We’ve talked about how many Americans fighters have gone on to serve as kick-ass bombers. But did you know that the Russians managed to do the same thing with one of their fighters? All they had to do was sacrifice any hopes of a multirole capability to do it.
That plane was the MiG-23 “Flogger”, a fighter that was later modified to become the MiG-27, a ground-attack aircraft. In a very real sense, the Soviets, in designing the Flogger, created an airframe that was able to carry out both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. In a sense, it’s a lot like the F-86H Sabre, a lethal bomber created from an air-superiority fighter base.
The MiG-23 was primarily designed to carry air-to-air missiles like the AA-7 Apex and the AA-8 Aphid.
The MiG-23 first entered service as a fighter in 1971. It was a notable improvement over the MiG-21 in that it carried medium-range, radar-guided AA-7 Apex missiles that could be guided toward targets using the on-board High Lark radar. The Flogger could also use the AA-2 Atoll and AA-8 Aphid air-to-air missiles, which primarily used infrared guidance. The plane also packed a twin-barrel 23mm gun for dogfighting.
But the Soviets also wanted a ground-attack plane. Although the MiG-23 could haul just over 6,500 pounds of armaments, the Soviets wanted more.
The MiG-27, seen here, replaced the High Lark radar with sensors optimized for the air-to-ground mission, including a laser-range finder.
(Photo by Rob Schleiffert)
The MiG-27 entered service in 1975. Early versions maintained the twin 23mm guns of the MiG-23, but this Flogger was intended to hit targets on the ground and eventually was given a proper gun for it — a six-barrel 30mm Gatling gun. It could carry almost 9,000 pounds of bombs. The plane also featured a laser rangefinder.
In order to make room for all of those ground-attack tools, the Soviets removed the High Lark radar. This didn’t leave it completely defenseless in the air — the MiG-27 could still carry heat-seeking missiles.
Something all too familiar to Flogger pilots: An American or Israeli jet on their six.
The MiG-23 was produced in huge numbers and saw action in the hands of countries like Libya, Syria, and Iraq. American and Israeli pilots had no problem blowing the Flogger out of the sky, though. Despite a lot of negative combat experiences, over 5,000 Floggers of all types were produced. The Soviet Union and India also produced almost 1,100 MiG-27s. Some Indian MiG-27s, though, went on to become true multirole fighters.