Israeli Intelligence – Enemy Aircraft

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The probably most unlucky MiG-21F-13 ever built – but also the best known of all – was this example, originally belonging to the No. 11 Sqn IrAF, but flown on 12 August 1966 by Capt. Monir Rdfa from Iraq via Jordan to Israel. The MiG-21F-13 was not the most potent version at the time any more, but the Israelis still tested it extensively, learning everything there was about its performances and capabilities.

First flown in 1955 and extensively exported, the delta-wing Soviet MiG-21 was superior to anything in Israel’s inventory in 1967. High thrust-to-weight gave it good acceleration and rate of climb. The MiG-21 could not turn as tightly as the MiG-17, which some pilots preferred even though the MiG-17 was subsonic and the MiG-21 supersonic. Skillful Israeli pilots could beat the MiG-21 even while flying greatly inferior aircraft such as the Ouragan or Super Mystere. During the Arab-Israeli wars, Egypt operated hundreds of MiG-21F-13, MiG-21FL, MiG- 21M, MiG-21MF, MiG-21PF, and MiG-21PFM interceptors as well as training and reconnaissance versions. Egypt bought 100 Chinese built MiG-21F-13 fighters (the F-7) in the 1980s. The MiG-21F-13 had a 1,350-mph maximum speed and a 50,000-foot ceiling. Range was 808 miles on internal fuel. Armament consisted of one 20-mm cannon and two Vympel K-13 air-to-air missiles (a Soviet copy of the American AIM-9 Sidewinder). The MiG-21 weighed 10,979 pounds empty and 19,014 pounds loaded.

The MiG-21PF had a 1,350-mph maximum speed and a 50,000- foot ceiling. Range was 963 miles on internal fuel. Armament was the same as the MiG-21F-13. The aircraft weighed 11,587 pounds empty and 20,018 pounds loaded.

Most Egyptian aircraft were destroyed on the ground in June 1967, but again the Soviets replaced them. By October 1973, Egypt had 210 MiG-21s, 100 MiG-17s, and 110 bomber and ground-attack aircraft, although many were unserviceable. After the Yom Kippur War, Egypt and Israel reached a peace agreement and have not met in aerial combat since then.

MiG-21 Defector

Although Arab air forces could only estimate the relative strengths and weaknesses of the MiG-21 in combat with the Mirage IIICJ prior to the clashes of 1967, the IDF/AF went into the Six Day War fully aware of just how effective a fighter the “Fishbed-C” was. On August 16, 1966, an IrAF MiG-21F-13 landed at Hatzor, thus ending a clandestine operation that had started in April 1965 when IDF/AF Commander Ezer Weizman mentioned how valuable an example of the Soviet fighter would be during a routine discussion with the Director of the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations, better known as Mossad. Agents were ordered to track down an Arab fighter pilot willing to defect to Israel.

A candidate in the IrAF surfaced in late 1965 in the form of Capt Munir Redfa, although at that time he was operations officer of a MiG-17 squadron! By August 1966 he was flying the MiG-21 from Rashid, on the outskirts of Baghdad, so the defection operation was activated. Redfa embarked upon his epic 65-minute direct flight from Rashid to Hatzor on August 16, a pair of No. 119 Sqn Shahaks [Dassault Mirage IIICJ] scrambling from Tel Nof to escort the MiG-21 pilot along the final leg of his flight.

Dassault Mirage IIICJ

This low-cost delta-wing supersonic French fighter first flew in 1960 and was widely exported. Israel bought 72 Mirage IIICJ interceptors, 2 photo-reconnaissance models, and 4 trainers. They operated from 1961 until 1980 and were the first Israeli fighters equipped with air-to-air missiles, although pilots tended to prefer the more reliable and effective cannon. Their speed, acceleration, and climb rate were slightly inferior to the MiG-21. Nevertheless, Israeli Mirage pilots achieved highly favorable kill ratios against the MiG-21. The Mirage IIICJ had a maximum speed of 1,386 mph, a 59,055-foot ceiling, and a 745-mile range on internal fuel. Armament included two 30-mm cannon and up to 5,000 pounds of external stores on five pylons. The aircraft weighed 13,055 pounds empty and 21,444 pounds loaded. After June 1967, the United States became Israel’s primary supplier of combat aircraft.

In 1969, Israel received its first McDonnell Phantom fighters and Douglas Skyhawk attack jets. American electronics countermeasures equipment, jammers, chaff dispensers, and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles enhanced Israeli fighter survivability and lethality. Israel began the Yom Kippur War with 127 Phantoms, 162 Skyhawks, 35 Mirage IIICs, 40 Israeli-built Neshers, and 15 Super Mysteres.

The IDF/AF evaluation

The IDF/AF evaluation of the ex-Iraqi MiG-21F-13 commenced with a technical inspection of the airframe and the replacement of the original radio transceiver with a standard Israeli set. The MiG-21 received high praise for its simple, robust construction, although some of the techniques used in its building came in for criticism. Poor access to components that routinely needed changing due to their short operational life was also flagged up. For example, the IDF/AF’s flight operations with the MiG-21 were routinely interrupted by the short life cycle of the fighter’s tyres. With no supply of replacement parts to fall back on, the original worn-out tyres had to be regularly renewed through vulcanisation. Another MiG-21 design feature that IDF/AF experts considered to be a major weakness was the proximity of the aircraft’s high-octane fuel tank for its internal starter to the environmental control system’s oxygen bottle. Obviously it was impossible to aim for this small area in combat, but engineers believed that any battle damage sustained in this section of the fuselage would almost certainly cause the MiG-21 to explode.

The in-flight evaluation of the IrAF aircraft started on September 13, 1966 when Chief Test Pilot Danny Shapira performed a familiarisation sortie. During a dozen flights from September 22 to November 7, 1966, the MiG-21’s performance was compared to those of a Shahak flown by IDF/AF Weapons Systems Section test pilot Ezra Aharon. As expected, the MiG-21 had the upper hand when fighting vertically, while the Shahak proved superior in sustained manoeuvrability, especially at low altitudes. It was also discovered that a MiG-21 pilot had to endure a cramped cockpit with inferior visibility, and that the fighter’s handling deteriorated considerably at speeds in excess of 575mph.

Defections to Israel

  1. On 16 August 1966, Iraqi Captain Munir Redfa flew his MiG-21F-13 to Israel as a result of Mossad Operation Diamond. Two years later, Israel gave his MiG-21F-13 and two MiG-17F to the United States for evaluation under the code-name “Have Doughnut” (for the MiG-21), and “Have Drill” (for the MiG-17).

Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17. This was essentially an improved MiG-15 with better wings and more power. Extremely agile and with excellent turning abilities, the MiG-17 proved a tricky adversary for ostensibly superior U. S. aircraft such as the F-100, F-105, and F-4 over North Vietnam in the 1960s. Egypt operated MiG-17F and PF models from 1956 to 1982. The MiG-17F had a 710-mph maximum speed and a 54,500-foot ceiling. Range was 913 miles on external tanks. Armament consisted of two 23-mm cannon and one 37-mm cannon. The MiG-17 weighed 8,664 pounds empty and 11,773 pounds loaded. The MiG-17PF incorporated an afterburner and radar. Egypt’s air force was destroyed during the Suez Crisis, but the Soviets quickly replaced it. In June 1967, Egypt had 120 MiG-21s, 80 MiG-19s, and 150 MiG-15/17s. Readiness was poor, however, with only about 60 percent of aircraft operational.

  1. On October 11, 1989, Syrian pilot Abdel Bassem landed his MiG-23ML in Israel. The swing-wing MiG-23 entered Soviet service in 1971. More than 4,000 were built, and the MiG-23 was widely exported. The MiG-23 had good acceleration, but export models often lacked radars and ECMs that enhanced survivability and effectiveness. Syria received the MiG-23MS in 1975, the MiG- 23MLD in 1982, the MiG-23MF in 1986, and the MiG-23ML in 1988. Syria also operated ground-attack and training versions. The MiG-23MLD had a 1,550-mph maximum speed and a 60,695-foot ceiling. Range was 715 miles with six air-to-air missiles. Armament consisted of one 23-mm cannon and up to six air-to-air missiles or bombs. The MiG-23 weighed 21,153 pounds empty and 34,612 pounds loaded.

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