Key point: For a major military power like the Soviet Union and its Russian successor, there is always going to be a glut of aircraft roles to fill at various intensity levels and operational uses.
As with many of Russia’s most prolific aircraft, the MiG-29 has spawned numerous variants four decades of service. Originally intended as an superiority fighter, and particularly as the Soviet answer to the F-16, the MiG-29 has been gradually recast as a multi-role aircraft with an increasingly robust air-to-surface armament suite.
The MiG-29’s new purpose was on full display at a recent combat exercise at the Ashuluk training grounds near the Astrakhan region in southwestern Russia. In a rarity for publicized, high-profile Russian aircraft drills, a squad of upgraded MiG-29SMT’s was deployed for the explicit purpose of neutralizing “international terrorists.” Specifically, they were practicing coordinated airstrikes against light armor columns.
TV Zvezda, the official television channel of Russia’s Defense Ministry, released a clip of the exercise (see the previous link).
The footage depicts MiG-29SMT’s flying in formation, before panning to a brief shot of the SMT’s partly digitized avionics. A fighter can be seen discharging its armaments; the moment of impact was not shown, but Zvezda reports that the SMT’s fired unguided S-13 rockets at a light armor column with good effect on target (GEOT). The MiG-29SMT’s proceeded to practice dogfighting maneuvers in pairs before returning to base.
Unsurprisingly, the SMT upgrade package revolves around a much-improved ground attack capability. It gives the MiG-29 access to an expanded suite of Kh-29, Kh-31, and Kh-25 air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles, with six external hardpoints to deploy them. As with almost all Soviet-era aircraft, it is compatible with the aforementioned, highly versatile S-13 line of unguided rockets. Aside from typical modernization improvements in updated avionics and increased ECM (electronic countermeasures) tools, the SMT introduces a new antenna array better suited for detecting ground targets.