America Purchased 21 Russian Mig-29 Fighters

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Lorenzo von Matterhorn
Jan 31, 2009
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America Purchased 21 Russian Mig-29 Fighters

When the Soviet Union collapsed in late 1991, the newly independent states within its former domain inherited enormous stockpiles of weapons the Red Army left behind.

One of the most interesting cases involved the air force of the tiny former Soviet republic of Moldova. The new republic’s inventory consisted of 34 MiG-29 Fulcrums, eight Mi-8 Hip helicopters and a handful of transport aircraft — a sizeable force for such a small state. To put Moldova’s size into perspective, the country’s population is smaller than the metro area of Portland, Oregon.

Moldova couldn’t afford to maintain the fleet and, to make matters worse, was in a deep recession. Meanwhile, the United States feared Moldova would sell the MiG-29s to Iran, which could use them to bolster its own fleet of Fulcrums. Washington was also wary that Moldova might pass the technology to Iran’s rivals since the fleet included 14 MiG-29C variants configured to deliver nuclear weapons.

So in 1997, the United States deployed its most powerful tool to get the MiG-29s for itself. That tool … was money. Washington bought 21 of the MiG-29s — including 14 C models, one B model and six A models — and flew them in pieces on C-17 transport planes to Dayton, Ohio.

Not only was purchasing the jets a good way of ensuring they did not end up in Tehran’s hands, it gave Washington an opportunity to inspect one of the most sophisticated Soviet jets ever built. In exchange, Moldova received $40 million in humanitarian assistance, some army trucks and other non-lethal equipment.

Moldova sold the rest of its air force to Eritrea and Yemen. The newly American MiG-29s would largely disappear into a maze of testing squadrons, intelligence centers and U.S. Air Force “exploitation facilities,” according to Air & Space Magazine.

The Truth About the MiG-29
How U.S. intelligence services solved the mystery of a cold war killer.

The MiG-29 Fulcrum outside the National Air and Space Intelligence Center at Ohio’s Wright-Patterson Air Force Base has a hornet’s nest growing in its nose. Its tires, lifted off the ground by stands, are split and shredded. Bird droppings drool off its radome. The aircraft gives the impression of a war prize displayed like a head on a stake. In a way, it is a war prize, taken in the winning of the cold war. It’s one of 17 MiG-29s the U.S. government purchased from the former Soviet state of Moldova in 1997, a deal that kept the jets from being sold to Iran. The loose confederation that replaced the Soviet Union was not in a position to stop the buy, and it became one more ignominy in the Soviet collapse. “Any military establishment of any country would be upset if its opponent would receive an opportunity to evaluate and test its most modern weapons,” says Moscow-based aviation historian Sergey Isaev. “I wonder how happy would the White House be and Pentagon if Mexico, for example, would even try to sell its UH-60L Blackhawk helicopters to the Russian Federation?”

At least one example found its way to Nevada’s Nellis Air Force Base Threat Training Facility, known within the service as the Petting Zoo. (Been there. - W) It displays a host of foreign-made hardware for budding intelligence professionals to examine. As for the rest of the airframes and associated parts: classified, except for one early A model that took the 10-minute trip from NASIC to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force.

Inside the museum, curator Jeff Duford and I enter the 40,000-square-foot Cold War gallery, and he points out the “Checkpoint Charlie” exhibit. The very recently acquired (and-now-where-do-we-put-it?) NASA Space Shuttle Crew Compartment Trainer dominates the left of the hangar and has pushed the other aircraft into a theme-be-damned hodgepodge to the right. Here, Ohio’s second MiG-29 sits in an illogical 45-degree nose-to-nose pairing with an unlovely Fairchild-Republic A-10 “Warthog.”

"Petting zoo" photos (the place is no longer restricted access as is mentioned at the link - with Google Earth et al, anything on outdoor display would be easy to see by anyone anyway - W).
Can I get one to park next to my tank?

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