Home » Budget Industry » Russian Carrier-based MiG-29K Fighter Crashes in Mediterranean; Shows Potential Gaps in Capability

Russian Carrier-based MiG-29K Fighter Crashes in Mediterranean; Shows Potential Gaps in Capability



A fighter assigned to the Russian carrier operating in the Eastern Mediterranean crashed during a landing approach on Sunday, a U.S. defense official confirmed to USNI News on Monday.

The Mikoyan MiG-29K was part of a trio of MiGs that had sortied from Russian carrier Admiral Kuznetsov headed over Syria. At one point, for unknown reasons, one of the fighters turned back to the carrier and crashed while on approach to the carrier, the official said.

Russian state media confirmed the crash on Monday afternoon.

“An aviation accident with carrier-based fighter MIG-29K occurred during exercise flights as a result of a technical fault during the approach landing a few kilometers from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft-carrying cruiser,” the Russian Ministry of Defense said in a statement published by state-controlled media.
“The Russian aircraft carrier group continues its activity in the Mediterranean Sea as planned. The flights of sea-based aviation continue.”

According to Combat Aircraft magazine, a search and rescue helicopter from the carrier recovered the pilot who ejected from the aircraft.

“Initial indications are that the aircraft was a two-seat MiG-29KUBR version,” reported the magazine.
“Operated by the 100th Independent Shipborne Fighter Aviation Regiment, a total of four MiG-29KR/KUBRs were understood to be on board the carrier.”

NATO ships monitoring the carrier strike group offered assistance in the rescue operations, but the Russians declined, a NATO official told USNI News on Monday.

While details of the crash are few, the loss of the MiG-29 highlights weaknesses in Russia’s carrier aviation capability, Eric Wertheim — naval analyst and author of U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World — told USNI News on Monday.

Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov in transit to the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 18, 2016. UK MoD Photo

Russian aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov in transit to the Mediterranean Sea on Oct. 18, 2016. UK MoD Photo

While the MiG-29s are considered to be technically capable aircraft, Russian naval aviation has suffered in the realms of personnel, he said.

“Carrier aviation is a dangerous business but one of the big challenges the Russians have is they don’t have a wide pool of people with these skills,” Wertheim said.
“A few years ago there were stories they were largely contractors as pilots. They’ve been trying to pass that skill on but there’s not the ability to do that because the pool is small and they’re not a lot of facilities available.”

A Russian carrier aviation training center near Ukraine was supposed to go online in 2015 but there are indications that the installation is still being constructed.

While few details of the MiG’s mission are available, fighters launching from the carrier have been flying armed missions from Admiral Kuznetsov over the Aleppo region since last week. While no fighters launching from the carrier have dropped ordnance on targets, an official told USNI News that six Sukhoi Su-33s that entered the region on the carrier, have left the ship and are operating from land striking targets near Aleppo.

The surface action group made up of Admiral Kuznetsov cruiser Peter the Great and two Udaloy-class guided missile destroyers plus auxiliaries — is operating south of Cyprus as of last week. Russian officials have said for the last two weeks forces were set to strike rebels near Aleppo.

  • warpiglit

    When American planes crash, its an accident, when Russian planes crash its lack of capability, got it.

    • REP

      I know huh lol. Americans are a bunch of hypocrites.

      • The Russian carrier looks like a toy with a ramp to make up for it’s small size. Small take off area, and small landing area.

        • Tony R.

          Technically, the Admiral Kuznetsov is an aircraft cruiser, not an aircraft carrier. It was designed from the start to fulfill a different role.

          • John Locke

            Actually it and Kiev class were designed as aircraft cruisers so they could comply with the Montreux Convention which doesn’t allow for pure bred aircraft carriers to pass through the Bosporus and Dardanelle Straits

          • El_Sid

            Well, he may have started off as an aircraft cruiser but arguably the removal of the SS-N-19’s in the recent refit means that designation is no longer appropriate, he’s a pure carrier now. FOD means that it’s not a great idea to launch missiles from the middle of your runway, they leave a load of debris behind.

    • Horn

      When you look at a percentage of crashes per sortie, it kind of paints a different picture. The Russian deployment of their carrier was meant to be a propaganda boost for the Russian military. Having 1 of 4 of your new Mig29Ks on board crash isn’t the kind of story they want right now.

      • warpiglit

        I recommend for you to look at the size comparison of US and Russian aircraft carriers

        • Horn

          It’s not the size that’s the deciding factor, but the volume. The Nimitz is only 90ft longer than the Kuz, but twice the displacement. Now with the number of sorties our aircraft have seen, and the age of the aircraft, it’s no surprise that we have “accidents.” The Mig 29k has been in service for less than 6 years with the Indian Navy. That’s practically brand new in the aerospace industry. Add on to the fact that their sortie rates are much lower than ours and their carrier wing is so small, you end up with a “lack of capability.” And to make matters worse, these fighters were delivered earlier this year, 2016.

    • MrFoo

      That is a good point. However, there is no comparison between American super-carriers and this tiny boat with a ramp launch. American carriers have around 60 aircraft. Theirs has four.

      • Tony R.

        According to the Wikipedia article “Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov“, it carries approximately 41 aircraft, as follows:

        Fixed Wing;
        * 12 × Su-33 fighters (current)
        * 20 × MiG-29K/KUB fighters (future)
        * 4 × Sukhoi Su-25UTG/UBP trainers

        Rotary Wing;
        * 4 × Kamov Ka-27LD32 helicopters
        * 18 × Kamov Ka-27PL helicopters
        * 2 × Kamov Ka-27PS helicopters

      • El_Sid

        The “four” refers to the number of MIG-29KR/KUBR’s – but they also have upgraded Su-33, although the latter appear to have been flown off to operate from land bases, and Ka-52K attack helicopters originally intended for the Mistrals.

        Set against that, the Kuznetsov cost rather less than $13bn….

    • Stephen Voss

      Maybe because the US has 11 carrier strike groups and the US has been actively using carriers for decades so noone doubts US capability.

      • Mark Hussey

        2o carrier’s with another in ship yard

    • Chris

      Well said.

    • TDog

      While it is easy to chalk it up to yellow journalism, it’s a matter of frequency. Russia pretty much had its first carrier launch in years and a crash occurred right then and there. That shows an increased tendency towards non-combat damage crashes than not even if, admittedly, the sample size is quite small.

      So I would say for right now, we can deduce that the Russian navy doesn’t have as much of a grasp on carrier operations as the US does. Given time that may change, but for now we only have this data to work with.

  • RobM1981

    One data point does not make a trend, but data is data. Objectively there is no way to view the Kuz as being much more than a propaganda tool.

    As has been said here, Naval Aviation is a game for the rich. The VERY rich. Currently that means “only the USN and France,” with a tiny nod to the RN and the Indian Navy. Maybe the PLAN, someday. Maybe.

    The thing is: it takes constant training to keep a Carrier Air Group safe and effective, and that translates into an ocean of money. Pilots, Planes, Decks, Crews, Logistics, etc.

    You can scale it down, like the RN does, but you have to keep the small force that you have in constant practice if you want them to be both safe and effective.

    When is the last time the Kuz even sortied, prior to this? When is the last time the Russian pilots qualified on a moving deck? As has been said here, again, they don’t even seem to have a real core team of aviators to build on.

    This is not a hobby. You either commit to Carrier Aviation or you pay the price in blood and treasure.

    • Michael D. Woods

      Yeah, but we have crashes too. –Naval Aviator, retired

      • publius_maximus_III

        Thank you for your service to your country, Michael. In my opinion, USN and USMC aviators are the very best in the world.

    • LES1

      Ukrainian military analyst and blogger Olexandr Kovalenko explained the reason of this effect. He paid attention that Russian media blame Ukrainian shipbuilders, who built ‘Admiral Kuznetsov’ back in the Soviet era at the Black Sea Shipyard in Mykolaiv.

      The analyst reminds us that the very same Ukrainian workers also built two ‘Kuznetsov’s’ sister ships, also built in Ukrainian Mykolaiv, which now are Chinese ‘Liaoning’ and Indian ‘Vikramaditya’. To make his thought clear Kovalenko published photos of engine rooms of all three ships.

      Kovalenko explained: “Yes, the theme is controversial, but I would like to show you some pictures – namely boilers of aircraft carriers “Admiral Kuznetsov”, “Lyaolin” and “Vikramaditya”. Determine which photo shows which boiler – it’s not difficult. And now answer the question – are Ukrainians guilty of this or is it just the absence of maintenance service of a strategically important object? And, they still threaten the world with this…

      Actually it’s a miracle that no spontaneous combustion happened during the sail to the Syrian coast!”

      • RobM1981

        That’s a great message you posted. Thanks for it.

        • LES1

          Russia’s Military Paper Tiger

          Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 13 Issue: 183

          By: Roger McDermott

          November 15, 2016 08:02 PM Age: 1 day

          PS The other two comments to my post are by “paid by KGB” sock-puppets.

      • El_Sid

        The Vikramaditya isn’t a Kuznetsov class, it’s a heavily modified Kiev.

        I suspect the fact that her and the Liaoning have effectively been rebuilt within the last few years, whereas the Kuznetsov has been afloat for over 3 decades, might have an effect on how tidy they look….

        • Niki Ptt

          Yep, that tells alot about the credibility of Olexandr Kovalenko…

  • muzzleloader

    I don’t understand why the Russians are deploying the Mig 29 as a carrier aircraft in the first place. The SU-33 is a much more capable platform.

    • El_Sid

      Not when it comes to moving mud. Su-33 is essentially air-to-air only, although they’ve recently upgraded a couple with bombsights for dumb bombs. MiG-29K is properly multi-role. Plus the production line was already open as Ionosphere says – and there was probably an element of industrial strategy in there, keeping Mikoyan going until the Fulcrum replacement happens.

  • Ken N

    Obviously Russian carrier ops are no where near as capable as the US. But holding up a single crash as proof seems kinds silly considering the US military suffers from aviation mishaps all the time.

    • Ken N

      ….unless you lose another one a month later.

  • Curtis Conway

    Bad decision. If the aircraft had a problem he should have gone to the beach with that long runway, not make a carrier approach.

    • John Whitehot

      evidently, it could not reach the shore and the only surface in range was the carrier

      • El_Sid

        I suspect RAF Akrotiri would have been more than happy to welcome them….

      • Curtis Conway

        Don’t know the specifics. However, in the Med, if you can’t get to a field somewhere, you should punch out. USN aircraft have VHF capability for this very reason. It is less risky to punch out than to go to try a carrier landing (highest risk), and that long runway on the beach is much less risky if you can get that far. They’ll learn, and develop fleet & Squadron Policy with experience.

        • John Whitehot

          it could be that it happened just like you said, that the Mig has been directed to an area where both pilot and plane could be recovered and then safely ejected. All the public reports understandably don’t get into any detail,besides stating that the pilot and the wreckage has been recovered. As for carrier operations in general, I ‘m not sure that Russia really needs that. It’s an expensive and basically secondary tool, at least if you don’t need to project power away from your shores. Soviets always have invested into interdicting the operations of enemy naval aviations, developed a complex, powerful multi tool device over the 3 different naval mission types (Air Surface and Subsurface), with weapons systems like the P-700 and the KH-22 still unparalleled today. Imho, it would be a pity shifting away from that defensive policy, to embrace a western style offensive one.

  • olesalt

    Mi G(ad) what happened? More training & experienced pilots needed.

  • vincedc

    Hard to connect the dots, when there is only one dot.

  • publius_maximus_III

    Ouchy, a MiG-29 on the bottom of the Mediterranean. Wonder how much one of those goes for these days? And right after the deployment. I’ll bet da Pooht was chewing some rear ends over that one.

    Also noticed the comment that the three were on a training flight without ordnance (corrected). Just how much ordnance (corrected) can one of them lift without a catapult to assist?

  • Håvard Larsen

    Don’t see what the big fuzz is all about. The Pilot made it, which is the important factor. Imagine Sokol plant just produce another Mig-29KUB while their are at it.