Over the weekend, I heard NPR intoning with worried voice that ISIS was working on getting some captured Syrian jet fighters operational.
This, the worried NPR reporters told us, would be a worrisome development in the developing war in the Levant.
And I thought “well, maybe to NPR reporters. But I have a hunch I know one crowd who’d just loooooooove it if ISIS were to cough up a plane or two”:
“I’d sell my first born to engage all three… by myself,” one highly experienced U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot joked. Another Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle pilot said, “Send me in, coach! There’s no way they get those airborne!”
Western, non-Israeli fighter pilots haven’t had any air-to-air combat since the first Gulf War, 20-odd years ago – and even that was rare. The Iraqi air force largely buried itself in the sand (not making that up) or flew to…Syria and Iran in 2003.
The ISIS “air force” apparently has two MIG-21s – infamous dogfighters in Vietnam, which led to the design of the F-16, forty years ago - and a single MIG-23, a Cold-War-era mainstay of the Soviet air force.
Both were designed in an era where either planes were fighters, or bombers – not both:
“We’re not talking about aircraft that are extremely effective at delivering ordinance both in terms of equipment and training,” said one U.S. Air Force official. “It’s simply not worth it beyond an easily discreditable propaganda ploy.”
The MiG-21 does not carry a huge amount of weaponry and was originally designed to fight other aircraft. Meanwhile, the MiG-23 is a much bigger and more complex jet that requires a professional pilot to operate properly.
Oh, make no mistake – they both require professional pilots. If not to fly them, then to survive in combat long enough to say they were in combat.
There are a fighter pilot or two among the regular commentariat here at SITD. I’ll invite their feedback…