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By Georg Mader, Aviation Journalist and JDW-Correspondent, Austria
Oct 26, 2003, 14:10

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During the Russian efforts within the Austrian fighter-competition, in the winter of 2002, I was invited by RAC-MiG to visit the company and see the current status of the traditional enterprise, as well as to discuss developments, see the production facilities at Luchovitsy - and TO FLY THE NEW STRIKER, MiG-29M2, from Ramenskoye. All this was realized smoothly, in February 2003.

Prototype MiG-29M-2 being prepared for a flight at MiG's ramp in Zhukovsky (Georg Mader)

Zhukovsky-Ramenskoye is trully a famous place, full of reminders of the past. This comes into your mind when the bus drives you out to the ramp along the tarmacs of Sukhoi, Tupolev, and Ilyushin, and I quickly tought on the numerous times, "all this was looked onto by reconnaissance satellites from the space..." Quickly, we climbed into our cockpits and when my pilot, Pavel Vlasov, did shut the large bubble-canopy, the bitter-cold was finally blocked - and I could start care about my harness, cameras, and batteries.

Georg taking place in the cockpit (Martin Rosenkranz)

Immediately, the improved visibility was obvious, compared to what I remind from the Hungarian UB I flew acrobatic once before. Somehow it was like in a small F-15 Strike-Eagle, with the arms easily to be stretched out and well below along the canopy-rails. As this was 1.) a photo-mission (with two-camera bodies) and 2.) to show me the aircraft and its cockpit-functions, we agreed in the briefing that this time there would be no acrobatic maneuvers. So, we took off in formation from the legendary 5km (5.000m/15.000ft) long runway to the east, and went low-level over the centre and snowy-frozen countryside, trough some 8-turns, always upon my directon command for changing the positions.

Martin Rosenkrantz, who flew in the rear of the UB immediately shouted, "that this MiG really DOES NOT smoke!" And indeed, the photos later showed that the new engines of the MiG-29M2 have nothing like the smoke emissions of the original RD-33s.

When close-formation became dangerous because of declining visibility and loss of the contrasts, we decided to climb for some 30 seconds, until we broke out into the blue yonder - well separated, by the way. The same formation work was repeated and when photo-work was done, we broke away in the M2, while Pavel - who was humming operette-melodies all the time - demonstrated some simulated targets for me on the lower left MFD. I pressed the button to go into the english-language and then we did some threat-managements and lock-ons together. Then Pavel raised his hands and offered me to take-over commands for personal test. Upon grabbing into the HOTAS, I felt the M2 was not that nervous-reacing like the Block 42 F-16D was once over the Med: I asked Pavel about this and he demonstrated to me the different levels of sensitiveness he can adjust on the FBW. At "full" there is nothing happening when you move the stick! With 30% sensitiveness I tried some figures, raising turns with wonderfull acceleration and finally a sloppy roll - after which Pavel showed me a perfect barrel-roll, before we headed back to Zhukovsky.

Yes, MiG has produced a much improved and refined piece of machinery with the M2: "I find it not O.K. that our (Austrian) officials have not even answered to what was offered to them", were my toughts when taxiing back to the MiG-ramp.

But, nevertheless, it was a good oportunity and great experience for any serious aviation-journalist. You did not quite easy come here and "book" their only prototype...!

After some relaxing, briefings started....

According to RAC-MiG Deputy-Director, V. Meleshko, and General-Director for Flight-Operations Pavel N. Vlasov, there will be two directions of future MiG-29-development:

- A highly unified range of single- and twin-seater multirole, ship- and shore-based fighters (MiG-29K/KUB "9.41/9.47") and MiG-29M1/M2 "9.25-1”/9.25-2"), created on the base of MiG-29K;

- Different levels of upgrading basic MiG-29 versions, from MiG-29SD ("9.12 SD") to todays most advanced MiG-29SMT ("9.17"), resp. –SMT2 ("9.17-2")

Pavel N. Vlasov, Hero of the Russian Federation, and the director of MiG at Zhukovsky. (Georg Mader)

MiG-29M2 (Factory Index: 9.25, Izdeliye 5)

The aircraft I flew in from Zhukovsky/Ramenskoye (No. 154) is the fourth prototype of the former MiG-29M (9.15), upgraded with a totally new front fuselage, a large diameter bubble-type canopy, new digital fly-by-wire controls, a modern fire-control system with Zhuk-M radar and an updated armament selection. It is a land-based version of the new, navalised MiG-29K/KUB, designed for low-altitude operations against high-value targets under heavy electronic countermeasures. The design was offered to Malaysia as a multirole combat aircraft - hence the large 'MRCA' title on the fins. Beside targeting markets for strike-fighters, so far dominated by the rival Sukhoi-company, RAC also plans to supply the new MiG-29SMT with a fully combat-capable two-seater in bids where the regular MiG-29UB trainer (without radar) was considered as unsuitable (like in Austria).

The advanced fighter conducted its debut flight from the Zhukovsky test-centre near Moscow on 26 September 2001, ahead of its participation in the 9-14 October LIMA 2001 defence exhibition in Langkawi, Malaysia. Altough the new aircraft has similar contours with the base version of MiG-29, the MiG-29M2 is actually a new fighter with extended combat range, modern on-board equipment, 4-channel digital fly-by-wire control system, increased combat payload and an extended range of weapons.

It has principally extended strike functions, including ability of group attack at low altitude in complicated enemy countermeasures-conditions, keeping high effectiveness in air combat. The fighter is equipped with “Zhuk-M” radar and can carry up to 4,500kg of weapons, such as Kh-31A (AS-17 'Krypton') and Kh-35U (AS-20 'Kayak') anti-ship missiles, Kh-31P anti-radiation missiles, Kh-29T/TE (AS-14 'Kedge') air-to-surface missiles and KAB-500Kr bombs.

Due to distribution of duties between two pilots and to new on-board equipment the aircraft in complicated combat environment will have higher combat effectiveness than its single-seater competitors.

Cockpit of the MiG-29M2 is dominated by three huge MFDs. (Georg Mader)

The quality of MFDs is exceptional, offering excellent visibility despite outside light. (Georg Mader)

General Data for MiG-29M-2

MiG-29M-2 is an advanced, genuinely multirole tactical fighter for control of upper airspace, ground attack and naval high-altitude precision weapons control. It has got increased payload/range and endurance and is intended as replacement for basic MiG-29.

Preceded by 9.14 with Ryabina (mountain) LLTV targeting pod, the 9.14 prototype (07682 `407') first flew 13 February 1985, but became 9.13/MiG-29S development aircraft. It features greatly redesigned airframe; two 86.3 kN (19,400 lb st) Klimov RD-33K turbofans (`land-based' versions of MiG-29K engine); it is designed for triplex analogue fly-by-wire controls for lateral axis, quadruplex elsewhere, with mechanical back-up to ailerons and rudders (only pitch axis fly-by-wire by late 1996); it has a 'glass' cockpit with two monochrome (green) multifunction CRTs (not push-button, but HOTAS); finally, the airframe includes modifications to extend aft centre of gravity limit for relaxed stability.

Shortly after the take-off from Zhukovsky the first photographs were taken while the MiG-29M2 was still at low level. (Martin Rosenkrantz)

The first of six prototypes and one static test airframe was flown on 25 April 1986 with RD-33 engines; first flight with RD-33K engines (previously tested on 921) 26 September 1987; first exhibited at Machulishche airfield, February 1992; flight refuelling trials on standard MiG-29 test aircraft began 16 November 1995, completed January 1996; enlarged engine air intakes with movable lower lip to increase mass flow on take-off. Original FOD doors in air intakes replaced by lighter retractable grids, permitting deletion of overwing louvres and internal ducting in lightweight aluminium-lithium alloy centre-section, providing increased fuel tankage; new intakes tested on 921; total internal fuel capacity 5,700 litres (1,506 US gallons; 1,254 Imp gallons). New wing section, with sharp leading-edge. Increased span ailerons. Bulged wingtips with fore and aft RWRs; more rounded wingtip trailing-edge; larger, sharp-edge and slightly raised LERX; increased-chord horizontal tail surfaces, with dogtooth leading-edge. Bonded aluminium-lithium front fuselage, welded steel behind; nose lengthened by approximately 20 cm (7½ in); 40 mm (1½ in) higher canopy; new IFF and Gardeniya active jammer in dorsal spine, which terminates in `beaver-tail' structure, containing twin 13 m2 (140 sq ft) brake-chutes, that extends beyond jet nozzles; single larger honeycomb composite over-fuselage airbrake. Strengthened landing gear with KT-209 mainwheels. Extensive use of RAM-coating giving claimed `×10' reduction in frontal RCS.

MiG-29M2 turning at low level over one of the villages surrounding Zhukovsky. (Martin Rosenkrantz)

Phazotron Zhuk-M Radar and other Avionics

Also known as the N010M, as yet unconfirmed eastern European sources describe Zhuk-M as utilising a flat-plate antenna and the `Bagiet’ processor in place of the baseline radar’s C.90 unit. Use of `Bagiet’ is said to have facilitated the introduction of a range of air-to-surface modes including ground mapping, stationary target detection, ground MTI, terrain avoidance and Doppler beam sharpening. Russian sources suggest that Zhuk-M is intended for MiG-29 applications.

General data of Zhuk-M
Frequency range: 8-12.5 GHz
Detection range: 120 km (forward hemisphere, 5 m² RCS target)
Targets: up to 4 (tracked); 10 (detected)
Angular coverage: -40º/+55º (elevation); ± 85º (azimuth)
Weight: 180 kg

The MiG-29M also has a new OLS-M longer-range IRST, with added TV channel and laser designator/marked target seeker using common mirror system. TS101 processors with new software. A-331 Shoran. Chaff/flare dispensers relocated in dorsal spine.

Georg during the flight in the spacious rear cockpit of the MiG-29M2; note the MiG-29UB in the rear: from that plane all the photographs showing the MiG-29M2 in flight were taken by Martin Rosenkranz, webmaster of http://www.airpower.at (Georg Mader)

Claimed more comfortable to fly, with increased permissible angle of attack (30º during initial tests, subsequently expanded), better manoeuvrability, and improved cruise efficiency the new MiG has also got eight underwing hardpoints for 4,500 kg (9,920 lb) stores, including four laser-guided Kh-25ML (AS-10 `Karen') or Kh-29L (AS-14 `Kedge'), anti-radiation Kh-25MP (AS-12 `Kegler') and Kh-31A/P (AS-17 `Krypton') or TV-guided Kh-29T (AS-14 `Kedge') ASMs; eight RVV-AE (R-77; AA-12 `Adder') AAMs, R-73E (AA-11 `Archer') AAMs or KAB-500KR 500 kg TV-guided bombs. According to conversations at Ramenskoye, RAC-MiG has recently bought 15 tons of latest Russian precision guided ammo on their own expenses in order to be able to start weapons-certification for foreign customers.

Number of rounds for gun was reduced to 100.

Splendid study of the MiG-29M2 in flight at medium level. (Martin Rosenkrantz)

The welded Al-Li structure is very expensive and failed to provide promised weight savings. State Acceptamce Tests were suspended due to funding problems, in May 1993. The planned MiG-29UBM trainer (9.61) was abandoned, and was not ordered for Russian Air Forces at the time, though development was relaunched by MAPO in late 1999. A re-worked development was re-launched by MAPO in late 1999 and MiG-29M2 (unveiled at MAKS 2001 and also referred to as the MRCA) is a two-seat strike variant of the `Fulcrum', and is optimised for low-level operations against high-value, high-risk targets. The type made its maiden flight from Zhukovsky on 26 September 2001. The aircraft is a land-based version of the navalised MiG-29KUB and includes folding wings and the Phazotron-NIIR Zhuk-M multimode radar.
Range on internal fuel is 1,079 nm (2,000km; 1,242 miles), or, with three external tanks 1,726nm (3,200km; 1,988 miles).

Zhuk-M Capabilities and Performances
The Phazotron-NIIR Zhuk-M belongs to a family of X-band (8 to 12.5 GHz) airborne multimode radars. Known alternately as the N010, the Zhuk radar is noted as having been originally designed for installation aboard the MiG-29 9.16 prototype and was subsequently flown aboard prototypes of the MiG-29M during the early 1990s. As of late 2001/early 2002, a variant of the equipment was being promoted as a potential upgrade for the MiG-23 fighter. In terms of components, Russian sources describe the radar as comprising a 680 mm diameter, slotted-array, flat-plate antenna assembly, a receiver, an `advanced' data controller, data and signal processors, a synchroniser, a power supply, an exciter, a transmitter and what is termed a `TV-former' unit.

Also known as the N010M, Zhuk-M is utilising a flat-plate and the "Bagiet" processor in place of the baseline radar's C.90 unit. Use of "Bagiet" wassaid to have facilitated the introduction of a range of air-to-surface modes, including ground mapping, stationary target detection, ground MTI, terrain-avoidance and Doppler beam sharpening. Russian sources suggest that Zhuk-M is intended for all MiG-29 applications. The MiG-29M2 also has a new OLS-M longer-range IRST, with added TV-channel and laser-designator/marked target seeker, using common mirror system, then TS101 processors with new software, A-331 Shoran, and chaff&flare dispensers relacated into the dorsal spine.

The antenna of Zhuk M as seen at MAKS 2001. (Georg Mader)

Zhuk-series Working Modes
The radar features a built-in test capability and is credited with 15 operating modes divided between air-to-air and air-to-surface modes as follows:

Look-up/look-down range-while-search and Track-While-Scan (TWS) of 10 targets with simultaneous engagement of up to four.

Air combat
Vertical search; head-up display search; wide-angle search; boresight and automatic terrain avoidance for low-altitude combat operations.

Real beam ground-mapping; Doppler beam sharpening; synthetic aperture; display enlargement/freeze; TWS on four targets; ground target Moving Target Indicator (MTI)/tracker; air-to-surface ranging and navigation update.
Weapons compatibility includes the Kh-31A, R-27R1, R-27T1, R-37E and RW-AE munitions.

As of late 2001/early 2002, the Zhuk, Zhuk-8-II, Zhuk-27, Zhuk-F and Zhuk-M variants of the Zhuk airborne multimode radar were being promoted. According to Jane’s sources, the People’s Republic of China ordered 100 examples of the Zhuk-8-II for retrofit aboard J-8-II interceptors of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) in June 2001, while the Zhuk-M-S is understood to have been installed aboard late production PLAAF Su-30MKK fighters. Here, sources suggest that the first 20 Su-30MKKs were fitted with the N001VE variant of NIIP’s Mech radar. For its part, Zhuk-MF has been suggested as a candidate radar for installation aboard the Russian Federation’s forthcoming 5th generation combat aircraft.

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