The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-23 (Russian: Микоян и Гуревич МиГ-23; NATO reporting name: Flogger) is a variable-geometry fighter aircraft, designed by the Mikoyan-Gurevich design bureau in the Soviet Union. It is considered to belong to the Soviet third-generation jet fighter category, along with similarly aged Soviet fighters such as the MiG-25 "Foxbat". It was the first attempt by the Soviet Union to design look-down/shoot-down radar and one of the first to be armed with beyond visual range missiles. Production started in 1970 and reached large numbers with over 5,000 aircraft built. Today the MiG-23 remains in limited service with various export customers.
The basic design was also used as the basis for the Mikoyan MiG-27, a dedicated ground-attack variant. Among many minor changes, the MiG-27 replaced the MiG-23's nose-mounted radar system with an optical panel holding a laser designator and a TV camera.
MiG-23 wing-sweep mechanism.
The MiG-23's predecessor, the MiG-21 (NATO reporting name "Fishbed"), was fast and agile, but limited in its operational capabilities by its primitive radar, short range, and limited weapons load (restricted in some aircraft to a pair of short-range R-3/K-13 (AA-2 "Atoll") air-to-air missiles). The MiG-23 was to be a heavier, more powerful machine designed to remedy these deficiencies, and match Western aircraft like the F-4 Phantom. The new fighter was to feature a totally new S-23 sensor and weapon system capable of firing beyond-visual-range (BVR) missiles.
MiG-23 cockpit in high resolution
A major design consideration was take-off and landing performance. Existing Soviet fast jets required very long runways which, combined with their limited range, restricted their tactical usefulness. The VVS demanded the new aircraft have a much shorter take-off run. Low-level speed and handling was also to be improved over the MiG-21. This led Mikoyan to consider two options: lift jets, to provide an additional lift component, and variable-geometry wings, which had been developed by TsAGI for both "clean-sheet" aircraft designs and adaptations of existing designs.
The first prototype, called "23-01" but also known as the MiG-23PD, was a tailed delta similar to the MiG-21 but with two lift jets in the fuselage. However, it became apparent very early that this configuration was unsatisfactory, as the lift jets became useless dead weight once airborne. The second prototype, known as "23-11", featured variable-geometry wings which could be set to angles of 16, 45 and 72 degrees, and it was clearly more promising. The maiden flight of 23–11 took place on 10 June 1967, flown by the famous MiG test pilot Alexander Vasilevich Fedotov (who set the absolute altitude record in 1977 in a MiG-25 "Foxbat"). Six more flight prototypes and two static-test prototypes were prepared for further flight and system testing. All featured the Tumansky R-27-300 turbojet engine with a thrust of 7850 kp. The order to start series production of the MiG-23 was given in December 1967. The first production "MiG-23S" (NATO reporting name 'Flogger-A') took to the air on 21 May 1969, with Fedotov at the controls.
The General Dynamics F-111 and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II were the main Western influences on the MiG-23. The Soviets, however, wanted a much lighter, single-engined fighter to maximize agility. Both the F-111 and the MiG-23 were designed as fighters, but the heavy weight and inherent stability of the F-111 turned it into a long-range interdictor and kept it out of the fighter role. The MiG-23's designers kept the MiG-23 light and agile enough to dogfight with enemy fighters.
MiG-23M "Flogger-B" armed with R-23 and R-60 missiles
The MiG-23's armament evolved as the type's avionics were upgraded and new variants were deployed. The earliest versions, which were equipped with the MiG-21's fire control system, were limited to firing variants of the R-3/K-13 (AA-2 "Atoll") missile. The R-60 (AA-8 "Aphid") replaced the R-3 during the '70s, and from the MiG-23M onwards the BVR R-23/R-24 (AA-7 "Apex") was carried. The MiG-23MLD is capable of firing the R-73 (AA-11 "Archer"), but this missile was not exported until the MiG-29 was released for export. The helmet-mounted sight associated with the R-73 missile was fitted on the MiG-23MLDG and other experimental MiG-23MLD subvariants that never entered production as had been originally planned. The reason was that these MiG-23MLD subvariants had less priority than the then ongoing MiG-29 program, and the Mikoyan bureau therefore decided to concentrate all their efforts on the MiG-29 program and halted further work on the MiG-23. Nevertheless, a helmet-mounted sight is now offered as part of the MiG-23-98 upgrade. There were reports of the MiG-23MLD being capable of firing the R-27 (AA-10 "Alamo") beyond experimental tests; however, it seems only Angola's MiG-23-98s are capable of doing so. A MiG-23 was used to test and fire the R-27, R-73, and R-77 (AA-12 "Adder") air-to-air missiles during their early flight and firing trials. Ground-attack armament includes 57 mm rocket pods, general purpose bombs up to 500 kg in size, gun pods, and Kh-23 (AS-7 "Kerry") radio-guided missiles. Up to four external fuel tanks could be carried.
Western and Russian aviation historians usually differ in respect to combat record for their military vehicles and doctrines part due to the bias in favor of their respective national industries and academies. They also usually accept claims going along with their respective political views since usually many conflicting and contradictory reports are written and accepted by their respective historians. Before recent years, with widespread use of hand portable cameras, little pictorial evidence could be published about specific losses and victories of the different combat systems, with a limited number of losses and victories confirmed by both parties. Western sources, generally attribute a very limited number of confirmed air-to-air victories to the MiG-23 while reporting a higher number of MiG-23s downed mostly by Israeli Air Force in 1982, while Russian sources generally decrease the number of losses and increase the number of inflicted kills bringing the air-to-air kill to loss ratio to around parity.