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Intercepts and Air Combat - MiG-29


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Dec 29, 2005
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Following Airsande's good idea.

This is an extract (long) from A. Zuyev's book "Fulcrum A Top Gun Pilot's Escape from the Soviet Empire" from page 13 to 34. While this book contains some political content I don't want to discuss, the level of detail, and the anecdotes the pilot, a defector Pilot First Class and Captain on one of the most capable Regiments of the Soviet Frontal Aviation Fighter Forces are trully interesting.

While some of the opinions seems "weirds" they have to be taken on context, there are some errors that could be atributed to mis-translation, bad memory and some weird contents that I don't know how to explain. Whatever is an extraordinary piece of history about how they trained to fight back then on 1989...

I will post more on the topic (MiG-29 Intercetps and Air Combat Training) but more focused on the general sense later...


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Dec 29, 2005
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Mikha Tskhakaya "Ruslan' Air Base
February 13, 1989

It was a perfect afternoon to fly. The Georgian winter sunshine poured through the canopy, wanning the cockpit as I taxied the MiG-29 slowly down the ramp from the 1st Squadron apron to the end of Runway 09. The sky above was a deep, aching blue: ceiling and visibility unlimited. In my curved center mirror, I saw my wingman, Captain Nikolai Starikov, trundling along behind. As always, Nikolai maintained the correct interval between the two fighters.
Steering with the nosewheel control button on my number two throttle, I quickly scanned my engine instruments. Oil pressure and RPM were identical for bom of me big Leningrad Klimov RD-33 turbofans rumbling behind me. Their tail pipe temperatures were normal.

I slid the throttles back to idle and braked to a stop at the maintenance checkpoint. While the enlisted mechanic on the ramp checked for leaks and verified that my control surfaces were unblocked, I completed my preflight cockpit check. The canopy was closed and locked. The navigation systems display in the lower left instrument panel was properly aligned and the heading matched the small standby magnetic compass mounted between my center and right cockpit mirrors. I made sure there were no red lights on the caution and warning panel. The fuel gauge read 7,056 pounds, the proper amount for an air-combat training sortie. Now I pulled the lever at my left hip to tighten the harness of the ejection seat.
Below the canopy the young conscript mechanic stared up, then saluted, the signal that he had completed his checks. This was my third and last scheduled training sortie of the day, and, as always, the airplane was behaving well.
That was good. I certainly did not want a maintenance scrub. Although none of my friends back in the ready room or the regimental officers observing the takeoffs and landings from the control tower could possibly have guessed, I had secretly planned that this training sortie would be my last flight as a Soviet Air Force pilot.

I was glad a dogfight scenario was scheduled. Once Nikolai and I took off and headed west for the air-combat zone over the Black Sea, our flight would be immediately followed by the two MiG-29s flown by our opponents, a pair of regimental staff officers. The opponent lead was Lieutenant Colonel Dmitri Shatravka, the newly appointed deputy regimental commander for operations. His wingman was Major Valera Chayka, the regimental intelligence officer. In theory they were more experienced fighter pilots than Nikolai and me. But we had chalked up much more air-combat training in the MiG-29 than either of these two staff officers, and I planned to kick them both squarely in the ass on this flight. An indisputable dogfight victory over senior officers would be a fitting end to my Air Force flying career.

I advanced the throttles and steered carefully down the center of the ramp, keeping well clear of the soft grassy margins. Ruslan had been built after the Great Patriotic War on spongy, reclaimed swampland, and was ringed by reedy drainage canals. The long, single east-west runway was made of huge precast-concrete blocks laid side by side with tar-line joints. In effect, the blocks floated on a wet layer of crushed stone and gravel. Rumor had it that there were at least two sunken runway layers beneath this one. And in wet weather when planes exited the eastern end of the runway, blocks would shift and swamp water would squish through die joint lines.

With my left hand I slid back the throttles io idle and simultaneously squeezed the beavertail brake handle on the forward edge of the control stick with my right hand. The aircraft slowed at the end of the ramp. Working the nose-wheel button, I allowed the residual momentum to swing the plane left onto the runway. The MiG-29 taxied as smoothly as it flew. It was a true pilot's airplane, and I was going to miss it. I stopped exactly midway between the white stripes marking the two-plane takeoff lane on the left side of Runway 09. In my right cockpit mirror, I saw Nikolai turn into the correct takeoff position behind me. His nose was forty-five feet right and seventy-five feet behind my right wingtip, close enough to follow my visual signals, but clear of my turbulent engine exhaust and wing vortices.

Here at Ruslan we kept radio communications to a minimum between planes in a formation and between aircraft and ground controllers. There were American electronic ferret satellites overhead constantly, sweeping the air for our radio transmissions. And this near the frontier with Turkey, the problem was even more acute. That mountain frontier only fifty miles to the south bristled with NATO electronic eavesdropping posts.

After the MiG-29 from the 2nd Squadron that had just landed cleared the runway, I swung my head in a wide arc, double-checking that the runway and landing approach were free of other aircraft. The takeoff light at the side of the runway flashed from red to green. The tower had cleared my flight for immediate departure. I knew everyone in the tower was watching us closely. Nikolai and I were in the 176th Frontal Aviation Regiment's "Dogfight Masters" 1st Squadron. People expected to see a perfectly coordinated takeoff when we flew. And I certainly did not want to disappoint them today.

My left index finger went to the cockpit console beneath the throttles to set the flap burton in the correct takeoff position. I waggled the control stick to move the horizontal stabilizers to get Nikolai's attention. Then I pulled the stick back which tilted the leading edge down, the signal to Nikolai to advance throttles to 100 percent: full military power. I slid my own throttles open and waited the mandatory ten seconds for the whining turbofans to stabilize with equal RPM. Then I saw movement in my right cockpit mirror. Nikolai's plane was beginning to slide forward, even though he had not released his brakes. 1 realized one of his wheels must have been on a slippery tar line between the concrete runway slabs, and the brakes could not hold. There was no way he could back up now, and we risked a sloppy, unprofessional takeoff.

This would not do on my last flight, not with all those people watching in the control tower. As I centered the stick to the neutral position, my right fingers popped the brakes, and I clamped my left hand on the spring-loaded throttle release and jammed the two throttle knobs full forward to afterburner. I was thrust back hard in my seat by an invisible piston of acceleration. Cones of flame now pulsed from the twin tail pipes, producing over 36,600 pounds of thrust. With my fuel load today, the aircraft had a positive thrust-to-weight ratio. The rear of my helmet sagged into the hard padding at the top of the ejection seat.

The triple row of broken, white runway lane stripes flew by in a blur. By going to afterburner, I had kept ahead of Nikolai. In my mirror his plane was pegged in the correct position behind me on the runway. My helmet thrust harder into the seat cushion, and I felt myself grinning inside my oxygen mask. By a lucky quirk, this last takeoff was going to be on afterburner, one of the most powerful experiences a fighter pilot enjoyed. As always on afterburner takeoffs, rock music seemed to echo in my head. Today it was the crashing rhythms of the Rolling Stones.
My airspeed hit 100 knots and I pulled the stick back gently to rotate the nose. One second later we were at 135 knots, and the main gear lifted clear of the runway. This was a critical moment on an afterburner takeoff. The hinged, perforated screens protecting the engine air inlets had been in the down, closed position. During taxi and takeoff, engine air was fed through inlets on the leading-edge wing extensions below the cockpit. These louvered ducts in the gray tapered skin of the fighter always reminded me of the gills behind the streamlined head of a deep-ocean shark. At rotation speed the engine airflow was transferred from these

upper inlets back to the main lower intakes as the protective screens automatically retracted. The sudden aerodynamic shift always caused a nose-down swing, which I had to parry with the trim button on the stick.
I retracted gear and pitched the nose up sharply to a fifty-degree climb. As the altitude and airspeed increased, I raised the flaps and glanced back in the mirror to find Nikolai's aircraft. He had rifted off in perfect position behind me. I could see his left hand raised thumbs-up to show his appreciation at my quick response in going to afterburner.
Still on the burners, I banked left and leveled off at precisely 13,500 feet and a heading of 270 degrees, due west toward our training zone, thirty miles away over the Black Sea. Now I throttled back and trimmed for an airspeed of 350 knots. Although this altitude was reserved for westbound traffic, it was always smart to keep your eyes open around a military airfield. The MiG-29's cockpit, perched high and well forward on the nose, provided great visibility. And today the view was spectacular.

The layout of the Ruslan Air Base below was typical of Soviet fighter regiments. Hangar and maintenance facilities and the pilots' ready room were strung out along the parking apron that ran on an oblique angle to the runway. I could see the regiment's aircraft parked in pairs along that apron. Regimental headquarters was near the far eastern end of the runway, a good twenty-minute walk from the squadron areas. There were two control towers near the western end of the runway, one to handle air traffic, the other for the engineering and maintenance section.

The duty-alert building, which had its own small dormitory and dining room, stood close to the air traffic control tower. There were four fully fueled and armed duty-alert aircraft parked separately just inside the taxi ramp. Normally the alert planes were parked on their own apron right beside the duty-alert building. But that apron had been ripped up for repaving, a repair that could take months, using lazy, inefficient Stroybat construction troops.

In principle, the alert section could be airborne within five minutes of an order to scramble, in half mat time if the pilots had been pre-alerted and were ready in the cockpit waiting to start engines.
The explosive ordnance and missile maintenance shops were also near that end of the runway. Both the PPR missile shop and the RTB nuclear weapons storage and assembly sites stood within their own guarded compounds. The RTB facility was surrounded by a high wall capped with barbed wire and guarded by a separate contingent of troops who reported directly to the Strategic Forces Command in Moscow.

I gazed down at the familiar scene I would probably never see again. The base arrangement was designed to efficiently facilitate flight operations. Given this widely dispersed layout, however, nonflight operations—the mundane bureaucratic housekeeping chores of military life—were often inconvenient- From this altitude I could still make out the clunking old bus on its infrequent circuit of the base. It was turning onto the main road to the officers' housing complex a mile and a half away. Usually the rickety bus was out of service because of a lack of spare parts or the terrible maintenance habits of the conscript soldiers responsible for it.

Division regulations prevented officers with their own cars from driving on the base because some might steal fuel. Fat chance. No one wanted the base gas. One of our staff officers was a true Socialist "entrepreneur." He stole so much gasoline and watered it down with TS-1 jet fuel kerosene that the stuff couldn't be safely used in a car. So we often had to ride bicycles or waste time walking when we were summoned from the ready room to regimental headquarters or took our turn in the simulators.

The base slid past below. Closer, the city of Mikha Tskhakaya was a jumble of orange tile roofs surrounded by citrus groves. To the north, the towering wall of the Great Caucasus range stood, icy white and silent, marking the boundary between the Republic of Georgia and the Russian Federation. The Caucasus were splendid mountains, higher and more rugged than the Alps of Europe or Norm America's Rockies. Some Swiss fellows I'd met skiing up there told me the Caucasus had more spectacular and dangerous runs than the Alps. I could believe that.

I shifted in my seat to stare south over the left wing. The Maliy Kavkaz mountains of the Turkish frontier were only half as tall as the Caucasus, but their summits were still crusted with winter snow. Below, the wide Rioni River glinted in the sun, meandering through the green coastal marshland toward the Black Sea ahead.

Enough nostalgic sight-seeing. It was time to verify that my cockpit was ready for a simulated dogfight with Lieutenant Colonel Shatravka. The training scenario called for us to use all three of our air-combat weapons systems: the long-range R-27 Alamo radar-controlled missile, the shorter range R-73 Archer infrared-homing missile, and the inboard GSh-301 30mm cannon mounted in the left fuselage below the cockpit. These weapons would rely on all three of the MiG-29's modern sensor systems: the pulse-Doppler radar, the infrared search and track system (IRST), and the laser ranger finder. On training sorties the radar missiles were simulated by a small electronic pod mounted on the inboard pylon of my left wing. The sensor head simulating the infrared seeker of the Archer missile was in the inner pylon beside it.

We always flew with a full load of 30mm cannon ammunition—150 shells—even on training flights. So it was important that the master arm switch on the weapons sensor control panel remain in the off position. Once, a zampolit political officer had become confused on a bomber-intercept sortie and had turned on the master switch, thinking he needed that circuit to activate his gun camera. Apparently he had been too busy studying Marx and Lenin to read his aircraft manuals and hadn't realized the cannon was loaded, even on training flights. The cannon had chattered off fifty rounds before the zampolit realized his mistake. Luckily, like most of his kind, the political officer was a shitty pilot. So he hadn't shot down the Tu-16 bomber.
I checked out my aircraft for mock combat in the recommended manner, working from left to right, starting with the missile-select button on the number two throttle, then moving to the systems on the left, lower left cockpit console.
The MiG-29 was a "fourth generation" fighter that could engage or evade the best NATO aircraft at extreme or short ranges, throughout a wide flight envelope. Its powerful and complex weapons were linked to equally sophisticated sensors. Now I had to verify that I had chosen the correct weapons systems, and that the sensors, both the radar and the infrared search and track system, were ready for combat.

As the IRST would probably be used second, in the close-combat phase of the engagement, I began with the long-range radar missile control. The armament control panel was at the forward head of the left cockpit console. I flipped the lock-on switch to "friend," which meant the radar could track and lock onto another Soviet aircraft, hopefully in this case, either Lieutenant Colonel Shatravka's or Major Chayka's MiG-29. If I had left the switch in the "enemy" position, the radar would have recognized their coded SRZO aircraft identification signals and not operated during the mock dogfight. I now verified that the munitions fusing system was set in the vozdukh "air" position, before moving on to the radar modes panel on the left forward instrument board.

In air combat today, combined aircraft closing speeds can total Mach 4 and the engagement can slash through 45,000 feet of vertical airspace in less than a minute. So human senses and reflexes can be inadequate to detect and defeat the enemy. Modern air-combat tactics, both Soviet and Western, call for a fighter pilot to destroy the enemy at extreme distances—"beyond visual range"—before that enemy's stand-off missiles could be launched on friendly targets. A powerful and versatile radar is absolutely essential. And the MiG-29's improved NO-193 pulse-Doppler radar was a versatile and sensitive sensor and tracking system. But there was a lot of controversy about this radar in the Soviet Air Force. In intelligence briefings, I had learned that the radar was code-named "Slot Back" by NATO, which believed Soviet spies had stolen the basic technology from America's Hughes Corporation. As they did about so much else in the modern arsenal of the Soviet Union, the Americans apparently chose to believe we had just slavishly copied their innovations. This was only partly true. Soviet scientists usually let their Western counterparts invest years and billions of dollars in basic research, which the Americans then dutifully published in their open aviation magazines. What detail was not available in the press, the Soviets tnen obtained through spies. Only then did Soviet designers set to work to modify and improve on the basic Western technology.
But the NO-193 radar was an interesting variation on this theme. The Soviet design bureau did, indeed, benefit from espionage. But after the equipment was perfected, the KGB discovered that a Soviet electronics expert who helped design this radar was actually working for Western intelligence. Not only had he fed our design details to the West, he had actually sabotaged the initial capabilities of this important system. The original NO-193 was very sensitive and could detect fast-moving targets at extreme range, but the set's computer was incapable of holding the lock-on needed for missile launch. When we first tested this radar during the combat evaluation of the MiG-29 in 1985, my colleagues and I had been deeply disappointed in the capabilities of the "advanced" look-down, shoot-down pulse-Doppler radar.


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A year later, after this Soviet traitor had been caught and executed, electronics technicians descended on our base to quietly install modifications to the radar, which allowed it to retain lock-on much more efficiently. Our Intelligence Directorate hoped that their NATO counterparts still believed the MiG-29's radar was crippled by the sabotage of the Western mole.

I now quickly configured the radar modes panel. I planned to attack my opponents from below, so I turned the Delta-H switch to the number two position, which would set the antenna scan for anticipated targets about 6,000 feet above my flight level. Then I turned the radar modes switch to auto and the hemisphere switch to forward hemisphere. The radar's computer would automatically take over the search and tracking of up to ten targets. This computer measured their relative speeds and ranges by Doppler effect, analyzdisplay (HUD) above my main instrument panel. On a modern fighter the HUD was the pilot's closest friend, the simplified window into the dense network of sensors and computers jammed into the nose of his aircraft. I left the radar in the nakal standby position, wanned up and ready, but not actively scanning the airspace ahead, so as not to be detected on an opponent's radar-warning receiver.

The coast was coming up fast, and I would soon have to contact Brigadier, the Ground Control Intercept center in the bunker beside the regimental headquarters back at Ruslan. A battle-control officer at the Brigadier GCI center would be working with Nikolai and me today, feeding us data on the "enemy" formation we would engage. Lieutenant Colonel Shatravka's flight would be directed by another controller sitting at a radar console in the same room as mine, but using a different radio channel. Today I had Senior Lieutenant Vitaly Shevchenko as my battle-control officer. I could picture those fellows down in "the pit," craning forward in their chairs, glued to their radar screens. These engagements were not simply fought in the cockpits, the battle-control officers always reminded us. They got just as excited as we did.
At the upper right-hand corner of the main instrument panel, I deliberately pointed my ringer to verify that the master arm switch was definitely off. But I did switch the weapons control system modes switch to radar, thus completing the linkage of the entire Alamo missile circuit.

Another setting for that switch was shlem, "helmet," which I would not be using today, but Shatravka would. This was the helmet-mounted sight (HMS), a Soviet innovation that used a pair of infrared sensors mounted on the pilot's helmet to track and lock onto targets for the Archer missile. You could achieve this lock-on simply by turning your head, not the entire aircraft. Intelligence officers had briefed us that the Americans had either been unable to perfect such a system or considered it superfluous. This was nonsense. There were many occasions in a close-in dogfight where the IRST sensor mounted in the clear Plexiglas dome forward of the canopy lost lock-on while the pilot could still see his target above or below. The helmet-mounteded their closing angles, and presented the target in threat-priority order on the clear rectangular Plexiglas sight gave the Soviet pilot an extra set of sensors that could save his life one day. And the HMS was easy to use because the weapons computer linked the helmet sensor data directly to the swiveling IR seekers in the Archer missile nose.

In a close-in dogfight we had learned to fly with the missile trigger on the control stick depressed. If either the HMS or main IRST sensor in the nose dome locked on a fast-closing target, the computer would automatically fire the missile. These computer-aided sensors were much faster man human reactions. So there was no danger of missing a shot on an enemy slashing past your nose at supersonic speed because your reactions were too slow to pull the trigger. The beauty of the helmet sight was that you could kill the enemy, even if you did not have time to swing the nose of your plane to bear on him. The system was a quantum improvement over the traditional IRST sights I had trained with on the old MiG-23.

Having prepared the radar-homing and infrared missiles, it was time to set up the gun. After adjusting the cannon rate-of-fire control and gunsight for the thhty-five-foot wing-span of the opponents' MiG-29, I squeezed the gun trigger to verify the system on the HUD. A funnel-shaped column of broken white lines appeared, wide end highest, with the small "11" symbol above it. The afternoon sun glare was bad, bleaching out the data on the clear panel of the HUD, so I pulled up the thick, smoked-glass sunshield plate to shade it. Now the electronic compass rose, indicating 27, due west, and the altitude and airspeed data showed in crisp computer-white digits. I was exactly at 13,500 feet and my airspeed was pegged on 350 knots. The large "27" in the lower right center of the HUD indicated I had two armed Alamo radar-homing missiles.

My final stop on the instrument panel was in the right corner, the SPO-15 radar-warning receiver. When I activated the receiver's control panel on the right front cockpit console, the rings of green, yellow, and red threat lights surrounding the stylized aircraft symbol on the display flashed like the lights on a New Year's tree and the beeping warning tone sounded in the cockpit. The SPO-15 was nowhead-up active. Any opponent's radar, or missile-guidance radar on the ground, sweeping my aircraft would appear on the display and a warning beep would sound in my earphones. The instrument was quite sensitive and would give me the bearing, relative power, and type of radar that was scanning me. If more than one enemy radar was active, the receiver would display the most dangerous threat by priority.

I had completed my cockpit air-combat setup just as we crossed the marshy coastline. I was now thirty miles from Ruslan and switched radio channels from 7 to 6.

"Brigadier," I called my GCI controller. "Three five zero with 351 on channel 6."
My call sign for this three-month period was 350, and Nikolai's was 351. Actually our official five-digit call sign was prefixed with 48, but few Soviet military pilots used all five numbers.

"Ponyal," Vitaly's crisp professional voice replied. "Roger, 350, altitude 13,500 feet."

Now we popped up to 15,000 feet to intersect the oval air-combat range fifteen miles offshore. I banked left and headed south toward the far end of the circuit where Nikolai and I would hold orbit in the combat air patrol (CAP) sector just north of the Turkish frontier buffer zone. At this speed we covered the twenty miles in less than two minutes. Just as my distance measuring equipment and radio compass indicated I was in the CAP zone, Vitaly's voice sounded again in my headset.

"Three five zero, you are in the holding zone." "Ponyal."

I was never much of a talker on the tactical radio net. Some fellows, especially zampolits, were real chatterboxes. They were so nervous in the cockpit and so uncertain about controlling these powerful airplanes that they called out every bank and turn, every new heading and altitude change, as if they were air-control cadets in a classroom simulator, not Soviet combat pilots. The radio range of the electromagnetic spectrum might be invisible to human eyes, but certainly wasn't to modern electronic scanners. Overly talkative pilots tended to forget that NATO ferret satellites and even the American AWACS radar planes could track you by your voice transmission. This might have been my last fight, but I still intended to maintain my own high professional standards.

I turned again onto a westward heading and checked my mirrors to make sure Nikolai was tucked up nice and close. There he was, in perfect position, less than 150 feet from my right wingtip. We both had on our navigation strobe lights at 100 percent power. This was a little trick we used to distinguish our flight from the "enemy" on a training sortie. One of the weakest points in Soviet training was that we did not often fly against different types of aircraft representing Western fighters, as did our American counterparts.
For a moment I stared at his plane, absorbing the rakish beauty of the powerful fighter. They say that function dictates form in both natural and human design. And just as Nature had evolved the predatory shark with smooth, hydro-dynamic curves, the designers at the Mikoyan-Guryevich OKB had produced an aerial predator with a long, sharp nose, knife-edge wings, and the powerfully tapered fins of its vertical and horizontal tail surfaces. I loved this airplane and it would be hard to leave it behind and find another life.


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But my decision to leave the Air Force was final. As much as I loved flying, I could no longer serve the Soviet government and the system where everything was based on lies, deceit, and personal and institutional corruption.
"Three five zero," Vitaly called.

He wanted an indication of the tactics I planned for the air-combat engagement so the ground controllers could be certain there was no gross violation of safety standards. His request meant that Shatravka and his wingman had already crossed the coast and turned north for their own holding zone, about forty miles from ours. Hie safety regulations called for our flight to maneuver at odd-number altitudes— 3,000, 9,000, or 15,000 feet—while Shatravka's flight used tile even numbers.
"Plan Number Four."

I was about to begin my last dogfight as a Soviet fighter pilot.

On this leg of the holding orbit, I was flying parallel to the Turkish coast. The narrow band of green, backed by winter-brown foothills below snowy summit ridges, was the frontier of imperialist NATO, the sworn enemy of the Socialist Motherland. But to me, mose mountains represented freedom. This CAP zone was only twenty-five miles from the frontier. It would have been so easy to tell Nikolai to take the lead because I had "problems with my radar." Then, as he pulled ahead, I could have chopped my throttles, slid off on my left wing, and dove for the sea. Once below the GCI radar horizon, I could have applied full military power and dashed into Turkish airspace undetected. Certainly Vitaiy in the GCI bunker would not have been unduly alarmed. He knew my dogfight Plan Four called for me and my wingman to separate, with Nikolai staying high while I dropped below Vitaiy's rival battle-control officer's radar sweep.

I actually felt my left fist close on the throttle knobs and my right index finger slide onto the radio call button on the control stick. It would be so easy. For a moment I hung mere in the clear winter sunlight, balanced as if on a pivot. Then I recalled the NATO code name for the MiG-29, "Fulcrum," tochka opori. How appropriate. At this instant my life and this top-secret Soviet aircraft were indeed balanced on a fulcrum.

Then, from nowhere, I heard the words of the Military Oath of Loyalty I had taken as a brand-new cadet on Armavir's sunny Lenin Square eleven years before. After swearing to defend the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics with courage and discipline, "until my last breath," I had chanted the final phrase of the oath, my unwavering voice joining those of the three hundred young men around me.

"And if I should break mis solemn oath, then let me suffer the severe penalties of Soviet law and the universal hatred and contempt of the Soviet people."

As a kursatu of seventeen, those words had stirred a deep emotion. My loyalty to the Soviet State bad been unshakable.

I had firmly believed that the Soviet Union, led by its Communist Party, was the most progressive and humane nation in history. And if young men like me defended that State and its Party, the Soviet Union would lead the suffering peoples of the world to a new dawn of harmonious prosperity. I had loved my country and my people. And I bad been absolutely certain that nothing could ever make me betray them.

Now, as a First Class pilot captain in the Soviet Air Force, I was a different person. I now understood mat the Soviet State, manipulated by a tiny clique of corrupt Party criminals and their accomplices in the military and "Organs of State Security," maintained the cruelest and most repressive system in human history. But my loyalty to my people had not changed. The final phrase of the oath still bound me.

Suddenly my radar-warning receiver beeped and die forward right quadrant flashed with green and yellow. Shatravka's search radar had just swept us. from the band of intensity lights, I knew he was still at extreme search range, too far for a lock-on. But our two flights were closing fast. With Nikolai tucked up so close, we were presenting only a single target echo on both airborne and GCI radar. And I hated to relinquish this advantage too soon. But in a closing engagement with radar-homing missiles as the initial weapon, a pilot who stubbornly tried to retain a minor perceived advantage would not survive very long. The Alamo accelerated to Mach 5 and was damned hard to shake.
Suddenly Nikolai's voice sounded in my earphones. Nam nye. He's got me." Shatravka's radar now had a solid lock on
Nikolai's aircraft. It was time to split our flight.
"Nachalier I ordered Nikolai. "Let's go."

I chopped the throttles back to idle, pulled the stick hard left, and hit the air brakes. The fighter rolled onto its left wing and dropped toward the sea. As I fell, I looked quickly back over my right shoulder to see Nikolai banking hard right in a fast, high-G break at our original altitude of 15,000 feet.

By turning perpendicular to the threatening Doppler radar, Nikolai and I hoped to break Shatravka's lock-on before his computer authorized missile launch. Doppler radar depended on differential speed to generate a target. We had abolished that speed by turning hard right and left, perpendicular to the enemy radar. If Nikolai could keep this angle for twelve seconds, the logic memory of Shatravka's radar computer would be overpowered and the lock-on broken.
My own gambit was a variation of this tactic. As I dove west, I would be invisible to Shatravka's Doppler radar And I knew that the GCI radar used by his battle-control officer bad a seven-second scan sweep, and that two complete scans were required to register a solid target blip at this range. So, if I could be down below the GCI radar horizon within fourteen seconds and maintain my own perpendicular aspect to the enemy flight, they would have lost me. And when they picked up Nikolai again, they would naturally assume that blip represented both of us, still flying tucked-up tight. Air combat was not a gentleman's sport. You had to be deceptive to survive.

Ten seconds later I slid my throttles forward to eighty percent and pitched up to slow my rate of descent at the official minimum maneuver altitude of 1,800 feet. I sagged in my seat. The rubber bladders of my G-suit inflated, squeezing my belly and thighs to keep the blood from rushing away to my legs and causing gray-out. But today I planned to go much lower to avoid radar detection.


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I pushed the throttles to ninety percent and eased the nose over. In a moment I was down on the deck, only 600 feet above the softly rolling blue swell of the sea. Now I was invisible to both Vitaly and his rival controller's radars. And Shatravka was too preoccupied searching for Nikolai up at 15,000 feet to sweep for me down here. That was my game plan, which also included using the sun to mask my position. Because on these clear winter afternoons, anyone flying low to the west was difficult to see against the glinting surface of the water.
My airspeed had now hit five hundred knots and I swung onto a northeast heading of 050 degrees. After forty seconds I pushed the throttles to full military power and pitched back to a steep gorka climb. I turned my oxygen control to full pressure, 100 percent, pure oxygen. In me high-G dogfight I expected, I would need all me oxygen the system could deliver to prevent diminished vision. Again, my G-suit hissed as the bladders inflated hard against my midsection. fl0W I turned my radar modes switch from "standby" to "illuminate." My HUD lit up with a swarm of parallel white lines, electronic glowworms marching to the commands of my radar computer. These were target blips, most of them false returns. The radar quickly sorted through the clutter to reveal an authentic target block on a bearing of 010 degrees, ten miles ahead, at least 6,000 feet above

That was either Shatravka or his wingman, or both. I hoped they were still searching for Nikolai's bait.

The rectangular radar cursor jumped from one group of glowworms to another, and finally settled on a fast-moving blip crossing from left to right. I was climbing a bit too steeply for easy visual acquisition, so I had to strain forward against the Gs to peer around the HUD. There he was, a gray dart, sweeping straight and level to the south at 12,000 feet altitude. I saw no flashing navigation strobe and knew the target was not Nikolai.
On the inner throttle knob, I clicked the white button to activate the radar lock-on system. Once the radar computer calculated the target's course and speed, the data would be fed to the Alamo missile's radar-seeking nose sensor. The computer would interrogate the entire system for verification, and the friendly, synthesized female voice of "Rita" would sound in my earphones announcing,' 'Pusk razrayshon. Launch is approved."

When we had received our new aircraft, four years before, Rita's voice had been a scratchy monotone, hardly the sexy companion most pilots wanted. So we had asked Natasha, one of the maintenance dispatchers, to rerecord all the announcements of the female voice warning system. She had the sweet voice of a television star.

Now as I topped 9,000 feet, I heard Natasha's recorded voice announce, "Launch is approved."

I flipped over the missile trigger to arm it and squeezed off two simulated Alamos. I wasn't squandering weapons. If you launched only one of the big missiles, the unbalanced load on your wing pylons limited your dogfight maneuverability to a maximum angle of attack (AOA) of only fifteen degrees. I wanted a full twenty-four-degree AOA when l mixed it up at close range.

Now that I had acquired Shatravka visually, I switched to his radio channel as a safety precaution. I also intended to probe him psychologically. Even as my simulated missiles were electronically converging on Shatravka to "destroy" his aircraft, I unveiled my next deceptive gambit.

' "Rubege odin,'' I called, a message I knew both Shatravka and the opponent battle controller would also receive. "Radar lock-on."

I wanted them to think I was still at maximum lock-on range even though I had already launched.
Then, as my simulated missiles closed on Shatravka, l called, "Range Two" and "Range Three," as if I had just launched my missiles.

"Enemy on the right," I heard his controller warn. He banked into a diving roll toward me in a vain effort to break my lock-on. But it was too late. He was already dead. As I had hoped, Shatravka was blinded by the afternoon sun and unable to achieve "tallyho," visual contact.
Now I planned to kill him again, first with my infrared missiles and then with the gun.

I switched the sensor control knob from "radar" to "close combat infrared" and my HUD lit up with IRST target imagery. Shatravka was still banking into me, and I hoped that we were closing too fast for him to use his helmet-mounted sight. But my standard IRST sensor in the dome on my nose was tracking him. The two narrow vertical range lines of the IRST lock-on zone hung in the center of the HUD. My finger was poised on the missile trigger as I banked hard right into his approach. As soon as the gray blur of his aircraft entered the "ladder" of the lock-on zone, my headset buzzed with launch approval and I squeezed the trigger. A simulated Archer was on its way.

"Pusk," I called, announcing a lock-on launch of an Archer. Shatravka was "dead" again. Actually, had I fired a real missile, he might have survived, but his plane would have been destroyed. The R-73, which NATO called the Archer, was almost impossible to evade in these close, highly dynamic encounters. The heat seeking sensor head was linked to its own logic memory system that resisted IR A£COy flares. And because the missile employed a thrust vector system, it could turn inside any known fighter, no matter how skilled the pilot. An Archer literally followed its nose straight up the tail pipe of the enemy to explode inside bis engine. But the missile's warhead was relatively small. We called it our "humane" weapon; it killed the enemy's engine, but not the pilot, who would hopefully be able to eject even after a solid hit.
Shatravka was still closing, and I rolled harder with him to keep his aircraft locked on. The beauty of the new Archer was you could engage these rapidly converging targets head-on. I still had a good tone, and another simulated missile automatically launched.

"Pusk," I called again.

Shatravka slashed past me in a transonic blur. I retarded my throttles to idle and pulled back hard on the stick. Once more I was pressed into my seat, and I saw the G-indicator on my HUD increase from 6 to 7.5.1 was using this high-G energy to reduce speed and minimize my turning radius. Shatravka was out there somewhere below to my right, in his own high-G "arcing turn," trying to maneuver for missile lock-on.

I kept the stick full back against my left thigh, and the aircraft pitched up toward a low-energy turn with the nose reaching the maximum maneuverable angle of attack, twenty-four degrees. The stall limiter immediately engaged, knocking the stick forward in my hand and reducing my AOA. I had achieved my goal of bleeding off energy and reversing course well inside Shatravka's wider turn radius.

Just before a full stall, I jammed the throttles to afterburner and kept the stick in my lap. The Fulcrum accelerated, thrusting me against my ejection seat. I managed the best turn this Fulcrum had to offer and arrived at his six o'clock.
He had made the common mistake of relatively inexperienced MiG-29 pilots. By keeping his power settings too high, Shatravka flew wide-radius arcing turns, allowing me to get inside of him. I had been flying this powerful Fulcrum as long as any regimental line pilot in the Soviet Air Force. I had learned how to manage my energy and not to arc. It was not how fast you flew through the sky but where you placed your aircraft relative to your opponent in order to achieve a quick kill.
Shatravka now banked into a tight diving barrel roll and I rolled with him. It was time to kill him with the gun. The horizon spun crazily past my canopy, and I was aware of the altitude digits winding down on the upper right corner of my HUD while my airspeed increased dramatically on the opposite corner. But, like a hound, I had a taste of blood in my mouth. Reaching instinctively with my left hand, I flipped my weapons sensor zone switch to "narrow field of view" so that the IRST scanner would lock on quicker. The gunsight aiming circle wavered across Shatravka's aircraft, and I eased my nose up and right to move the fixed cross hairs on the HUD to overlap the circle and the opponent fighter. I had set the fire-rate switch to "burst," which meant twenty-five 30mm rounds would fire for each second my finger was on the trigger. The GSh-301 was a very accurate cannon. When the enemy was within that aiming circle, locked in the cross hairs, he was dead. This cannon simply did not miss.

I saw a bold "A" appear on the left margin of the HUD and knew my laser range finder was probing him with an invisible finger, feeding the firing solution into my weapons computer. At this close range I hoped that Shatravka did not look back over his shoulder and catch the laser full in the face. He was an arrogant bastard and a Communist true believer, but I certainly didn't want to blind him with my laser.

Still he rolled, and still I kept behind him. Almost, but not quite. Shatravka's gray fuselage slid into the aiming circle. The cross hairs straddled his cockpit and wings. I heard the steady tone of laser/IRST lock-on. Now.
I squeezed the gun trigger on the stick. "Ogon," I called. "Firing."

Just as I killed my opponent for the third time, I heard Nikolay i call, "Push." He had killed Major Chayka with a missile
Too late, Shatravka finally did something intelligent. He chopped power and dropped off in a leaf spiral toward the sea, hoping I would dive past him into his own IRST kill zone. If 1 hadn't been anticipating his maneuver, I would nave lost him. But I had already cut my own throttles and used the air brakes to stay behind him.
"Ogon," I called for good measure.

My flight was victorious. I heard Shatravka's gruff, sullen voice announce he was separating. The dogfight was over, and he and his wingman headed north to complete their own individual training maneuvers. Nikolai was scheduled for cannon runs on the Kulevi coastal poligon rectangular weapons range. He checked in with GCI and received an altitude and vector back to the coast.
I was alone over the Black Sea, still only minutes away from Turkey. But I shook my head, rejecting that final temptation. I knew the Ruslan GCI was watching me on radar, so I leveled off and proceeded with the remainder of my scheduled sortie maneuvers.
I completed one fast, tight climbing combat turn and rolled into a hard right bank on the second. As the G-indicator on my HUD blinked to 8, I dragged the throttles back and centered the stick, letting the airplane mush into level flight without completing the turn.
I breathed deeply and licked my dry lips. It was time to begin the deception.
"Brigadier... 350." I made my voice hoarse and hesitant, then groaned and spoke through clenched teeth, as if in severe pain. "Finished.. .finished mission. I have a sharp pain in the back."
I groaned again and let my breath hiss audibly in my mask.
Vitaly replied immediately. "Skto? Povtari. What? Repeat."
"Pain...in the back." Again I groaned, more softly now.
"Can you control the airplane?" Vitaly's voice was on the edge of panic.
"I can."
"You are cleared for a straight-in approach. Switch to tower frequency, channel 7."
I turned due east and aligned my radio compass needle on the Ruslan beacon. With the throttles set at eighty-five percent, I maintained an airspeed of 350 knots. I would be back in less than five minutes. As I crossed the coast, I opened my oxygen mask and jammed three fingers far back into my throat. I wanted to vomit to make the show even more convincing. But I could not. This was more than ironic. As a young cadet flying L-29 trainers, I had almost been grounded for airsickness and had to conceal my nausea by puking into a plastic bag and hiding it. Now when I needed a convincing display of vomit on my flight suit, I could not produce, even though I was gagging hard.

The city of Mikha Tskhakaya appeared in the green citrus groves and marshes ahead. I saw the long Ruslan runway. The straight-in approach was easy. And I decided not to overdo the deception by wobbling on final.
After I touched down and popped my tan, clover-shaped drag chute, the tower called, asking if I wanted to park on the emergency ramp.

"Negative," I replied. "I can taxi to the squadron apron."
As I turned left onto the taxi ramp, I saw. the flashing orange lights of the ambulance and the white jackets of the emergency medical crew. I also saw the faces of the squadron and regimental officers. They looked grave. Obviously Vitaly had announced I was in bad shape.

I let my shoulders sag in the ejection harness and tried to assume a suitable expression of pain and disorientation. My whole future now depended on my ability to convince the medical staff I had received a serious injury in this last, violent dogfight.

There is any option or way to allow longer messages to be posted? :-\


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Dec 29, 2005
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The BVR Combat tactic that Zuyev and his wingman used looks similar to what Robert L. Shaw talks on "Break away Tactics":

From Robert L Shaw Fighter "The Art and Science of Air to Air Combat":


With an inferior weapon system you cannot fight a superior one. You can
have surprise success but not success for a long time.

Lt. General Adolph Galland, Luftwaffe


In the game of air combat, the break-away is what might be called a "stunt" or a "trick" tactic. Its purpose is to deceive and confuse enemy fighter and GCI radars, to degrade the bogey's situational awareness at the merge, and to get at least one fighter into the merge unobserved. One variation of this tactic is depicted in Figure 10-14.

At time "1" the fighters are in a fairly tight formation so that, on the enemy's airborne and GCI radars, they appear as only one target outside visual range of the bogeys. The maximum allowable separation may be only a few feet, or it may be many hundreds of feet, depending on the characteristics of the specific threat radars. This tactic should induce some doubt in the enemy as to just how many fighters they will be engaging. Once the bogeys are detected, the fighters turn as necessary to establish collision geometry. If there is sufficient range, either head-on or FQ intercept techniques may be employed instead. At time "2" the fighters are still
outside the bogeys' visual range, but they are approaching the final stages of the intercept, where the enemy can be expected to be taking radar locks for their attack. This typically occurs by the time the fighters are within one minute to intercept, but the timing can vary widely. The fighters' RWR equipment may be of assistance in determining when the bogeys are

At this point the fighter wingman rolls over and pulls hard into a split-S until the aircraft is pointing vertically downward. When the bogeys are equipped with Doppler-type radar systems, this maneuver should place the enemy at 90° to the wingman's aircraft so quickly that the aircraft will be invisible to the bogeys' radar before fighter separation is wide enough to allow both aircraft to be displayed separately. By the time the wingman pulls out of his dive, time "3," he will probably be out of the bogeys' radar scan volume. In addition, the bogeys' look-down angle caused by the wingman's dive will result in clutter problems for enemy pulse radar systems. A hard break-away is essential at time "2," especially against Doppler radars. If the fighters can be in the vicinity of corner speed at this point, a max-G break produces the 90° turn as quickly as possible with the least separation between fighters. Chaff deployment by the wingman just as he approaches the vertical attitude is also very effective against pulse
radars, and can even produce false targets on a Doppler radar in high-wind conditions.

Paradoxically, the better the enemy's radar performs against targets with a beam aspect, the more vulnerable it is to chaff. Chaff is also useful in confusing enemy GCI controllers, who now probably detect a veritable explosion of targets and may have insufficient time remaining to
determine which are real fighters. When it is performed at medium altitudes, the wingman's split-S may also place him too low for the enemy's GCI coverage.

Once his aircraft is purely vertical the wingman does a 180° roll and a wings-level pull-out on the original collision heading at high speed. At this point he should regain visual contact with the leader, who should now be slightly ahead and very much higher, and if time permits he can gain radar contact with the bogeys. The leader should resist changing heading between
the wingman's break and his "visual" call, since the wingman may never regain sight if he does. If a heading change must be made, the new course should be relayed to the wingman immediately.

Approaching the merge the leader should call ranges frequently so the wingman can time his pull-up so he is pointing at the leader at the pass. The wingman is essentially performing a vertical hook, so the leader desires a close pass with the bogeys to help the wingman (shooter) get a tally. In this case the leader should try to pass slightly above the bogeys,
possibly in a climb, to draw attention away from the low shooter, and possibly tempt the bogey into a pull-up right in front of the hooker.

Advantages and Disadvantages

When it works, this tactic will cause lots of laughing and scratching back at the bar; but when it doesn't, there will no doubt be much incredulous head shaking. The break-away throws caution to the winds for the advantages of deception and surprise. The only positive defensive point that can be made in its favor is the adage "A good offense is the best defense." The
fighters are in a poor defensive posture throughout the intercept. They are usually too close for good mutual support before the break-away, and the low, trailing wingman is vulnerable after the split. A well-controlled situation is a prerequisite for this tactic, since an unexpected attack by enemy fighters before the break-away would probably be disastrous.

As a fighter pilot I knew from my own experiences how decisive surprise and luck can be for a success, which in the long run only comes to the one who combines daring with cool thinking.
Lt. General Adolph Galland, Luftwaffe

The situations in which the advantages outweigh the risks of this tactic include a permissive environment in which the enemy's radar system and aircraft performance are decidedly superior to those of the friendly fighters. When facing a definite mismatch, good execution of sound tactics may not be enough. In boxing terminology, "A good big man will beat a good little man most of the time." In this case a good offense may be the only defense, and some exotic stunts may be justified if they result in enemy confusion and degraded awareness at the pass. Obviously, however, such tactics require considerable pilot training and a high level of proficiency before they can be relied on in combat; even then they cannot be expected to work as a steady diet, since the enemy will soon figure them out.

There are many variations on the break-away tactic, but most begin with an initial close formation and employ a radical formation change at close range to sow confusion among the enemy. As with most hook and bracket-type attacks, the break-away is not recommended against an enemy in a significant trail formation.

In one Aviatsia i Kosmnavtika article on Air to Air Combat Tactics (IIRC 1989) they depicted a 2vs1 perfect "Lead Around" Interception Tactic. Article on request could be uploaded.


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Jan 26, 2006
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I have had Zuev's book since 1995, and went through it many times. Yes, there is a lot of interesting and valuable info, but I cannot referer to it as a 100% reliable source for some details.
Most of Zuev's recollections are too much coloured and saturated to be made interesting for the average reader (as Zuev is not a 'profi writer' himself, and thus his English was not the best one, so I suppose he talked to a proffessional writer, and then the later made the final compilation of the book as it was published).
For example, the NN019 radar problems, said by Zuev to had been intentionally caused by Tolkachev - I consider it as much more a guess rather than a hard fact (from his position in VVS he simply had not access to such reliable info), and it will be possible that it was a normal design problem that surfaced at acertian stage. As well, the MiG-29 will not have entered VVS service with such a problem provided it was revealed during the testing. The aircraft went through exhaustive tests in NII VVS (Soviet Af Flight Test Institute), mainly centered on its weapons system, before entering service and if there was a serious problem, as Zuev maintains, it will be known now (I refer to the recolections of many Russian designes, test personnel and flight test pilots, including those from the NII VVS).
Anyay, the theme is rather interesting and worths discussing in depth.

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