crews”, said the MoD statement.
The process of establishing the group began in the mid-80s, when Fulcrums were just being mastered by the Soviet Air Force. The team’s official birthday is May 6, 1991 but the real international premiere came in 1992, when 6 MiG-29s enthralled the foreign spectators at the celebration dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the Normandie-Niemen squadron. Subsequently the Swifts performed in Malaysia, Belgium, Thailand, Hungary, Holland, Bulgaria, USA, Vietnam, China, Mongolia, Germany, Kazakhstan, Czech Republic and The United Arab Emirates.
According to the Swifts, a total of about 1500 MiG-29 have been manufactured, with over half of them having fielded by the USSR/Russia and the rest delivered to the foreign countries, including India.
“MiG-29 is a soldier plane, reliable as Kalashnikov rifle. Just fill her up and get her airborne and she will fulfill any task”, said Mikhail Belyaev, Chief-Pilot of the MiG Corporation.
The latest model in MiG-29 family is the MiG-35 marketed as a multirole aviation complex. The MiG-35 was officially demonstrated at Aero India 2019 to the then Minister of Defence of India, Nirmala Sitharaman. Russia has underlined the MiG-35’s ability to refuel other aircraft in the air, its anti-ship capabilities as well as its open architecture, which allows using other countries’ avionics and weapons.
MiGs in India
India has been using the MiG-21 Fishbed fighter jets since early 1960-s. Afterwards, MiG-25, MiG-27 and MiG-29 jets were procured. The mass serial production of MiG-21 and MiG-27 (designated Bahadur in India) can be considered a significant step in forming the backbone of the Indian military aerospace industry.
Despite criticism, the MiG-21 was praised many times by the Indian Air Force (IAF). “In life, you offered this pilot a seat more coveted than that of a king’s; in death, you took an air-warrior to his glorious Valhalla”, said the former Air Chief Marshal AY Tipnis, who led the IAF during Kargil War in 1999, while talking about the feelings of the MiG-21 pilots .
The Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne in the foreword, which he wrote for the commemorative book to mark 50 years of the MiG-21s with the IAF, written by Air Marshal Philip Rajkumar (Retd.) and Pushpindar Singh, in 2013 said “In its long operational service, along with kudos it also attracted a fair share of criticism and avoidable media scrutiny….with its sleek frontal profile, fast acceleration and a high degree of flexibility in terms of role employment for both air-to-air and air-to- ground missions — it remains the mainstay of the IAF’s combat fleet for a long time.”
The MiG-29 jets are fielded by both the IAF and the Indian Navy. The joint Russian-Indian programme to modernize the IAF’s MiG-29s transforms them into the MiG-29UPG. As the media reported earlier, the post-modernization MiG-29s enable integration of Russian and foreign origin weapons, can track aerial targets in a wide range of flight speeds and altitudes, can perform “hidden” (without the use of radar) attacks on targets. The service life of MiG-29 also increased.
In 2020, the IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria flew the MiG-21 Bison during his visit to a frontline airbase in Western Air Command.