The process of the formal commissioning of the updated MiG-29 into the Bulgarian Air Force began in 2006. After a period of three years, the process was proceeding normally and the pilots began to manage a maneuverable and powerful fighter at the limit of their strength in a real-world situation inspired by American approaches in tactics, technology and procedures.
The expansion of the capabilities of the MiG-29 in maneuverable melee combat and tactical air defense was made possible by the introduction of a completely new, effective and combat training developed in Bulgaria. She replaced the relatively conservative and rigid learning philosophy that took place during the Soviet era, and which dominated the Air Force of the small countries of Eastern Europe at the time of Bulgaria’s entry into NATO as a full-fledged member in 2004.
Fighter MiG-29 Bulgarian Air Force, 22.09.2013 (c) Svetlan Simov / airliners.net
During the existence of the Warsaw Pact and later 15 years after its inglorious dissolution, the Bulgarian Air Force continued to follow the so-called. "Basic destructive maneuvers." They were agreed in advance and discussed in detail by the pilots before the flight. This outdated approach to combat training completely excluded such an element as a maneuverable aerial combat.
Source of change
Brigadier General Rumen Radev (Rumen Radev), commander of the 3 fighter air base Graf Ignatievo in 2005-2009, and now (the beginning of 2013 of the year - bmpd) deputy commander of the Air Force, said: “throughout my career as a pilot, Fighter I have always shown interest in the transformation of the Air Force into an effective combat system, as well as the search for that fine line between victory and defeat in modern air combat. I also thought about ways to bring realism into the routine process of combat training and, at the same time, resolve the conflict between realism and aviation security. ”
A talented pilot of the MiG-29, General Radev is a graduate of the US Air Force Air Force College (graduation year 2003). Many years ago, before his appointment to the post of commander of the Aviabaza Graf Igntayevo, he came to the conclusion that serious changes are needed in the preparation of the Bulgarian Air Force.
Shortly after his appointment to the post of air base commander, exercises "Viper Javelin" were held on it - joint exercises with the participation of: 510 of the fighter squadron of the USAF “Buzzards”. They then gave Colonel Radev the opportunity to initiate his own model of combat training in the Western style. During the exercises, both sides practiced two-by-two interceptions, in addition there were training battles between the MiG-29 and the F-16 Block 40. They were carried out in the old, pre-prescribed manner, with pre-agreed maneuvers and restrictions. The pilots of the 510 Squadron, who had no experience of such an unrealistic manner of teaching, did not like this.
According to General Radev, “during the Viper Javelin exercise in October 2005, we faced a real gap between two very different ways of training and the philosophy of air combat”. “At that time, we clearly understood that the Bulgarian Air Force was very far from progressive models of combat training. Thus, to compensate for this gap, we had to take a series of drastic measures. First, during these exercises, I assumed responsibility as the base commander and performed the first free maneuvering flight, unilaterally lifting all restrictions and piloting at the limit of my capabilities. The first battle was against the American commander, the second - against the best-trained pilot of the 510 squadron. It was a clear message to our American allies that, despite the numerous restrictions in our air force, we are ready to embark on the adoption of realistic combat training concepts. And that we are going to become a serious opponent in future exercises. ”
The exercises "Viper Javelin" provoked a chain of events that was changed by the training systems of the fighter pilots of the Bulgarian Air Force. Captain Viktor Khristov, one of the most experienced and strategically minded instructors of the MiG-29 in the Bulgarian Air Force, at the end of the 2000-s put a lot of effort into creating a new style of training and developing tactics. He explains: “It is a well-documented fact that during those first joint exercises we completely rewrote our instructions, realizing that we systematically under-utilized 50% of the enormous potential of MiG-29 in maneuverability in air combat due to numerous administrative restrictions, imposed by a bureaucratic system thinking in terms of the times of the Warsaw Pact, which still dominates the Bulgarian Air Force. All training flights during the "Viper Javelin" exercise were to be carried out with limitations: without aerobatics in the final stage, only two turns were allowed on 90 ° or one on 180 °. Despite this, the final part of the training took place in training battles without restrictions, during which both sides carried out aggressive maneuvering. In the new conditions we tried to make turns on the limits of our forces, as a result, the system of flight angle restrictions (SOS-3М) was often included. This device is an electro-mechanical limiter, which can be turned off when taking control knobs after reaching the angle of attack at 26 ° at speeds of less than 300 km / h. The restrictions of the Air Force at that time categorically forbade any intentional inclusion of the SOS system, and by doing this we violated the then existing safety rules. ”
According to Christ, the minimum speed limit in 300 km / h, prescribed by the technical description of the MiG-29, should be considered as a recommendation for pilots of average qualification. At this speed, the MIG-29 9-12 and 9-51 series can safely maneuver when overloaded to 1,5g. But in the technical description of the aircraft it is written that the fighter can maintain horizontal speed 210 km / h at an angle of attack 26 °. Exceeding the limits of the SOS-3M system, it is possible to continue horizontal flight at lower speeds and a greater angle of attack, although this will cause some stability problems due to the constant trembling of the control knob caused by the operation of the SOS system. Such serious limitations of the angle of attack do not allow to fully unleash the potential of the MiG-29 as a fighter: according to Khistov, they were introduced in the middle of the 1980-ies, when the aircraft entered service with the USSR Air Force, to ensure safe control at low speeds for medium pilots qualifications.
Realistic maneuverable air combat
According to Brigadier General Radev, the teachings of the Sentry Lion, which took place at the Graf Ignatievo airbase in June 2006, had a decisive effect on the abolition of the outdated Bulgarian air force practices in the field of combat training. F-15 173 squadrons of the National Guard from Oregon participated in the exercises. American commanders insisted that the Bulgarian side put up opponents who could participate in free flights, without any restrictions on pilotage. Radev explains that “at that time I accepted the first amendment, which allowed me to create a realistic model of combat training and implement realistic close-in air battles during the exercise. All this became possible due to the presence at my disposal of a small core of well-trained and motivated MiG-29 pilots who, I was sure, could answer the call and do their work. ” Before the first free-to-air doctrine, all MiG-29 pilots received extensive theoretical training under the guidance of experienced pilots of the 173 squadron.
In the end, the Sentry Lyon exercises proved to be an outstanding success for the Bulgarian fighter pilot community, which demonstrated profound improvements in the conduct of close air combat and the level of instructor pilots. They also began to understand the role of possession of the situation and introduced new ways of interacting with the ground-based radar of the air situation to break with Soviet practice of tight control. The radar operators were required to provide the pilots with as much environmental information as possible.
Despite all the improvements in the conduct of maneuvering combat, there was a lack of a modern model of combat training, which would allow developing the qualities necessary for conducting air combat.
Captain Khristov continues: “In the past, we were constantly punished for speed reduction below 300 km / h during maneuvering or air acrobatics, but the MiG-29, unlike the MiG-21 and MiG-23, is a safe plane to control at low speeds, and I do not think that this regime is dangerous. During the Sentry Lyon exercise, we noticed that pilots from the 173 squadron often exceed the angle of attack at 30 °, actually stopping during maneuvering, but due to their extensive experience in handling in critical modes, they had a clear idea of how the aircraft behaves in such situations and how to return to normal flight. ”
“We were very surprised by their free manner of controlling the aircraft. That is why our boss, Brigadier General Radev, made a bold decision to incorporate the low speed mode and large attack angles into our combat training course. This meant the introduction of a formal training program to teach us how to control the MiG-29 at low speeds and high angles of attack. This technique was taught in the MiG-XNUMHUB fighter, in which the instructor was sitting in the back seat. General Radov made the first flights, and the control of the aircraft in critical modes is an obligatory part of the preparation for each Bulgarian pilot MiG-29, while the “safe” flight level is 29 m. ”
Brigadier General Radev believes that the previous risk avoidance system adopted by the Bulgarian Air Force was a big mistake, as it did not allow the pilots to fully unleash the potential of the MiG-29, as well as understand how to use it in close combat combat. He said that “if my pilots will worry more about what speed will affect the flight recorder [which is checked after each departure for possible violations of speed and altitude] instead of thinking about the right tactics and maneuvering, they will continue to live with the mentality of the victim, not the hunter. "
Beautiful looking air acrobatics does not help
The deputy commander-in-chief of the Air Force recalls: “In the summer of 2007, the time came for us to take a step forward to increase the level of realism of combat training - namely, to send restrictions on maneuvering to textbooks stories and introduce formal maneuvering requirements at critical angles. I can tell you that this is not the pleasant piloting that you can see at the airshow. Beautiful looking maneuvers at an air show have nothing to do with modern combat maneuvering. To survive and win, you need to perform aggressive, often ugly, improvised and unpredictable maneuvers in order to move into a position to attack or avoid an enemy strike. ”
Having a huge experience of piloting on the MiG-29, General Radev knows the capabilities of the MiG-29 and says to his pilots: “you can kill yourself while maneuvering on the MiG-29 only when you start turning the plane along the longitudinal axis at high angles of attack on a small height. In all other extreme situations, you can return the plane to horizontal flight. "
Major Nikolai Rusev, commander of the 2 Squadron, adds: “My experience shows that during the hot fights of the melee you inevitably enter critical flight regimes. Therefore, by making the training of critical regimes common practice, we gain psychological certainty that we will be able to keep the aircraft in critical modes, that the aircraft will behave in an understandable and predictable manner, and, moreover, that the pilot can act in any situation and return the aircraft to normal mode flight. Thus, at present we feel confident at low speeds and high angles of attack, as the training course on critical modes shows us and teaches us how the MiG-29 behaves to the very limit of its capabilities. ”
The difference in philosophy
Answering the question about the reasons why the initial Soviet / Russian instructions on the MiG-29 included so many restrictions on control at low speeds, Brigadier General Radev said that this was the dominant philosophy at the time. The concept of mass use of the USSR Air Force and its allies under the Warsaw Pact was based on the principle of using a large number of aircraft and training a significant number of pilots. Soviet tactics consisted in the victory of the enemy at the expense of quantity. The prevailing philosophy, in accordance with which a strict flight safety system was applied, was based on getting a large number of rules from cadets, and not on getting the most out of the best ones.
Maintaining key skills with a limited number of flying hours in Bulgarian conditions (40-60 hours per year) is very problematic. The number of departures is a much better measure than the number of hours for evaluating fighter pilots, since each sortie is rather short - about 45 minutes, and the load on 70 sorties on each pilot per year is quite intense. According to General Radev, this is almost enough for most experienced MiG-29 pilots. “This may seem paradoxical, but using such training methods, you can maintain a high level of flight safety, despite the limited number of flight hours. Realistic training brings to life two factors that contribute to flight safety. The first contributes to the development of the pilot's innate desire for continuous self-improvement, and as a result he approaches the task with the maximum concentration. The second is that in conditions of a very intense flight task and the need for its successful completion, there is no room for intentional restrictions on basic maneuvers. Such intentional restrictions often cause serious accidents, which often happened in the past, when the trained pilots were in the comfort zone and for many years showed very slow, or even zero progress. As a result, they were not faced with difficult tasks [and unforeseen risks were excluded]. ”
Fighters in sparring or equal opponents?
In Eastern Europe, it is widely believed that in the course of bilateral exercises that took place in the 1990 and 2000, when the MiG-29 fighter "fought" against the Western, especially American types of fighters, the Western military received more than their Eastern European colleagues. General Radev does not agree with this view. His opinion can be derived in the following phrase: “you get exactly what you put into it from the workout”. Under his leadership, Bulgaria sought to modernize its educational process and tactics, while never forgetting flight safety. He was never so proud or narrow-minded so as not to learn from his new allies, he did everything in his power to accept any innovation with which he had to face. Radev claims that the American squadrons also learned something from joint exercises with the MiG-21 and MiG-29: “by 2007, they began to encounter pilots who squeezed the most out of their MiG-29 capabilities in realistic conditions”.
The final “dog fight” in freestyle
During the Mako Javelin exercise, the 93 th Makos Fighter Squadron from the 482 Fighter Wing, based at the Florida Homestead Air Base, landed at Graf Ignatievo Air Base in June. According to General Radev, “we first encountered such a maneuverable enemy as the F-2008 Block 16 fighter, which was driven by experienced and very aggressive pilots, which made him a highly efficient killing machine.” He also added that the pilots of the 30 Squadron used tactics that were different in some aspects and which were difficult to resist. Instead of using close encounters with large overloads and two circles, reservists from Florida preferred so-called. “Old-good melee tactics” (which does not require overloading maneuvers) - one lap, an intensive coup quickly turned into a low-speed flight. The MiG-93 pilots were initially surprised by such an unusual and rather aggressive approach to close-combat maneuver, but they managed to quickly adapt and develop countermeasures against the F-29.
Taking into account the security measures, strict restrictions were imposed. The ceiling was installed in 3000 m, and this required to start a fight at a height of 5000-6000 m. In addition, an imaginary "security bubble" with a diameter of 300 m was not drawn around each plane, which was forbidden to fly into. Under these conditions, none of the parties showed a desire to begin vertical maneuvering. Instead, the battles turned into a horizontal plane with the use of an afterburner, as each pilot tried to outplay his opponent. A greater number of battles were stopped, as one of the participants "pierced" the ceiling, and not because of the destruction of the enemy.
Viktor Hristov recalls: “At first, the phenomenal maneuverability of the F-16 Block 30 was an unpleasant surprise for us, as we are used to dealing with heavier 40 Block 31 th fighter wings in Aviano. There is no comparison between these two modifications in terms of maneuverability. We quickly realized that Block 30 is very difficult to attack, and reservists from Florida are experienced professionals. ”
During the exercise, General Radev agreed with his American counterpart - the commander of the 93 squadron, Colonel Jose R. Montegudo (Jose R Monteagudo) - that the four selected Bulgarian pilots would undergo a special course of American-style melee air combat, operating their MiG-29UB , in the back seat of which would be instructors - «Makos». F-16 used as sparring partners. During this training, each Bulgarian pilot made three flights to practice offensive, defensive and highly maneuverable MiG-29 versus F-16 melee combat, and three more flights in a single MiG-29 against F-16 under the instructor's control. Currently, these four people form the core of the Graf Ignatievo airbase destructive group, acting as opponents during international exercises.
The service of the MiG-29 in the Bulgarian Air Force is evidence that if you have the will and perseverance to introduce change and are willing to take risks, Soviet weapons can be successfully adapted to Western tactics of combat. For Brigadier General Radev and his fighter pilot cores, the revelation of the possibility of their MiG-29 fighters, from which they squeezed everything, using the right tactics along with an innovative approach to the use of ground-based operators. According to the general, “I can be proud that, starting from 2005, a second life began for the Bulgarian MiG-29, which opened our Air Force to deep and radical transformations. I have prepared a new generation of fighter pilots who have a full understanding of the capabilities of their aircraft and their own limitations, and who are willing to constantly learn and improve themselves. ”
Opinion pilot MiG-29
Captain Lubomir Slavov, Flight Safety Officer in the 2 Fighter Squadron, is one of the four pilots of the Bulgarian Air Force who underwent their initial training for the maneuvering combat under the guidance of the 93 Squadron instructors in the "Mako Javelin" exercise at 2008 in Otvechay when asked about his impressions of the near-maneuverable battles “MiG-29 against F-15 and F-16”, he said: “It’s very difficult to find a real enemy for the MiG-29 in a close maneuver fight, since this fighter was from the very beginning designed by In order to have excellent performance in close combat, and he still remains one of the best fighters in this category thanks to the redundant and aerodynamic design, which gives him excellent maneuverability. I could see firsthand his superiority in maneuverability in the course of several international exercises, in which the power of the MiG-29 was used to its fullest, especially at low speeds. Given my experience in fighting against F-15 and F-16 with different types of aircraft, it was very difficult for me to survive in a close maneuverable battle against F-16 Block 30, although Block 40 and 50, as well as F-15C are not the most serious opponents among those I have come across. F-15 and F-16 Block 40 / 50 are great aircraft, but close combat with various types of aircraft against the MiG-29 is not their strength. In a battle out of sight, the MiG-29 is technologically inferior to them. According to my modest observations from the cockpit, both of these types of aircraft lose energy faster than my plane: Block 40 faster than F-15 and F-16 Block 50. ”
"An integrated target targeting system, which is used on both the F-15C and the F-16 Block 50, combined with the AIM-9X Sidewinder missile, can be a deadly advantage that experienced F-15 and F-16 pilots can use in maneuverable because you have to remain outside the target targeting system / AIM-9X Sidewinder during an air battle. ”
“In the course of close battles, we conditionally used the on-board gun [the recording of the results was carried out on an outdated FKP-EU cinema photo pistol] and simulators of the R-60 missiles. Unfortunately, during the exercises we did not have the P-73 missile-ready simulators, and this greatly reduced the capabilities of the MiG-29 in a maneuverable battle due to the lack of an all-round missile. The aiming of the P-60 rocket was provided by the excellent ability of the MiG-29 to orientate the nose, especially at low speeds. In one of the closest air combat missions, I tried to use my helmet-mounted targeting system against the F-15, but nothing came of it. ”