May 28, 2013: Strategy Page
Hungary has been trying to sell of its fleet of 24 MiG-29s for the last two years, without much success. Now it will try auctioning them off, along with 21 replacement engines, for a minimum price of $43 million. Bids must arrive by June 14th and if no one offers the minimum it will try again with an even lower price. An earlier effort to find a buyer went nowhere and the obstacle was believed to be price. At less than $2 million each the MiGs appear to be a real bargain. Appearances can be deceiving.
Hungary received 28 MiG-29s in 1993, in payment of $800 million Russia owned Hungary. That came out to about $29 million per aircraft, each with about 14 years of service left in them. But Hungary found the aircraft expensive to maintain. Despite that, half of them were refurbished to extend their service life. In the meantime, two aircraft crashed, and now those that were not refurbished are being cannibalized for spare parts. Hungary has taken its MiG-29s out of service and bought Swedish Gripens. This is a superior fighter and easier and cheaper to operate.
But not everyone is fed up with the MiG-29. Although many nations (Algeria, Hungary, Malaysia, Lebanon) are refusing, or retiring, MiG-29s, Syria has been eager to get them. That's because Syria is broke, and patron Iran is becoming less generous (because of its own economic problems, including more sanctions) with subsidies for military equipment. In 2010 Russia announced that it was selling another 24 (or more) MiG-29s to Syria (which already has about fifty of them). Syria would also like to get its existing MiG-29s upgraded, but may not be able to afford that. That sale and upgrades are on hold until the current civil war in Syria is over.
Other nations are backing away from MiG-29s because of reliability and durability problems. Several times in the last year, Russia has had MiG-29s grounded because of crashes, and suspicion that there might be some kind of fundamental design flaw. All aircraft were eventually returned to flight status. This has not helped sales, and most export customers prefer the larger Su-27 (and its derivatives like the Su-30).
The MiG-29 entered Russian service in 1983, as the answer to the American F-16. Some 1,600 MiG-29s have been produced so far, with most (about 900) exported. The biggest customer, India, received its first MiG-29s in 1986, with deliveries continuing into the 1990s. The 22 ton aircraft is, indeed, roughly comparable to the F-16, but it depends a lot on which version of either aircraft you are talking about. Then there are the notorious reliability problems. Compared to Western aircraft, like the F-16, the MiG-29 is available for action about two thirds as often.