Articles

That time Flankers fought Fulcrums over Africa

The Su-27 Flanker and the MiG-29 Fulcrum were both designed and built by Russia to fight World War III side-by-side. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, that conflict didn't happen. However, the two Russian fighters would square off over Eastern Africa.


Since Eritrea won its independence from Ethiopia in 1993, a border dispute had been simmering between the two countries, mostly over the territory surrounding the town of Badme. Things heated up in 1998, when Eritrean forces stormed in and took the town.

Photo: U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin L. Bishop

According to a report by ACIG.org, the Eritreans had been building up their military for just such an occasion. Among their purchases were ten refurbished MiG-29s from Russia. The intention was to use the planes to secure air superiority on the battlefield.

When the war started, Ethiopia began to search for a counter to the Eritrean Fulcrums. Their F-5 Freedom Fighters and MiG-21 Fishbeds were clearly outclassed. Their choice to change that situation would be the Su-27 Flanker. Eight surplus airframes were purchased from Russia in December of 1998. By the end of the following February, they would be in action.

An underside view of a Soviet Su-27 Flanker aircraft carrying air-to-air missiles. (DOD photo)

On Feb. 25, 1999, in a pair of engagements, Ethiopian Su-27s would shoot down two MiG-29s. The next day, Eritrean MiG-29s shot down a pair of Ethiopian MiG-21s. Ethiopia would claim that a "Capt. Asther Tolossa" would shoot down a MiG-29, but the existence of Capt. Tolossa is disputed.

In March, Ethiopian Flankers claimed two more Eritrean Fulcrums.

The last encounters in that war between Fulcrum and Flanker would take place in May 2000. On May 16, Ethiopia claimed that one of their Flankers shot down an Eritrean Fulcrum. Two days later, another Eritrean Fulcrum was shot out of the sky by a Flanker. The war ended in June 2000 with Ethiopia re-claiming the seized territory, and holding on to it despite an international court ruling favoring Eritrea.

Since the Ethiopia-Eritrea War ended, UN peacekeepers have patrolled the border. (Wikimedia Commons)

When all was said and done, ACIG noted that the Ethiopian Flankers had shot down at least five, and as many as seven, Eritrean MiG-29s, as well as one Learjet. The Eritrean MiG-29s had shot down three MiG-21 Fishbeds and a MiG-23 Flogger.

In that war, the Flanker had bested the Fulcrum, and cemented its place as one of Russia's hottest exports. Ironically, Eritrea was among the countries to buy Flankers, operating two of those planes according to World Air Forces 2017.