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Intercepts and air combat - MiG-23

airsande

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Maybe here it will be good to describe different methods (ways) of combat employment of various combat aircraft, for better order, for each type in separate thread.

The MiG-23MLD (23-22A) intercepting the MiG-25RBT

Bulgarian experience
This is the intercept as recalled by a friend of mine, an experienced BuAF MiG-23 driver, but at the time of the intercept (1985), he had only one year experience on the type, after ten years flying the MiG-21.
--
A trio of MiG-23s were used to intercept the Bulgarian MiG-25RBT (flying at 20-21,000m, at Mach 2.8 ), each waiting 'in ambush' at a separate portion of its route.
The loitering in the assigned area interceptor (under Mach 0.7) was ordered by the GCI to start accelerating toward the target coming from eastwards for head-on intercept. The pre-climb acceleration, at afterburner, was made at about 12,000 m, and as the fighter reached Mach 1.8 (GCI provided voice commands rather than automatic guidance), then entered a steep climb. At 16,000m, the target appeared within the range of the radar screen(ASP-17), at a 75-80 km distance. A moment later (as looked like, during the time-sensitive process), the target was at 50km, and the launch permit was provided at 30km, then the target’s blip entered in the launch zone. The pilot succeeded to press the trigger for launching one missile (supposedly R-23R), but there was no time for launching the second missile. The break symbol appeared, and the target lock disappeared. End of the intercept, but it was 18,000m altitude, and the speed was Mach 1.1, a critical speed for this altitude, luckily, the engine worked well, and the pilot rapidly gained Mach 1.3 and with 1500 liters of fuel remaining safely returned to base, located at 280 km distance.
 

airsande

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MiG-23MLD - some BVR Considerations and Recomendations

MiG-23MLD’s pros and cons – the Soviet view of the 1980s
It would be interesting for the Western public to examine and analyse in details the content of a Soviet Air Force supplementary air combat manual. This particular 32-page manual was published not long after the Bekaa Valley clashes.


The manual concludes that the MiG-23MLD(Export) equipped with the Sapfir-23MLAE-2 radar, SPO-15LE RWR, chaff/flare dispensers and last but not least the R-24/R-60MK AAM combination could be considered reasonably capable of holding its own against all types of enemy fighters. However, the edge over the F-15A – the most capable archrival - could be gained only through multiple simultaneous ‘slash-and-dash’ attacks from several directions and from long ranges. These attacks are required to be organised and executed in decisive manner; with a high degree of coordination between the groups when the engagement goes to the WVR phase, and with timely exit from combat.
The docuemnt contains a host of recommendations to the MiG-23MLD pilot and it has apparently been compiled on the basis of the Bekaa Valley clashes analysis of and numerous mock-up combats flown in the VVS-FA training centers in Lipetsk and Mary. Some if not most, of these recommendations may sound more as general rules rather than as specialised air combat instructions for the MiG-23 drivers. However, it would be appropriately to remind that most of those ‘general-and-vital’ rules were obviously disregarded by the Syrian pilots during the June 1982 war, turning out them to suffer the fate of turkey shoots over the Bekaa Valley.
Probably the most important rule, contained into the recommendation chapter of the manual dealing with the BVR combat, is that on the importance of the first attack as it sounds as follows: “In order to achieve surprise in shooting, the MiG-23MLD pilots should spend all of their experience and aggressiveness of into the first attack.” Undoubtedly, this is considered as critical factor since surprise has been proved to be nine-tents of air combat success, both offensive and defensive. Other critical elements in the success of a fighter sweep or CAP operation are the command, control and communications (C3) of the own fighter force. The ability of fighter pilots to find, identify and engage high-value hostile targets in BVR environment avoiding potential threats from a position of advantage, rest in great measure on relative C3 capabilities. According to the then Soviet air superiority doctrine the air superiority operations require well-honed functioning GCI assistance substituting the lack of AWACS assets; therefore the GCI officers had to maintain maximum possible situation awareness, i.e. where air superiority has to be achieved, where and when enemy aircraft would come and from which direction, etc. The Soviets mastered to perfection this highly-redundant – but far from perfect and rather inflexible - concept that turned out to be useful for the Central European theatre with dense ground radar coverage and numerous GCI centers, with some 200-250 radars of various types were believed to be used in a full scale war situation in Central Europe. However, it was not the same sitation being provided for the Third World MiG-23 operators, as the the somewhat inflexible and custom-tailored Soviet GCI concept, hardly provided the most effective command-and-control solution for them (they simply lacked the required infrastructure and training).
The MiG-23MLD’s radar is said to be capable of detecting fighter-size targets from long distances but it makes the own fighter easily detectable due to the strong emissions which can trigger every and each enemy RWR at a distance of excess of 65nm (120km). In addition, the radar is known as susceptible to active jamming, thus, when flying over own territory with sufficient ground radar coverage, the radar should be switched off and activated only on GCI order. In such cases, the IRST should be the preferred sensor. In order to expand the search zone in a high-threat environment, the Flogger pilot is required to fly a zig-zag pattern with his main attention centered onto the visual search bellow the bottom boundary of the own ground radar coverage (usually bellow 1,000ft [300m] in Central Europe in the 1980s). The purpose of weaving is primarily to allow the pilot to cover his rear quarter more easily (in could be useful to note that most of the MiG-23 kills during the Bekaa Valley were caused by undetected rear-quarter attacks by IDF/AF F-16s using the AIM-9L or F-15As with the Python 3). It is well known that the MiG-23 pilot has ample problems with the rearward and downward field of view as the fighter is designed with a low-drag canopy, faired into the fuselage though the canopy-mounted rear-view mirrors expand to some degree the rearward field of view. Therefore, the MiG-23 pilots would be expected to encounter huge difficulties in keeping a view on a turning bogey or during visual search bellow his aircraft (this is possible only through banking, but the workload on the pilot is excessively high). On the other hand, it has to be noted that the MiG-23MLD is a quick in acceleration thanks to the low-drag airframe and the aerodynamic qualities of the fully-swept wings, and its high speed could increase difficulty encountered by an unseen attacker in satisfying his aiming requirements in the reduced intercept time; this can be used as another defensive factor when flying in enemy or disputed airspace.
During the BVR air combat, the manual recommends strongly that attacks should not be initiated without offensive advantage and the prospect of getting off the first shoot. The general rule: ‘Who shoots first – kills first, in the worst case dictates the engagement’ should be regarded as of particular importance for the MiG-23 community. If the MiG-23 was dictating the engagement, the aircraft could employ to the full extent its advantages as a high-speed ‘chaos’ fighter using ‘slash-and-dash’ attack - a preferable and often the only available method for the MiG-23 community when engaged vs F-16s and F-15s. It is of note that the high-speed energy fighters like the MiG-23 have the option of engaging or disengaging at will, even in the 1980s and 1990s all-aspect BVR and WVR missile environment.
Another possibility is, in favourable tactical situations, groups of well-flown and well-GCI-directed Floggers to ‘gang-up’ of the better turning bogey such as the F-15 or F-16 using multiple aircraft tactics, with ‘snap-up’ attacks. For a reliable radar-ID (also known as Electronic ID or EID) of the detected bandits, several interrogations should be made – as more ID attempts, as little the risk of fratricide. If unknown type of bandit aircraft are encountered, it should be assumed that these may be F-15s – the most capable and hence the most dangerous enemy fighter. The manual stresses that it is prohibited for the MiG-23MLD to close head-on toward any bandit aircraft of unknown type because it is likelihood these to be F-15s possessing better radar performance and longer-range BVR missiles.
It would be also useful to note that an important recommendation to the GCI officers contained in the manual is that during fighter sweep operations it is strictly prohibited for them to vector the MiG-23s in head-on attacks against non-identified bandits because, as noted above, these are likely to be the dangerous F-15s. Nevertheless, if such a situation is unavoidable, then the anti-F-15 tactics, recommended to the MiG-23 pilots and GCI officers is as follows: if the distance to the bandits exceeds 12nm (20km) the MiGs should immediately perform a sharp turn out of the target and got away descending and pulling high-g; the direction of defense break turn depends on the aspect of the threat and usually should be in the closest direction to achieve beam aspect and then to maneuver in order to revert into side-on or tail-on missile attack. If the target is detected side on, than the MiG-23MLD pilots should use chaff and sharp turns in order to evade the Sparrow missiles and them to revert into attack.
 

Pit

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Thank you very much for the articles, It seems the last one is a condensed version of yours on AFM 2003 (I have that magazine, it cost me a lot but its worth its cost in gold!).

Some questions:

Did the manual or other related documents about MiG-23 use on air-to-air tactics talks about wich responsabilities should the wingman have during section (two aircraft) BVR combats?. Who is the leader under such conditions?, flight leader by default formation or who that sees the bogey first (on radar or visual) and call the tally ho?.

Did the manual talks about the responsabilities of the pilot when operating outside GCI-controlled airspace with regards to radar usage (times of seach, division of work between wingman and flight leader on consideration of Delta-H and Zone allocations, priorities of attacks, etc) or IRST use?

When talking about BVR fire release, did the manual or doctrine assorts any method for it?. I meant, what method, the shoot-shoot-look or shoot-look-shoot doctrine be used depending on the circunstance?, the first one is you fire radar missile 1, get close and fire radar missile 2 against the same target in short succession (as was done by F-4 crews on Nam), method 2 is you fire, assess the launch and then re-fire at other target or same target if it evades the first missile. Did the manuals/doctrine specifies anything about post-launch maneuvers?, like off-setting the interception with a beam maneuver lowering the relative Vc between the fighters and cranking the enemy intercept solution for avoiding their Rmax shots?. Which role did the wingman have during BVR fires?, would he be assigned to attack a second target (in a 2 vs 2 engangement) or would he support the leader with his radar "on" on scan mode for gaining SA?.

Excellent work the last two articles, thanks a lot!.
 

airsande

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Hello Pit,

See the answers bellow
<Did the manual or other related documents about MiG-23 use on air-to-air tactics talks about wich responsabilities should the wingman have during section (two aircraft) BVR combats?. Who is the leader under such conditions?, flight leader by default formation or who that sees the bogey first (on radar or visual) and call the tally ho?.>

The manual maintains that the basis of the success in the group air combat is the good coordination – both tactical and firing one. In order to achieve success, well prepared and rehearsed plans for carrying out the combat shall be available. Then these plans shall be followed strictly, the aircrews shall have good training for formation flying, shall provide mutual support each other, and the combat shall be constantly under the control of airborne and ground commanders.
There is a recommendation for the pair formation in BVR – it shall be 150-200 m lateral separation between the aircraft, and the wingman shall be 100 m at the rear. Such formation allows both fighters to fire BRM missiles simultaneously.
Also, in sequential missile attacks, the wingman shall wait until the leader fires his missiles and executives break off; this is required to avoid friendly fire incidents (which happened during peacetime missile firing session in VVS and PVO, not so rarely).

<Did the manual talks about the responsabilities of the pilot when operating outside GCI-controlled airspace with regards to radar usage (times of seach, division of work between wingman and flight leader on consideration of Delta-H and Zone allocations, priorities of attacks, etc) or IRST use?>

Not, most of the document refers to situation when GCI is available, and the only search recommendations refers to visual search at low/ultra low altitudes, bellow the ground radar coverage. No recommendations for independent radar search are provided.

<When talking about BVR fire release, did the manual or doctrine assorts any method for it?. I meant, what method, the shoot-shoot-look or shoot-look-shoot doctrine be used depending on the circunstance?, the first one is you fire radar missile 1, get close and fire radar missile 2 against the same target in short succession (as was done by F-4 crews on Nam), method 2 is you fire, assess the launch and then re-fire at other target or same target if it evades the first missile. Did the manuals/doctrine specifies anything about post-launch maneuvers?, like off-setting the interception with a beam maneuver lowering the relative Vc between the fighters and cranking the enemy intercept solution for avoiding their Rmax shots?. Which role did the wingman have during BVR fires?, would he be assigned to attack a second target (in a 2 vs 2 engangement) or would he support the leader with his radar "on" on scan mode for gaining SA?.>

The recommendation for firing the BVR missiles is: the first one at 0.9 Dmax, the second one – at 0.6-0.7 Dmax, then break off. So, it is much more shoot-shoot-look until impact (for SARH missiles) and shoot-shoot-break for IR missiles. Post-launch maneuver for SARH – while still illuminating the target, perform a 3-g turn with a slight descent and sharp speed reduction (still keeping the target within radar’s gimbal limits). This maneuver is designed to overtake the bogey in missile impact, even in the event of a slight delay in the launch. After 10-15 seconds, start accelerating again, as speed will be necessary for the possible WVR combat.
After the IR-missile launch, the recommended maneuver is a high-g roll.
What wingman will do – it is not written there, most likely target distribution will be made by GCI, or the formation leader.
 

crossiathh

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MiG-23BN losses related to flat spin

While this is probably not the right thread I would to like to learn more about losses of the MiG-23BN related to flat spin (not about combat impacts)? Would like to find out whether they are comparably higher to losses of fighter derivates.

@AHMAD RUSHDI
Are there especially experiences from the Iraq as a heavy MiG-23BN user?
 

crossiathh

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MiG-23BN losses related to flat spin

Coming back to the afore asked question:
Most VG (variable geometry) aircrafts are using very large tailerons instead of separate ailerons and elevators, albeit combinations of aileron and taileron are common with non-VG aircrafts (e.g. F-15). During manoeuvres with increasing AoA and combined rolling adversed yaw could occur, sometimes leading to (often unrecoverable) flat spin. The adverse yaw is generated by the differentially moving tailerons, because of the different AoA on the rudders either side inducing a side momentum. A common solution to solve this problem is an introduction of an interconnect between (t)aileron and rudder - called ARI (Aileron-Rudder-Interconnect) - automatically deflecting the rudder against the yaw.

The F-14 for example experienced a lot of problems with flat spin (between 1973 and 1991 31 aircrafts were lost because of spin, about one third of all losses). After a great deal of research an ARI was introduced (like the F-15 was already using it this time), which brought major improvements. Unfortunately the ARI was later deactivated in service with the F-14A, because of interferences with leading edge manoeuvre slats. Finally with the introduction of the DFCS of the F-14D the problems were solved.

The MiG-23 was facing similar problems with its fighter and fighter-bomber variants.
The first victim to this was Vitaly Zhukov fatally crashing with a MiG-23S during a mock air combat in September 1970. Boris Orlov, OKB MiG test pilot, experienced this problem in November 1972 ejecting luckily and Stephan Mikoyan, test pilot at the LII, had this problem with a MiG-23B recovering the aircraft in time.
It was not before 1974 that an ARI was introduced, after some other accidents happened. Different to the F-15 it was a non-mechanical linkage implemented as an addition to the SAU-23 autopilot system. This module - called BPS-23 (Блок Перекрестных Связи)- was implemented with the SAU-23A 2. series of the MiG-23M(?)/MF, with the SAU-23AM of the MiG-23ML and with the SAU-23UB1 2. series of the MiG-23UB.
Most interestingly the SAU-23B1 of the MiG-23BN was not provided with an ARI, probably not found necessary as it was designed for different kind of sorties compared to the fighter variants.
One could find it interesting that the MiG-23BN pilots of the former LSK/LV experienced problems with aerobatics losing at least 2 MiG-23BN because of flat spin; different to its colleagues flying the MiG-23MF/ML. The MiG-23BN “disliked” rolling at higher AoA (e.g. during a barrel roll) and was found not appropriate to do aerobatics by the pilots.
Could somebody provide experiences with the Mig-23BN from other air forces?
 

AHMAD RUSHDI

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It seems that it is the same story all over again. I will begin with answering crossiath's question. Iraq had two Mig-23BN squadrons; the 29th and 49th, the pilots were not interested in performing any aerobatics, so to my knowledge their losses due to flat spin was limited. However this is not the whole story.
The story with the Iraqi AF problems with the Mig-23 started with the introduction of the Mig-23MS into the Iraqi AF 39 squadron in the mid seventies. This squadron was considered to be equipped with the best aircraft then, so the best pilots were picked to that squadron from the Mig-21 pilot community. Here the problems started. The group of Captains and 1st Lieutenants had more than 1500 hours on the Mig-21. That aircraft was something you are free to do anything with. One Iraqi Mig-21 performed a 12G maneuver! The pilot can make any AoA he wishes; if the aircrafts falls into a spin; then a rudder kick would retrieve it and so on. The problem with the Mig-23 was there were so many limitations due to the VG wing. When you are a senior pilot it would be very hard to readjust. Accidents started building up. One of the famous type of accidents was the flat spin that occurred during simulated dogfights. To limit the high AoA; the soviets have put a small piece of leather on the pilot's stick this was connected with the aircraft's systems. This small piece of leather would start hitting the pilot's hands when he goes into a dangerous AoA without noticing it. The pilot would then have to relax his grip on the stick and this would prevent the aircraft falling into a spin. 2-3 Mig-23MS were lost this way in the late seventies. After that, I heard that the soviets introduced some more realistic solution to the problem.
 

crossiathh

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Hello Ahmad,

thanks for the reply. I agree that it is not the Mig-23BN's purpose doing aerobatics.

AHMAD RUSHDI said:
It seems that it is the same story all over again.
What do you mean by that?

AHMAD RUSHDI said:
The story with the Iraqi AF problems with the Mig-23 started with the introduction of the Mig-23MS into the Iraqi AF 39 squadron in the mid seventies.
Is it possible for you to find out which autopilot version was definitely used with the MiG-23MS? I would expect either the SAU-23A or SAU-23A 2. Series. The difference is quite important.
 

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MiG-23MLD - some BVR Considerations and Recomendations

MiG-23MLD’s pros and cons – the Soviet view of the 1980s
It would be interesting for the Western public to examine and analyse in details the content of a Soviet Air Force supplementary air combat manual. This particular 32-page manual was published not long after the Bekaa Valley clashes.


The manual concludes that the MiG-23MLD(Export) equipped with the Sapfir-23MLAE-2 radar, SPO-15LE RWR, chaff/flare dispensers and last but not least the R-24/R-60MK AAM combination could be considered reasonably capable of holding its own against all types of enemy fighters. However, the edge over the F-15A – the most capable archrival - could be gained only through multiple simultaneous ‘slash-and-dash’ attacks from several directions and from long ranges. These attacks are required to be organised and executed in decisive manner; with a high degree of coordination between the groups when the engagement goes to the WVR phase, and with timely exit from combat.
The docuemnt contains a host of recommendations to the MiG-23MLD pilot and it has apparently been compiled on the basis of the Bekaa Valley clashes analysis of and numerous mock-up combats flown in the VVS-FA training centers in Lipetsk and Mary. Some if not most, of these recommendations may sound more as general rules rather than as specialised air combat instructions for the MiG-23 drivers. However, it would be appropriately to remind that most of those ‘general-and-vital’ rules were obviously disregarded by the Syrian pilots during the June 1982 war, turning out them to suffer the fate of turkey shoots over the Bekaa Valley.
Probably the most important rule, contained into the recommendation chapter of the manual dealing with the BVR combat, is that on the importance of the first attack as it sounds as follows: “In order to achieve surprise in shooting, the MiG-23MLD pilots should spend all of their experience and aggressiveness of into the first attack.” Undoubtedly, this is considered as critical factor since surprise has been proved to be nine-tents of air combat success, both offensive and defensive. Other critical elements in the success of a fighter sweep or CAP operation are the command, control and communications (C3) of the own fighter force. The ability of fighter pilots to find, identify and engage high-value hostile targets in BVR environment avoiding potential threats from a position of advantage, rest in great measure on relative C3 capabilities. According to the then Soviet air superiority doctrine the air superiority operations require well-honed functioning GCI assistance substituting the lack of AWACS assets; therefore the GCI officers had to maintain maximum possible situation awareness, i.e. where air superiority has to be achieved, where and when enemy aircraft would come and from which direction, etc. The Soviets mastered to perfection this highly-redundant – but far from perfect and rather inflexible - concept that turned out to be useful for the Central European theatre with dense ground radar coverage and numerous GCI centers, with some 200-250 radars of various types were believed to be used in a full scale war situation in Central Europe. However, it was not the same sitation being provided for the Third World MiG-23 operators, as the the somewhat inflexible and custom-tailored Soviet GCI concept, hardly provided the most effective command-and-control solution for them (they simply lacked the required infrastructure and training).
The MiG-23MLD’s radar is said to be capable of detecting fighter-size targets from long distances but it makes the own fighter easily detectable due to the strong emissions which can trigger every and each enemy RWR at a distance of excess of 65nm (120km). In addition, the radar is known as susceptible to active jamming, thus, when flying over own territory with sufficient ground radar coverage, the radar should be switched off and activated only on GCI order. In such cases, the IRST should be the preferred sensor. In order to expand the search zone in a high-threat environment, the Flogger pilot is required to fly a zig-zag pattern with his main attention centered onto the visual search bellow the bottom boundary of the own ground radar coverage (usually bellow 1,000ft [300m] in Central Europe in the 1980s). The purpose of weaving is primarily to allow the pilot to cover his rear quarter more easily (in could be useful to note that most of the MiG-23 kills during the Bekaa Valley were caused by undetected rear-quarter attacks by IDF/AF F-16s using the AIM-9L or F-15As with the Python 3). It is well known that the MiG-23 pilot has ample problems with the rearward and downward field of view as the fighter is designed with a low-drag canopy, faired into the fuselage though the canopy-mounted rear-view mirrors expand to some degree the rearward field of view. Therefore, the MiG-23 pilots would be expected to encounter huge difficulties in keeping a view on a turning bogey or during visual search bellow his aircraft (this is possible only through banking, but the workload on the pilot is excessively high). On the other hand, it has to be noted that the MiG-23MLD is a quick in acceleration thanks to the low-drag airframe and the aerodynamic qualities of the fully-swept wings, and its high speed could increase difficulty encountered by an unseen attacker in satisfying his aiming requirements in the reduced intercept time; this can be used as another defensive factor when flying in enemy or disputed airspace.
During the BVR air combat, the manual recommends strongly that attacks should not be initiated without offensive advantage and the prospect of getting off the first shoot. The general rule: ‘Who shoots first – kills first, in the worst case dictates the engagement’ should be regarded as of particular importance for the MiG-23 community. If the MiG-23 was dictating the engagement, the aircraft could employ to the full extent its advantages as a high-speed ‘chaos’ fighter using ‘slash-and-dash’ attack - a preferable and often the only available method for the MiG-23 community when engaged vs F-16s and F-15s. It is of note that the high-speed energy fighters like the MiG-23 have the option of engaging or disengaging at will, even in the 1980s and 1990s all-aspect BVR and WVR missile environment.
Another possibility is, in favourable tactical situations, groups of well-flown and well-GCI-directed Floggers to ‘gang-up’ of the better turning bogey such as the F-15 or F-16 using multiple aircraft tactics, with ‘snap-up’ attacks. For a reliable radar-ID (also known as Electronic ID or EID) of the detected bandits, several interrogations should be made – as more ID attempts, as little the risk of fratricide. If unknown type of bandit aircraft are encountered, it should be assumed that these may be F-15s – the most capable and hence the most dangerous enemy fighter. The manual stresses that it is prohibited for the MiG-23MLD to close head-on toward any bandit aircraft of unknown type because it is likelihood these to be F-15s possessing better radar performance and longer-range BVR missiles.
It would be also useful to note that an important recommendation to the GCI officers contained in the manual is that during fighter sweep operations it is strictly prohibited for them to vector the MiG-23s in head-on attacks against non-identified bandits because, as noted above, these are likely to be the dangerous F-15s. Nevertheless, if such a situation is unavoidable, then the anti-F-15 tactics, recommended to the MiG-23 pilots and GCI officers is as follows: if the distance to the bandits exceeds 12nm (20km) the MiGs should immediately perform a sharp turn out of the target and got away descending and pulling high-g; the direction of defense break turn depends on the aspect of the threat and usually should be in the closest direction to achieve beam aspect and then to maneuver in order to revert into side-on or tail-on missile attack. If the target is detected side on, than the MiG-23MLD pilots should use chaff and sharp turns in order to evade the Sparrow missiles and them to revert into attack.
Can you post the manual, or maybe where I can find it?
 

Dynoman

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The Russian version of the manual is at:

An English translated version is available for purchase at:
 
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Ronny

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The Russian version of the manual is at:

An English translated version is available for purchase at:
Those are Mig-23ML and Mig-23UB manual
I just wondering if anyone have the Mig-23MLD manual: "Aide-Memoire for the MiG-23MLD Pilot on Air Combat vs F-15A, F-I6A, F-4E and Kfir C.2"
 
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