“The MiG“, and all the aircraft variants that name covers, has become an enduring icon of the Cold War. The vast number built by the Soviet Union and later Russia over the last half century and heavily exported means that, while some remain airborne, others lie derelict or destroyed from Siberia to Iraq and beyond. The MiGs shown in this article – along with bomber aircraft built by other Russian manufacturers – reflect a small percentage of those that continue to languish on in various states of disrepair.
Al Asad Air Base, Iraq
(Image in public domain)
Al Asad Air Base became a major staging post in the U.S.-British led invasion of Iraq. The abandoned MiG-25 (top) was left behind by Iraqi forces and subsequently destroyed when U.S. troops took over the base. The jet is typical of the wrecks littering Al Asad, although some, including the twin-seat MiG-21 above, remain in better condition. The relatively intact bombers (below), manufactured by Ilyushin and Tupolev, languish on the desert floor to the extreme south side of the field.
These aircraft were built in the Soviet Union during the Cold War and exported far and wide. Many Middle Eastern countries operate Soviet-built equipment as well as, ironically in the case of Iran, the U.S.-built F-4 Phantom - one of America’s front line defenses against the Soviet Union in addition to its key role in the Vietnam War.
Tallil Air Base
Not quite as intact as Al Asad, Tallil Air Base shows the signs of heavy bombing dating back almost 20 years. These barely recognisable jets were destroyed during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and have remained in the same place ever since. Discovered by Allied forces around 2003, this bombed-out MiG-23 and MiG-29 Fulcrum are a common site on the Iraqi landscape.
Al-Taqqadum Air Base
It’s amazing how far the authorities will go to prevent others from uncovering – literally – military secrets, from highly classified aircraft to military hardware buried in the sand. Russian-built jets were well known for their robust airframes, so there’s every chance this MiG-25 Foxbat was expected to fly again at some stage. But the U.S. got to it first, digging it out of the sand at Al-Taqqadum Air Base, west of Baghdad. It’s now in the restoration hangar at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio.
MiG-23 Graveyard, Balad
Rotting away at Balad Air Base is a graveyard of armoured vehicles, tanks and most significantly, a row of abandoned MiG-23s. North of Baghdad and now known as Camp Anaconda, the 11 derelict MiGs can be seen on Google Earth arranged in single file and isolated from other military wreckage. These pictures suggest the MiGs and other abandoned military hardware were moved to this vehicle graveyard after the base was swallowed up by U.S. and British forces. (Read our full feature about Balad’s abandoned MiG-23s.)
Old and Abandoned Migs in Russia and Ukraine
Despite the spoils of recent wars, the best place to find abandoned MiGs and other Soviet aircraft is Russia and other former Eastern Bloc states. The vast number built combined with the remoteness of their locations – especially in the far reaches of Siberia - mean many former front line aircraft remain in their old operating locations far away from civilisation.
Many massive Cold War airfields in Russia have now been destroyed, with their concrete used for other projects. But in these distant corners of the world, some disused airfields will probably remain for generations, together with the aircraft that once frightened the West on a daily basis.
The abandoned Soviet bombers above, courtesy of this collection of photos from English Russia, are a prime example!