A Stolen Russian fighter Jet, America, Israel, and a Cold War

 

MiG -21

By Gideon

In the early years of the Vietnam war American fighter pilots were losing the air-to-air battle over Vietnam. In the mid 1960s the “Kill Ratio” over the Vietnamese sky  was in favor of  North Vietnam . The North Vietnamese pilots flew the advanced Russian MiG-21 fighter jet, and the older MiG-17. American fighter pilots flew primarily the  F-4  Phantom, the F-104 Starfighter , the Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter, and the F-105 Thunderchief  (the only U.S. aircraft to have been removed from combat due to high loss rates).  This article is about the lessons learned from the Israeli Mossad operation that “acquired” a Russian made jet fighter MiG-21. A plane that terrorized the sky over Vietnam, and threatened to do the same over the Israeli sky.

The Israeli air force of the 1960s flew the French made Dassault Mirage IIIC, which was significantly different from the US made aircrafts. For that reasons, after learning the secrets of the MiG-21, the tactics of how to win air battles against the MiG-21, developed by the Israeli air force, where almost opposite of the tactics developed by the American pilots. While American pilots were trained to avoid dogfights with the more maneuverable MiG-21 and to use the speed advantage to shoot down enemy planes, the Israeli pilots were trained to drag the MiG pilots into a dogfight where the Mirage had the advantage. 

American pilots were warned against participating in “prolonged maneuvering engagements,” aka dogfighting. It was  recommended that pilots press an attack only if they had an initial rear-hemisphere advantage. In particular, F-105 Thunderchief pilots were advised to emulate the MiG-21’s hit-and-run tactics.

Mirage IIIC

The MiG-21 was the first successful Soviet aircraft combining fighter and interceptor characteristics in a single aircraft. It was a lightweight fighter, achieving Mach 2 with a relatively low-powered afterburning turbojet, and is thus comparable to the American Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and Northrop F-5 Freedom Fighter and the French Dassault Mirage III. Like many aircraft designed as interceptors, the MiG-21 had a short-range. The MiG-21 had delta wing was excellent for a fast-climbing interceptor. The aircraft’s simple controls, engine, weapons, and avionics were typical of Sovietera military designs. The use of a tail with the delta wing aids stability and control at the extremes of the flight envelope, enhancing safety for lower-skilled pilots. The MiG-21 was named “Fishbed” by NATO. American pilots called it “Have Doughnut” because its nose resembled a Doughnut.

F-104 Starfighter

The MiG-21 was a product of Soviet bloc thinking that placed an emphasis of removing as much initiative from the pilot as possible. Instead, the pilot was just one cog in the clockwork that was the GCI (Ground Controlled Intercept) system. Fighter pilots were completely subordinate to their ground controllers and followed strict command and control procedures, greatly limiting their effectiveness in free-for-all combat situations. 

The North Vietnamese flew their interceptors with guidance from ground controllers, who positioned the MiGs in ambush battle stations to make their “one pass, then haul ass” attacks. The MiGs made fast and often accurate attacks against US formations from several directions (usually the MiG-17s performed head-on attacks and the MiG-21s attacked from the rear). After shooting down a few American planes and forcing some of the F-105s to drop their bombs prematurely, the MiGs did not wait for retaliation, but disengaged rapidly. These “guerrilla warfare in the air” tactics generally proved successful during the course of the war. In December 1966 the MiG-21 pilots of the 921st FR downed 14 F-105s without any losses.

During the entirety of the Vietnam air war, the total number of fighters deployed by the North Vietnamese never exceeded 100 airframes at any given time, and was composed mostly MiG-17s and MiG-21s, both were strictly visual range dogfighters. The North Vietnamese knew they would never survive a direct force-on-force confrontation, fortunately for them the Soviets were willing to provide them with an extensive Radar and SAM network, allowing the Vietnamese to what they did best-ambush.

The MiG-21s were “vectored into the rear hemisphere for a high-speed, single-pass attack,” generally from a cross-course intercept. For example, when US fighters were bombing targets north of Hanoi,  enemy MiG-21s would be vectored by ground control intercept radar from Chinese airspace to a position behind the Phantoms. As the F-4s pulled up from their target, the MiGs would launch Atoll missiles and zoom back to political sanctuary in China.

Air forces called these attacks “blow-throughs.” At high altitude the MiG-21’s small size made it very difficult to visually acquire or keep in sight while maneuvering. In a frontal or trailing attack, its slight silhouette also made it difficult to acquire on radar. Seriously complicating air superiority efforts was the fact that North Vietnamese airfields, parked aircraft, command centers, and main radar installations were forbidden targets. During the late 1960s, thanks to this combination of technical strengths, tactical advantages, and political protections, MiG-21s shot down more American F-4s and F-105s than the US was able to kill in return.

The North Vietnamese pilots were carefully trained and competent warriors. Their top ace, Nguyen Van Coc, was credited with seven aircraft and two Firebee unmanned aerial vehicles destroyed. His aircraft victories included two Air Force F-4s, one Navy F-4B, two “Wild Weasel” F-105Fs, one F-105D, and the only F-102A kill of the war.

Enemy command and control was excellent, too. North Vietnamese interceptors were expertly guided by their ground controllers, who set up the MiGs perfectly to ambush the American fighters. MiG interceptors used their advantages in ambush and hit-and-run tactics to great effect.

Republic F-105 Thunderchief

In about 80 percent of the North Vietnamese Air Force kills, the victims were unaware they were under attack. As USAF’s “Red Baron” study of aerial warfare in Vietnam determined,  before the US obtained effective radar coverage of North Vietnam, the winner of an air engagement usually initiated the combat from a position of nearly unbeatable advantage.

The F-105 Thunderchief was designed to drop nuclear bombs from it’s internal bomb bay. It was converted  into a bomber in the Vietnam war.  The F-105 was one of the primary attack aircraft of the Vietnam war and the dominant attack aircraft early in the war; over 20,000 Thunderchief sorties were flown, with 382 aircraft lost, including 62 operational (non-combat) losses (out of the 833 produced). Although less agile than smaller MiG fighters, USAF F-105s were credited with 27.5 kills. Of these, 24.5 were shot down with cannon fire. The two-seat F-105F and F-105G Wild Weasel variants became the first dedicated Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) platforms. While most of the 382 F-105s were lost to SAMs, only 17 were actually lost to MiGs. Considering that they were sitting ducks, laden with 14,000 pounds of bombs, it is to the credit of the pilots and planes it still managed to shoot down 27.5 MiGs. Production of the F-105 Thunderchief had already ended, so the remaining bombers were pulled from duty. The Wild Weasels continued for a while longer.

The F-4 is everything the MiG-21 is not, immensely big, immensely heavy, immensely strong. The appearances of the Phantom and the MiG-21 could scarcely have been more different. The big, burly Phantom weighed nearly 19 tons, while the MiG-21 weighed slightly less than 10 tons. The Phantom was 63 feet long with a wingspan of more than 38 feet. The MiG-21 with a much smaller profile and more nimble appearance stretched just under 48 feet in length, and its wingspan was just under 24 feet. Both aircraft were capable of speeds of at least Mach 2.

The MiG-21 was typically armed with air-to-air missiles such as the AA-2 Atoll and a 23mm internal cannon. The Phantom was often armed with the AIM-7 Sparrow or AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. Each was capable of carrying a bomb load as well. Early Phantoms deployed to Vietnam were armed only with missiles. Lacking a cannon, these fighters were often at a disadvantage in dogfights with the MiG-21 and other Soviet- and Chinese-manufactured fighter aircraft. Later models were equipped with an internal 20mm M61 Vulcan internal rotary cannon. The Phantom held the edge with multiple missiles, often up to eight, while the MiG-21 carried only two.

The U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy had great expectations from the F4 Phantom, assuming that the massive firepower, the best available on-board radar, the highest speed and acceleration properties, coupled with new tactics, would provide Phantoms with an advantage over the MiGs. But in confrontations with the lighter MiG-21, F-4s suffered losses. From May to December 1966, the U.S. air forces lost 47 aircraft, destroying only 12 North Vietnamese fighters in return. From April 1965 to November 1968, over 268 air battles occurred over the skies of North Vietnam. North Vietnam claimed 244 downed U.S. aircraft, while admitting to the loss of 85 MiGs.

 

F-4  Phantom

A poor air-to-air combat loss-exchange ratios against the smaller, more agile enemy MiGs during the early part of the Vietnam War eventually led the USN to create their Navy Fighter Weapons School, also known as “TOPGUN” at Naval Air Station Miramar, California on 3 March 1969 The USAF quickly followed with their own version, titled the Dissimilar Air Combat Training (sometimes referred to as Red Flag) program at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. These two programs employed the subsonic Douglas A-4 Skyhawk and the supersonic F-5 Tiger II, as well as the Mach 2.4-capable USAF Convair F-106 Delta Dart, which mimicked the MiG-21. However, the American made jets could not mimic the MiG in a way that will allow American pilots to learn how to defeat it. The US armed forces needed to learn the secrets of the MiG-21 to gain advantage over it. At that time, No NATO country had  MiG-21 to be used for testing. The answer came from a un expected place. It was complete surprise.

In the mid 1960s Israel  was in preparation for its next war with its Arab neighbors, which eventually erupted in 1967 (the Six Days War). The MiG-21 was used extensively in the Middle East conflicts of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s by the Egyptian Air Force, Syrian Air Force and Iraqi Air Force. A 20-year arms embargo imposed by the US Congress had denied Israel modern aircraft such as the Lockheed F-104 Starfighter and the newer McDonnell Aircraft F-4 Phantom. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) was equipped with slower French-made Vautours and Mirage IIIC fighters.

The Mach 2 fighter jet posed a serious threat to Israel’s ability to maintain air superiority in that nation’s dangerous and tense neighborhood. In the air order of battle, the Israelis faced down enemy air forces that included 18 MiG-21s in Syria, 10 in Iraq, and 34 in Egypt. At the time, the Israeli Air Force had nothing comparable to the MiG21.

During a lunch in 1964 between the Israeli Air Force cheif, General Ezer Weitzman, and the head of the Mossad General Meir Amit, Weitzman asked Amit to get him a MiG-21. Two year later, on Aug. 16, 1966, Iraqi Air Force Capt. Munir Radfa defected to Israel in a MiG-21 jet fighter. The MiG-21 was, at the time, a state-of-the-art Soviet aircraft and the pride of Russia’s aircraft industry. The defection, orchestrated by the Israeli government, soon gave both Israel and the United States access to intelligence from a frontline Soviet fighter that the two nations would face in battle in the coming years. 

After the transfer of his family initiated, Captain Radfa waited to be assigned a long-range training sortie over the western desert during which he would try to reach Israel. On Aug. 16, 1966, while flying in aircraft 534, a MiG-21F-13 Fishbed-C with a full load of fuel, Radfa broke away from his formation and made his way to Israel. The MiG-21 flew across Jordan and entered Israeli airspace just south of the Dead Sea thanks to a flight path provided by the Israelis that would have avoided his detection by Jordanian radar stations. After Radfa crossed Israeli border, the Mig-21 was flanked by two Mirages IIIs flown by two of the best IAF pilots, Major Ran Peker, 119 Squadron Commanding Officer, and Lieutenant Colonel Shamuel Shefer, who was Tel Nof Air Base Commander, who escorted the jet to Hatzor avoiding sensitive areas.

 

Israeli Air Force cheif, General Ezer Weitzman with test pilot Dani Shapira and ground crew next to the Iraqi MiG-21. The MiG was marked with Israeli air force insignia to ensure that it won’t be shot down by other Israeli pilots by mistake. 

The Iraqi MiG-21 in testing in an Israeli air force base, still with the Iraqi flag painted on its tail. 

The Israeli test pilot Dani Shapira examining the Iraqi MiG-21

After studying its secrets, the Israeli air force shipped in January 1968 the Iraqi MiG-21 to Area-51 in Nevada where it was tested extensively by American pilots and engineers in an operation code-named “Operation Have Doughnut”. The importance of the stolen MiG-21 to the shift in air dominance  over Vietnam is described best in an article published by the US Air Force magazine :

“Despite facing worthy opponents and severe political constraints throughout the war, Air Force fighter crews ended the war with a positive kill-loss ratio. The bulk of the credit for this goes to USAF’s (and Navy’s  – G) airmen, but the knowledge gleaned by testing a front-line MiG-21 borrowed from Israel surely contributed to the success.”

In 1982 the Israelis requested the Mig-21 007 back, since they wanted to expose it in the IAF Museum in Hatzerim. However, the U.S. sent them another MiG-21. Israel tried once again to have the real 007 but, once again, the U.S. sent a wrong Fishbed: at this point it was clear that the Americans had too many MiG-21s and Israel could only accept this last one that was soon put on display at the Museum.

 

MiG-21 with American markings being tested by US pilots in Area-51, Nevada

MiG-21 painted with American markings, during testing at Groom Lake – Area 51, Nevada

 

Lessons learned by Israeli Pilots:

Israel had its MiG-21 and Danny Shapira, the legendary IAF test pilot, flew it in mock air engagements against the Mirage III. What he discovered is that even if the Fishbed was a good high-altitude fighter and an easy aircraft to fly, it was also underpowered in many important areas of the flight envelope. However the two aircraft were found to be nearly evenly matched, and it was the pilot’s skill and determination that largely  determined the outcome of an engagement between the two.

The Mirage IIICJ was developed more or less in parallel with the Soviet-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21F. The  French-produced Dassault Mirage IIICJ (called Shahak, or “Sky Blazer,” by its Israeli pilots) and the MiG-21 were arguably as closely comparable in performance as Mach 2 interceptors ever got when they clashed during the Six Day War of June 1967. The deciding factor lay in the intensity and consistency of their pilots’ training, something at which Israel excelled. Nevertheless, as Israeli historian Shlomo Aloni reveals in his new addition to Osprey’s “Duel” series, the vaunted Israeli pilots had to learn to deal with challenges such as faulty guided missiles, gunsight issues and delayed-detonation cannon shells designed for bomber interception that punched right through the MiGs to explode beyond. Readjusted to detonate on impact, the 30mm rounds accounted for all but one of the 23 MiG-21s claimed by the Shahak pilots between July 14, 1966, and June 10, 1967.

Lessons learned by American Pilots:

The Israeli MiG-21 was the first MiG the US armed forces had in its possession to analyse. However, as the war progressed, the US armed forces were able to acquire additional MiGs from other nations. The learnings listed below is from all MiG trials and training missions.

Like most Soviet aircraft of the time, cockpit ergonomics were terrible by western standards, avionics was rudimentary and the gun-sights were inferior to American systems at the time, cockpit visibility both to the front and rear became progressively worse with later marks.

This is what an American pilot who flew the ‘acquired’ MiG-21s in aggressor training had to say about the plane:

“It had no gas – a point-defense fighter. We didn’t know what 90 percent of the switches did. We changed the ASI and parts of the oxygen system. We had one switch that we just labeled BOMB EXPLODE. “

“It was fun to fly. You could see out pretty well (This was an earlier model with a larger canopy). The limitations included the throttle – there were two rpm gauges, and if you got them too far apart, and to 80 percent rpm, it would take you 17 seconds to get military power. When you flew it a long time you found a little notch that was there to remind you not to do that.”

“The A/B (after burner) would not light until you were at 100 percent. But it opened the nozzle immediately, so it killed all your thrust (this quirk has gotten more than one converting pilot killed in low altitude combat training and landing practice).

“The ’21 had maneuver flaps and would depart on you if you did not put them down below 250 knots. It had two buttons – down and up. If you pushed the wrong one, it would depart.

“It was a great aircraft to fight if you wanted to fight slow – maybe not against an F-18. You’re at 120 knots and still pointing at him and all he’s looking at is your nose… you get down to 80 knots, dump the nose, go to 120 and from 30 deg nose low to 40 deg nose high and you didn’t go up, but the other guy goes ‘holy smokes, here he comes’.” Evasive action against this deceptive maneuver often put the unwary student inside the MiG-21’s weapon envelope.”

Being able to maintain pitch authority at 80 KIAS is no small feet for any jet fighter— this was well before the era of fly-by-wire and augmented stability, curiously, North Vietnamese pilots don’t seem to have exploited this capability while fighting F-4s and F-8s. In general, American pilots who trained against the MiG-21 flown by American combat instructors felt that things would have been far worse for the USAF over Hanoi if the Vietnamese had been aware of the full potential of their aircraft.

The performance of each aircraft demonstrated relative strengths and weaknesses. The agile MiG-21 was deadly in a turn, and its silhouette was difficult to acquire visually at any great distance. The heavy F-4 was known for jet engines that produced a great deal of smoke, adding to the ease of identification at a distance due to its large size. The MiG-21 was generally considered more maneuverable, while the Phantom was well-armed with missiles and more lethal with the addition of the cannon. The MiG-21 was designed as a short-range interceptor, and the Phantom was a long-range aircraft.

American test pilots and engineers learned that while its armament was adequate for an interceptor,  the Mig-21’s gunsight deficient. “The tracking index drifts off the bottom of the windscreen when tracking targets in excess of three Gs,” reads a declassified report from the Defense Intelligence Agency. Typical of delta wing aircraft, the airspeed bleed-off during high-G turns was excessive. This speed-bleed decreased the MiG’s turn radius, however, and the G force could be sustained at slower speeds than comparable US fighters. In a turning fight, this gave the MiG-21 a tactical advantage.

American test pilots and engineers identified several major aerodynamic limitations in the MiG-21. These included: Exceptionally heavy pitch force required above 685 mph. Severe buffeting below 15,000 feet when approaching 685 mph or a .98 indicated Mach number. Exceptionally slow engine acceleration from idle to full military power. Poor directional stability in turbulence. The heavy pitch forces at high-speed limited the pilot’s ability to recover from a diving attack or maneuver while approaching and departing the target area. This was  intended to prevent overstress problems during pull up from a target. However for a fighter-bomber it made “high pitch rates difficult or impossible to achieve.”

American test pilots and engineers determined that recovery during dive-bombing, strafing, or air-to-ground rocket firing was problematic. One of the most significant findings was the discovery that below 15,000 feet, the aircraft could not go supersonic. At low altitude, the severe buffeting simply prevented it from exceeding airspeeds of 685 mph or .98 Mach. This airspeed limitation was a major exploitable design flaw. Later in the Vietnam War, US F105Ds and F-4s typically approached an aerial target at 633 mph then departed well in excess of 702 mph—often supersonic. The exceptionally slow engine acceleration was a characteristic that had been corrected in American jet engines in the 1950s. The MiG-21 engine was technologically behind its US counterparts, so spool-up from idle to full military power required 14 seconds, with a tendency to hang up in the process. This could lead to hot compressor stall or engine overtemperature.

Another exploitable discovery: The MiG-21’s afterburner marked the aircraft’s location by producing white puffs of unburned fuel when it was engaged or disengaged. This was small consolation, however, because the MiG pilot’s ability to visually acquire his own aerial targets was similarly aided by the smoke trail left by the engines of all contemporary American jet fighters. A special limitation for the day-visual conditions fighter-interceptor was the front and rear visibility. Forward visibility through the gunsight was restricted by the combination of a bulletproof glass slab and the windscreen. Visibility in the 50-degree tail cone, meanwhile, was handicapped by the protective seat flap over the pilot’s head and the narrow design of the ship’s canopy and fuselage structure. For the point interceptor role, the MiG-21’s basic weapons included a 30 mm cannon loaded with 60 rounds of ammunition and two AA-2 “Atoll” heat-seeking missiles.

The Soviet-built Atoll missiles were copies of the US-made AIM-9 Sidewinder. Communist forces had obtained a Sidewinder when a Nationalist Chinese F-86F pilot fired one at a MiG-17. The AIM-9 failed to explode—but lodged in the MiG-17’s fuselage. Using reverse engineering, the Sidewinder was copied by the USSR and became the standard Soviet air-to-air missile for the MiG-21 and other fighters.

In the air-to-ground role, the MiG21 had the 30 mm cannon and could carry two pods containing a total of 32 57 mm folding-fin aerial rockets. The cannon proved potentially lethal against tanks. When strafing, however, American test pilots and engineers found that there was considerable pipper (gunsight) jitter during firing. The aircraft’s high speed-low altitude stability in rough air was also deemed unsatisfactory.

The Soviet sponsors and North Vietnamese Air Force commanders very effectively planned around the MiG-21’s limitations. They never committed their fighters unlessthere was a good chance of success and subsequent escape.

Despite its sleek shape, the MiG21’s performance at high altitude was found inferior to the F-4, F-105D, and F-104. The MiG-21’s top speed was Mach 2.05, whereas the F-4 and F-105D were both capable of about Mach 2.14. The F-104 Starfighter was limited only by a rise in skin temperature that took place at about Mach 2.21.

Despite being heavier, both the F105D and F-4 were found basically superior to the MiG-21. Maintaining a high airspeed and avoiding turning engagements was the key to US success, although the F-4 was also aerodynamically superior in a vertical contest. The tests showed the F-4 had the capability “to control an engagement below 15,000 feet by exploiting the MiG-21 airspeed limitation and airspeed bleed-off characteristic at high G.”

In a visual encounter, the recommendation was to get behind the MiG-21 and operate “in the vertical” during air combat maneuvering. The Soviet fighter’s slow engine spool-up was a special handicap. The 14-second acceleration from idle to full power made formation flying difficult for the MiG pilots, and formation maneuvers required constant use of speed brakes and rapid throttle movement. Using full military power up to about 30,000 feet, the F-4 accelerated much  faster than the MiG-21.

Below 15,000 feet, the advantage was even greater as the F-4 could easily accelerate to above the MiG’s subsonic top speed. In the zoom maneuver—from low altitude to 30,000 feet with full military power—the Phantom had a significant advantage. In afterburner, the F-4 held a slight advantage in a zoom to 20,000 feet. In instantaneous hard (high-G) turns that the MiG-21’s delta wing allowed a tight turning radius superior to all the major US fighters in Vietnam.

American pilots were warned against participating in “prolonged maneuvering engagements,” aka dogfighting. It was  recommended that pilots press an attack only if they had an initial rear-hemisphere advantage. In particular, F-105 Thunderchief pilots were advised to emulate the MiG-21’s hit-and-run tactics.

Israeli pilots’ combat record against the MiG-21

The MiG-21 first encountered Israeli Mirage IIICs on 14 November 1964, but it was not until 14 July 1966 that the first MiG-21 was shot down. Another six Syrian MiG-21s were shot down by Israeli Mirages on 7 April 1967. During the opening attacks of the 1967 Six-Day War, the Israeli Air Force struck Arab air forces in four attack waves. In the first wave, IDF aircraft claimed to have destroyed eight Egyptian aircraft in air-to-air combat, of which seven were MiG-21s; Egypt claimed five kills scored by MiG-21PFs. During the second wave Israel claimed four MiG-21s downed in air-to-air combat, and the third wave resulted in two Syrian and one Iraqi MiG-21s claimed destroyed in the air. The fourth wave destroyed many more Syrian MiG-21s on the ground. Overall, Egypt lost around 100 out of about 110 MiG-21s they had, almost all on the ground; Syria lost 35 of 60 MiG-21F-13s and MiG-21PFs in the air and on the ground.

Between the end of the Six-Day War and the start of the War of Attrition, IDF Mirage fighters had six confirmed kills of Egyptian MiG-21s, in exchange for Egyptian MiG-21s scoring two confirmed and three probable kills against Israeli aircraft. During the War of Attrition itself, Israel claimed 56 confirmed kills against Egyptian MiG-21s, while Egyptian MiG-21s claimed 14 confirmed and 12 probable kills against IDF aircraft. During this same time period, from the end of the Six Day War to the end of the War of Attrition, Israel claimed a total of 25 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed; the Syrians claimed three confirmed and four probable kills of Israel aircraft, although Israel denied these.

High losses to Egyptian aircraft and continuous bombing during the War of Attrition caused Egypt to ask the Soviet Union for help. In June 1970, Soviet pilots and SAM crews arrived with their equipment. On 22 June 1970, a Soviet pilot flying a MiG-21MF shot down an Israeli A-4E. After some more successful intercepts by Soviet pilots and another Israeli A-4 being shot down on 25 July, Israel decided to plan an ambush in response. On 30 July Israeli F-4s lured Soviet MiG-21s into an area where they were ambushed by Mirages. Asher Snir, flying a Mirage IIICJ, destroyed a Soviet MiG-21; Avihu Ben-Nun and Aviam Sela, both piloting F-4Es, each got a kill, and an unidentified pilot in another Mirage scored the fourth kill against the Soviet-flown MiG-21s. Three Soviet pilots were killed and the Soviet Union was alarmed by the losses. However, Soviet MiG-21 pilots and SAM crews destroyed a total of 2 Israeli aircraft, which helped to convince the Israelis to sign a ceasefire agreement.

In September 1973, a large air battle erupted between Syria and Israel; Israel claimed a total of 12 Syrian MiG-21s destroyed, while Syria claimed eight kills scored by MiG-21s and admitted five losses. During the Yom Kippur War, Israel claimed 73 kills against Egyptian MiG-21s (65 confirmed). Egypt claimed 27 confirmed kills against Israeli aircraft by its MiG-21s, plus eight probables. However, according to most Israeli sources, these were exaggerated claims as Israeli air-to-air combat losses for the entire war did not exceed five to fifteen.  The superiority of the Israeli pilots, flying the American made F-4 Phantom and the French made Mirage,  against the Arab and Soviet pilots flying the Mig-21 is directly related to what Israel has learned from the stolen Iraqi MiG-21.

Dogfight between Israeli Mirage (Nesher) and Mig-21:

American Pilots’ combat record against the MiG-21 during the Vietnam War

Despite facing worthy opponents and severe political constraints throughout the war, Air Force fighter crews ended the war with a positive kill-loss ratio. The bulk of the credit for this goes to the American pilots, but the knowledge gleaned by testing a front-line MiG-21 borrowed from Israel surely contributed to the success.

The Air Force was involved in air action sporadically, as North Vietnam relied on SAMS missiles and anti-air artillery to shot at US planes. Relatively speaking they did engage the US Air Force pilots were engaged in combat with the North Vietnamese pilots more often than Navy pilots as the Navy flew closer to the shore due to the carrier access while the Air Force flew more inland and had longer time over a mission.

Because of poor rules of engagement, political restrictions, because most pilots were not trained in dog fighting since Korea and because most fighters being used were designed to intercept Russian bombers, Air Force and Navy pilots did not do well for most of the war, managing no better than a 2: 1 kill ratio as a total average.  For most of the war, the kill ratio was the same for both Air Force and Navy (2:1). The Navy created the Naval Weapons School (TopGun) and started sending its best pilots. As these graduates started to get back to their carriers (1972-74), the kill ratio dramatically got better and for the last three years of the war, the ratio had gone up to 6:1 with 1970 seeing a 13:1 ratio.

From 1969 to 1973, the TopGun era, the Navy shot down 26 MiGs and lost 4 aircraft in air-to-air combat for a total 6.5:1 kill ratio. In that same time, the USAF shot down 51 MiGs and lost 26 for a 2:1. During the entire conflict, the Navy shot down 56 MiGs while losing 12, for a 4.7:1. The comparable USAF numbers are 137 kills for 64 losses, or a 2.4:1 kill ratio.  All but two of the Navy losses were in aircraft on air-to-air missions. In contrast, 35 of the Air Force’s 64 losses (55%) were on air-to-ground missions. 

Sources:

http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2010/June%202010/0610doughnut.pdf

Wikipedia

Warfare History network

https://www.quora.com/Vietnam-War-How-frequently-was-the-USAF-engaged-in-combat-against-the-Vietnam-Air-Force-and-how-good-or-bad-were-they-at-it

https://theaviationist.com/2014/04/28/israeli-mig-21-007/#gYb4Rjv3E2wuzMmF.99

Note: The article does not describes the actual Mossad operation (Operation Diamond). However, the two video clips, at the bottom of the article, provide description of the Mossad operation. Although both video clips tell the same story, the most detailed version of the operation is told by the people who participated in the operation. This video clip is in Hebrew and does not include subtitles. (It is my intention to translate it into English and publish it as follows up article in a future date.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1dJsQ7iTk0

The IAF pilot Dani Shapira testing the MIG 21 for the first time after it landed in Israel

 

 

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