MiG-29KR Crashes Off Syria During Maiden Cruise Aboard Russian Carrier

Russia’s newest naval fighter has a bad start to combat operations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

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Details remain sketchy, but the Russian Ministry of Defense has confirmed that one of four MiG-29KR naval strike fighters has crashed off Syria while operating near its floating base, the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The fighter’s pilot supposedly ejected safely and was recovered by one of the flotilla’s Kamov helicopters.

The Russian Ministry of Defense confirmed the incident, stating:

“An aviation accident with carrier-based fighter MIG-29K occurred during exercise flights as a result of a technical fault during the approach landing a few kilometers from the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft-carrying cruiser…the Russian aircraft carrier group continues its activity in the Mediterranean Sea as planned. The flights of sea-based aviation continue."

The carrier’s aircraft were thought to have just began flight operations over Syria over the weekend, though it is unclear to what degree this is continuing after the incident. 

The MiG-29KR is an upgraded, navalized version of the MiG-29 Fulcrum. The subtype has been in development in one form or another since the late 1980s (read all about the Mig-29K here). The Indian Navy was the first to field a version of the design, operating it aboard the modified Kiev class aircraft-carrying missile cruiser INS Vikramaditya, their only fixed-wing aircraft carrier. Like the planes, the ship was also supplied by the Russians over a drawn-out, overbudget ordeal. 45 MiG-29Ks were ordered by the Indian Navy to equip the ship’s air wing and training squadron; so far, the type’s Indian Navy service has had its fair share of issues. 

Indian Navy

An Indian Navy MiG-29K lands aboard INS Vikramaditya.

Russia continued to develop the jet following the Indian Navy deal, integrating all Russian-made systems and avionics into new version of it calls the MiG-29KR. An order for 20 of these aircraft was placed by the Russian Navy with the hopes that they would eventually replace the larger, aging navalized Su-33 Flanker, an aircraft that has been the backbone of the Kuznetsov’s air wing for decades. 

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A Russian MiG-29KR aboard the Admiral Kuznetsov. 

Although Russia has said that flight operations continue following the crash, with one MiG-29KR lost due to as-yet-undisclosed or unknown reasons, it puts the rest of the small MiG-29KR fleet’s availability for combat operations in doubt. It is also an embarrassing incident for the Kuznetsov, a historically unreliable, smoke-billowing ship which some think is a bigger threat to itself than to its enemies and for the MiG-29KR prorgram, which is one of Russia's most modern.

Russia's training program for its limited carrier flight operations has also long been a concern. With only one aircraft carrier (which sometimes goes for years without sailing) and a small handful of fighters capable of operating from the ship, the Russian Navy's ability to retain a critical mass of experienced pilots qualified to operate in the dangerous shipboard enviroment is questionable.

Kuznetsov is part of a large Russian surface action group that is operating in the eastern Mediterranean Sea under heavy NATO surveillance. It is thought that the armada will take part in a large combined arms offensive in Aleppo during its deployment to the region.

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Admiral Kuznetsov trailing its trademark smoke as it plows the English Channel. 

We will keep this post updated throughout the day with any new details as they become available. 

Contact the author Tyler@thedrive.com