A Russian Mig-29K assigned to the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier splashed down in the Mediterranean Ocean soon after takeoff during a planned mission to Syria. The pilot ejected and was recovered by a helicopter.
According to U.S. officials who spoke to Fox News, three Russian fighters took off from the ramp of the Kuznetsov to conduct missions in Syria, but one of them turned around. It attempted to land but crashed in the ocean instead.
British destroyer HMS 'York' shadows 'Admiral Kuznetsov' in 2011. (Photo: U.K. Ministry of Defense)
This is bad news for Russia whose deployment of the Kuznetsov was believed by some experts to be an infomercial for their equipment rather than a military necessity. Of course, Putin hopes countries like India and China will buy Moscow's ships and weapons.
But the Russian product display in the Mediterranean is filled with old gear and compromises. The MiG-29K is the carrier variant of the Fulcrum and is generally considered to be a capable but lackluster aircraft.
Andrei Fomin, chief editor of the Vzlyot magazine, said the planes boast "stealth technologies, a new system of in-flight refueling, folding wings and mechanisms by which the aircraft has the ability to perform short take-offs and land at low speeds."
MiG-29K of INAS 303 prepares to catch the wire aboard the aircraft carrier Vikramaditya in 2014. (Photo: Indian Navy)
Those short takeoff and in-flight refueling capabilities are vital for Russian carrier-based fighters, since the only Russian carrier is the Kuznetsov which has no catapults. Planes have to take off under their own power with a limited load of fuel and ordnance.
This limits the planes' range, forcing Russia to keep the carrier close to Syria's shores for its pilots to have a chance at hitting anything.
So the MiG-29K was a hard sell anyway, one of the reasons that the MiG firm has fallen on hard times since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union. And new customers aren't likely to line up for a plane that just crashed on the international stage.