May 29, 2022

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The Soviet MiG-27 Jet Fighter’s Gun Was Too Powerful

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The Soviet MiG-27 Jet Fighter’s Gun Was Too Powerful
This fighter was very useful, but its excessively powerful gatling cannon would damage the plane and even blow off parts of its landing gear.

Key point: The Soviet Union made many good, but also not perfect, weapons which it sold around the world. Here is how India used the MiG-29.

On December 27, 2019, the Indian Air Force bade farewell to the last of the beefy MiG-27 attack jets it had dubbed the Bahadur (“Valiant”) in a ceremony held by No. 29 squadron at Jodhpur air station.

The powerful swing-wing jets were a Soviet warplanes license-built by India and upgraded with 2000s-era avionics. Armed with unguided bombs, rockets and an earth-shattering six barreled Gatling guns, the type had seen extensive action during the 1999 Kargil War, blasting Pakistani troops on Himalayan peaks at 18,000 feet above sea level.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Distinguished by its flattened ‘duck bill’ nose leading some pilots to nickname it ‘the Platypus,’ the MiG-27 was not widely exported like the MiG-23 fighter it was spun off from. But aside from combat service in India and Sri Lanka, perhaps it best ought to be remembered for mounting a huge Gatling cannon that threatened to shake the armored warplane apart.

Supersonic Shturmovik

Despite having mass-produced the legendary Il-2 Shturmovik attack plane during World War II, early Soviet Su-7 attacks jets exhibited decidedly lackluster performance and payload—a shortcoming the Soviet Union decided to rectify in the late 1960s.

While the Sukhoi design bureau developed the improved Su-17/Su-20/Su-22 “Fitter” family of supersonic attack jets and the armored, subsonic Su-25 Frogfoot, rival Mikoyan-i-Gurevich opted to create ground-attack model of its forthcoming MiG-23 ‘Flogger’ single-engine fighter. A late-coming Soviet response to the American F-4 Phantom, the MiG-23 was a fast but temperamental beast due to the trickiness of its swing-wing mechanisms.

The first ground attack variant was the MiG-23B, codenamed the Flogger-F by NATO. This had a down-sloped nose for better visibility, steel and aluminum armor fitted around the cockpit and engines, and a then-sophisticated jamming and radio navigation system. It ditched the MiG-23’s air search radar for a laser-rangefinder. The production MiG-23BN model also used a Tumansky R-29 turbojet with superior low-speed performance.

This was a Flogger meant to get down and dirty at high speeds, unleashing 23-millimeter cannon shells, unguided bombs and rockets on enemy troops. The MiG-23BN could also make use of radio-command guided Kh-23 missiles and radar-seeking weapons, as well as short-range K-13 or R-60 heat-seeking air-to-air missiles for self-defense.

However, the MiG bureau followed the MiG-23BN with a more extensive redesign rebranded the MiG-27 (Flogger-D) with modified engine intakes and ruggedized landing gear, decreasing maximum speed to Mach 1.7 at 26,000 feet, but increasing the Flogger’s maximum weapons load to 8,800 pounds mounted on five hardpoints (or seven hardpoints at the expense of swing-wing capability).

The MiG-27’s hydraulically-actuated swing wings allowed it to tailor performance to the situation: fully extended at 16 degrees, they afforded it superior lift and low-speed handling. Fully swept-back at 72 degrees, they allowed excellent supersonic performance for making a fast getaway after unloading weapons. An intermediate 45-degree sweep was standard for routine flying.

The MiG-27 also swapped out the MiG-23’s twin-barrel 23-millimeter cannon for a monstrous six-barrel 30-millimeter GSh-6-30 cannon slung in an under-fuselage gondola at a 1.3 degree offset, drawing from 300 rounds stored in the fuselage.

The huge Shipunov gun had a cyclic fire-rate of 5,000 rounds per minute (see this video), and its gas-operated system spun to maximum firing rate faster than the hydraulic mechanism on the famous 30-millimeter GAU-8 Avenger cannon on American A-10 aircraft.

Indian pilot Anshuman Mainkar described what it was like to fire the huge gun in an interview by Hushkit.net:

“The aircraft seemingly came to a stand-still, engrossed with its target – tracers creating an illusion of morse communication. Smoke and the smell of cordite entered the cockpit, and in a flash it was all over…the airframe shuddered during the trigger pull, and surge was a possibility, hence the exit had to be smooth and deliberate.”

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