Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Code Name Foxbat : 40th Anniversary of the Belenko MiG-25 Incident コードネーム フォックスバット : ベレンコ中尉ミグ25亡命事件四十周年

The 1/72 scale model of the Soviet MiG-25P ( МиГ-25П )
interceptor with AA-6 Acrid missiles in its Cold War glory.
Photo : Hasegawa Model Co.


Flight To Freedom

Forty years ago, on 6th September 1976, a Soviet fighter pilot flew what was then his country's newest and most secretive MiG-25P interceptor over the Sea of Japan, penetrated the Japanese air space with relative ease, force landed at a small civilian airport and immediately requested for political asylum in the United States.

The incident occurred at the height of the Cold War and immediately and unexpectedly trusted Japan right into the midst of a major diplomatic crisis which it was hardly prepared to handle. Caught between the biddings of the two superpowers of that time, Japan had to thread carefully to avoid further heightening of tensions or even outbreak of hostilities. The MiG pilot was quickly whisked off to the US and the fighter jet was eventually returned to the Soviet, but not before being disassembled and thoroughly inspected by Japanese and American experts.

Over the years, documentaries, books and many articles have already been written in various languages about the event, including the defecting pilot's own account in collaboration with an American investigative journalist of the Reader's Digest fame John Barron. But forty years is a long time. Information that were previously classified and rated top secret might now be publicly available. Trends and longer term consequences of the incident can also be viewed in retrospect. I had also noticed that some websites and blogs inadvertently contained serious errors or misinformation that needed to be made good. So this is a good time to have a look back at the MiG-25 incident that happened so many years ago.

Senior Lieutenant Viktor Belenko's military papers which he
carried with him when he defected. Photo : CIA via Wikipaedia

Senior Lieutenant Viktor Ivanovich Belenko

Viktor Ivanovich Belenko was born on 15th February 1947 to a Ukranian family in Nalchik in the Soviet Union.  His father served in the Red Army as a conscript during the Great Patriotic War and found work at various factories after the war ended. His parents were divorced when he was two years old and for a few years his father left him under the care of poor relatives. By 1954, they had settled down in the Siberian city of Rubtsovsk where his father worked.

His father encouraged him to study hard as he himself was denied education due to the outbreak of war and made clear to Belenko that education will be his ticket out of poverty since they did not have higher connections. Fortunately, Belenko loved schooling and believed that it gave him the opportunity to have many of his questions answered.

When he was almost ten years old, Belenko's father re-married. His step-mother was a widow who has two young children of her own. He never felt he belonged to this new family and at one point even tried running away from home. He subsequently kept to himself and channeled all his energy into studying hard and became an avid reader of books. Reading widely, he first discovered his passion for flight through the works of  the pioneering French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupery ( 1900 - 1944 ).

Antoine de Saint-Exupery was best remembered for
 his novella Le Petit Prince or The Little Prince.
The story of a chanced meeting between a stranded aviator
and a young prince who fell from
a tiny planet with 3 volcanos and a rose. Image : Wikipaedia

Growing up  in a communist country, Belenko witnessed and experienced the usual hardships the ordinary folks faced on a regular basis. Shortages of food and basic necessities leading to long queues at stores, inequalities that should not have been permitted, corruption and soaring crime rates in the city and social evils like alcoholism. Most importantly he began noticing the inconsistent nature of the communist propaganda machine, exulting leaders like Stalin and Khrushchev when they were in power only to label them as failures and criminals who abused their power or mismanage the economy when they passed away or were no longer holding office. Even at that tender age, he eventually came to the conclusion that most of what the soviet citizens had been told about their own country and about the rest of the world were all absurd lies. He was however smart enough to have kept all those thoughts and questions to himself, instead mindlessly regurgitating what the instructors wanted to hear during political lectures which were a compulsory part of the school curriculum.

In the following years he would excel in his studies in school, preferring the sciences, physics, chemistry and biology and mathematics where consistency ruled. His plan was to achieve distinction in his academic studies through which he would be able to take to the skies to fulfill his dream of flying. Completing his final examinations in the spring of 1965, Belenko graduated with a diploma certifying him as a Grade 3 Mechanic, and a testimony from his school attesting to his good character and ideological soundness.

Logo of DOSAAF, a Cold War Soviet military auxiliary
established in 1951 and made defunct by 1991. Wikipaedia

In June 1965, he left his family for the industrial city of Omsk where there was a military auxiliary known as the Voluntary Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation and Fleet ( Russian acronym DOSAAF ) which provided flight training. He found a day job which provided accommodation as well to support himself while he learned to fly. Pre-flight training included lessons in navigation, meteorology, aerodynamics, design and construction of aircraft, radio and electronics and the rules of flight. The instructors were all retired air force pilots who were knowledgeable and practical and a source of inspiration to Belenko. After written exams in April 1966, flight training started and Belenko was assigned a female instructor by the name of Nadezhda Alekseyevna. As he took to the skies for the first time in a Yakovlev YAK-18U with his instructor, Belenko soon discovered that he had a talent for flying, performing loops and rolls and dives instinctively without instructions. Then came his first solo flight and ultimately the final flight examinations which he passed with flying colours, in the process earning his instructor a commendation. Flight training concluded by August 1966 but it was too late to apply for Air Force cadet training that year.

A YAK-18 tandem seat trainer in Polish Air Force colours
 in 2008. Photo : Wikipaedia

While waiting for the following year's Air Force intake, Belenko came across a rare opportunity to train as a doctor. He believed that he could be a flyer and a doctor at the same time, like some Soviet cosmonauts were, promptly applied and was selected for medical school. Although he loved the lessons and was among the brightest in his class, by January 1967 his dwindling savings and a chanced encounter with his ex-flight instructor who recently qualified for the Aero L-29 jet trainer convinced him to quit medical school immediately and sign up for DOSAAF training again. There he would later meet with a recruiter from the Air Defense Command and ended up applying for pilot training with that organization.

In June 1967, he was one of 360 candidates out of 4000 applicants from all over the country to be selected for the Soviet Air Defense Command's flight training programme. Thus Belenko was formally inducted into the Soviet armed forces and went through the usual basic military training. What followed was another 15 months of academic studies. Then came 6 months of basic flight training in Grozny in the Aero L-29 jet trainer. By April 1970, he had commenced training at Tikhoretsk which was near Armavir on the MiG-17, a fast and maneuverable jet fighter and was fortunate to have a good instructor. In July 1971, he passed his final flight examinations with the highest possible grades and a commendation.

The Czechoslovakia built Aero L-29 Delphin was the
 Warsaw Pact's standard jet trainer in the sixties. Photo : Wikipaedia

The original 360 cadets were whittled down to 258 by then, and they were already being treated like officers and were gradually exposed to the numerous privileges bestowed to the Soviet pilot. It included a salary more than double that earned by a doctor, free uniform and shoes, free meals and housing, the best possible medical care, more than double the usual annual leave, highly subsidized travel on the state carrier Aeroflot, and early retirement at 40 years old rather than the usual 65 and could still look forward to receiving a lifetime of pension at two thirds of the regular salary.

A MiG-17 Instructor And Marriage

It was around this time that Belenko was introduced to his future wife, a pretty 20 year old student nurse Ludmilla Petrovna, the only child of wealthy parents from the far northeastern city of Magadan. Ludmilla's father managed a large factory while her mother ran a brewery and the family had connections in Moscow. She was accustomed to the high life and shared none of Belenko's interest in science or literature nor his passion in flying. However the mutual physical attraction was such that they married after a brief courtship, shortly after he received his commission in October 1971. Instead of being assigned to a MiG-17 combat unit where he hoped to progress to the MiG-23 and perhaps eventually the newest MiG-25 interceptor, Belenko was selected to be a MiG-17 instructor as only the best of each cohort would become instructors. He was posted to Salsk where he experienced first hand the inefficiency that seemed to plague the entire military if not the whole country. He had to work long hours taking trainee after trainee into the air and yet still have to deal with political officers who accuse him of not providing ideological guidance to his ground crew. He had to deal with superiors who insisted he pass even inept cadets to make up for the numbers so that they could look good. He saw the extremely shabby construction of his new apartment because building materials had been pilfered and sold off in the black market. He experienced a culture of wastefulness that was entrenched in the ranks, where books were frequently cooked to cover one's tracks. He also found out about the widespread problem of alcoholism that was difficult to change.

The MiG-17 Lim-5 export version built in 1959. Credits on Photo.

His marriage life suffered as Ludmilla never fancied being a military wife. She was more accustomed to the life in a big metropolitan city and resented being stuck working as a nurse in a backwater town. It didn't help that she was a spendthrift and even their combined income which was way above the national average wasn't sufficient to sustain her lifestyle. She even threatened divorce at one point after it was found out that she bought an expensive ring with almost all the money that her husband carefully saved for their pending vacation. Shortly afterwards, Ludmilla discovered she was pregnant and she gave birth to a healthy boy Dmitri in January 1973. The arrival of their son initially united the couple as they shared parenting responsibilities but Belenko's busy operational schedules meant that eventually most of the burden of caring for the child fell upon the shoulders of the mother. Ludmilla's life became confined and it lead to a severe deterioration of their marriage relationship to the point of hostilities.

The First Thoughts On Defecting

By then, Belenko had become an instructor of the Su-15 supersonic interceptor and had heard rumours about a failed defection attempt to Turkey by the pilot of an AN-2 transport plane which was shot down by pursuing fighters over the Black Sea. Perhaps tired of the bureaucracy of the armed forces and lacking fulfillment in family life, the first thoughts of defection came into his mind. He realized that if he was in the cockpit of a supersonic aircraft like the Su-15 with sufficient fuel, nobody could ever catch him. The thought of defection must have lingered as by the autumn of 1975 Belenko asked for a transfer to a MiG-25 operational unit, then one of the newest, fastest and most secret combat aircraft in all of the Soviet Union. With the intention of retaining proven instructors like Belenko, the transfer request was however denied by the school commandant, a major general, who had broken regulations by not forwarding it to higher authorities within the Air Defense Command. In desperation and in what amounted to an open rebellion, Belenko threatened to spill the beans about all the misgivings of the unit and wrong doings of the personnel which included among other things, theft, corruption, and even alleged murder. The commandant subjected Belenko to a psychiatric examination declaring that he was insane. Fortunately, the medical chief, an experienced military doctor, understood the situation well and one way or another probably convinced the general that it was in his personal interest to grant Belenko his wish and sent him away as far as possible to shut him up. Because the next thing he knew, he was on his way to a MiG-25 unit in the Far East, to a little know outpost known as Chuguyevka in the Primorski Krai region, 200km northeast of Vladivostok.

The Sukhoi Su-15 Flagon supersonic interceptor with AA-3 Anab
air-to-air missiles. The Su-15TM variant shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007
near Sakhalin over the sea of Japan in 1983. Photo : Wikipaedia

Anyone trying to flee the USSR in an Antonov An-2 transport
like the example shown above had to be extremely
desperate or foolish, or both. Photo : Wikipaedia 

Chuguyevka Air Base

Chuguyevka Air Base, sometimes also referred to as Sokolovka Air Base, was home to the 513th Fighter Regiment, 11th Air Army, Soviet Air Defence Forces (PVO). It used to operate 3 squadrons of MiG-17 fighters but was in the process of transiting to 36 single seat MiG-25P Foxbat Interceptors with 4 or 5 more twin seat trainers when Belenko arrived. The MiG-25's mission was to intercept any American SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane prowling off the Russian coast. Chuguyevka town was close to the Korean and Chinese border and was isolated and surrounded by forests. It was inhabited by about 2000 people with a sawmill providing most of the employment. It was one of the most depressing places anybody could have chosen to live in as the houses were unpainted and roads were unpaved and there was no street lighting. Latrines and open garbage pits swarmed with flies and it stunk. Food was scarce and there was hardly any entertainment. Because the Foxbat was a more complicated aircraft compared to the MiG-17 which it was replacing, it needed 4 to 5 times the number of support personnel. The influx of hundreds of additional servicemen to Chuguyevka in a short period of time overwhelmed its meagre infrastructure resulting in overcrowding and outbreak of epidemics. Left without much options of entertainment, the men resorted to drinking as there was plenty of alcohol stored at the base for the Foxbat's braking and electronic systems. Morale was low and discipline was lacking.

Modern day Chuguyevka Air Base

Dozens of distinctively shaped MiG-31 can be seen
dispersed around the air field.

An American Lockheed SR-71B strategic reconnaissance aircraft similar to the type which
 the MiG-25 was supposed to intercept. Photo : Wikipaedia 

By the time he returned from a short trip to a training centre near Moscow for an intensive study of the MiG-25 in June 1976, the base was facing a major crisis. Chronic fuel shortages had prevented the pilots from getting sufficient training. The enlisted men were on the verge of mutiny, with suicides, mass desertion, hunger strikes and disease outbreaks being increasingly common. And yet the American spy planes continue their high altitude, supersonic over-flights with impunity. Belenko's suggestions to improve the quality of life for the men at the base through infrastructure upgrades and the implementation of better welfare was unceremoniously ridiculed by the political officer. At around the same time his wife announced her decision to leave him for good, intending to bring their son along with her to Magadan where her parents lived. She would be gone by October when her obligations as a nurse at the base dispensary ended.

Faced with the reality that he alone could not change or fix the broken state system and with the prospect of losing his family nearing, Belenko finally made the decision to defect. There was nothing else to hold him back and he had nothing more to lose. He wanted to hurt the system that created this mess and planned to deliver the Soviet Union's top secret interceptor into the hands of the Americans.

What was amazing was that up to that point, unlike other defectors who had prior knowledge of the country which they were defecting to, Belenko had never travelled to any foreign country and also did not have any contacts in the West. He did not have any idea what America or the West was like, but through his observations over the years and by using his own sense of logic and analysis deduced that America had to be a better place compared to his own country.

Planning For The Escape

He started to plan for the defection by first defining the maximum range of his aircraft, taking into account evasion maneuvers and the likely altitude he would be flying during his escape. Drawing an arc on a map, he discovered that there was only one airfield within range that was long enough to land the MiG-25 safely - Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido, Japan. Also, two critical conditions must exist before he could make his escape : the aircraft must be fully fueled and the weather must be very good.

In a straight line, Chitose is 650km while Hakodate is 620km from Chuguyevka.

As the Foxbat cannot land safely with too much fuel aboard, they were usually not given the maximum fuel capacity unless on a SR-71 interception mission or some important training like missile firing exercise. Another reason why the tanks were usually not filled to the brim especially for units near the borders was to prevent exactly such defection attempts.

To prevent the MiG-25 pilots from communicating with foreign pilots, the radios operate on an extremely narrow frequency allowing them only to talk to their own squadron mates and ground control. So Belenko would not be able to inform the Japanese about his intention to defect as he approached Japanese airspace. He would therefore need clear weather for Japanese interceptors to visually identify and escort him to their airbase. If he failed to be intercepted, he would have to look for the air base himself, again requiring good weather.

The Russian MiG-25RB is the reconnaissance-bomber variant of the
MiG-25P interceptor flown by Lt. Belenko. Photo RAC MiG 

He began secretly collecting as much information he could about the Soviet military, anything that he thought the Americans might be interested or might find useful. Since he spoke neither English nor Japanese, with a dictionary he prepared a short note in English for the first Japanese official on the ground, should he be successful in his attempt, to state the importance of protecting the aircraft which was a state secret and the prevention of its recovery by the Soviets. After that, it was just a matter of waiting for the right time.

Flight To Freedom

Belenko woke up to a beautifully clear autumn's day on 6th September 1976 as the meteorological forecast had predicted. He had been waiting for a month for this opportunity. He left quietly, not wanting to wake up his wife or son or the family in the next room who shared the apartment with them, trying not to do anything out of the routine to avoid arousing anybody's suspicion.

He arrived at the regimental headquarters at 0700 hours and had the usual breakfast with his squadron commander and fellow officers before attending the mission briefing for the major training exercise later in the afternoon. A MiG-25 squadron would be flying east towards the sea for missile firing where naval ships would be launching target drones for them to shoot. His squadron would be directed to another area, also due east, for intercept approach practice after which they were to return to base relying on instruments only. The latest meteorological update indicated fair weather in the east where the training would take place, continuing into the afternoon. However, to the southeast where his intended destination was located, clouds were gathering and a cold front might be welling up from the Japanese side.

After a second breakfast at 1100 hours, the pilots were taken to the air field two miles away from the squadron HQ and had their pre-flight medical examination done at the hangar dispensary. Just before the flight, the unexpected encounter and casual conversation with the KGB officer attached to the regiment did worried him a little, but then it was time to go.

Take Off

At 1250 Hours Lt. Viktor Belenko was granted permission to take off and was airborne within 15 seconds, afterburners roaring. In order to save precious fuel, knowing that he would need every last drop to bring him to Japan, he shut down the afterburners prematurely and gradually ascended towards the assigned altitude of 24000ft. Flying east on a bearing of 090, he took five minutes instead of the usual four to reach his designated training zone. He then performed a 360 degree turn as was expected of him by the ground controllers, at the end of which he must decide whether to conform to the training flight path or to flee. It was not too late to abort the secret plan and return to base as if nothing happened as nobody knew about it, but Belenko's mind was made.

Beleko would have taken off amidst the yellow and orange hues of the fall
not unlike this MiG-25RB in Monchegorsk, Murmansk Oblast,
 Sep 2010. Credits on Photo.

Back to the bearing of 090 Viktor gradually descended to 19000ft, hoping that it would not have attracted the attention of the ground controllers. He then suddenly executed a power dive towards treetop level to evade the ground based long range search radars while he followed a south easterly course that would have brought him towards Hokkaido Island. Hugging the terrain and speeding over valley floors at an altitude of 100ft, he knew he would be safe from the surface-to-air missile batteries and the anti-aircraft guns that were deployed on higher grounds. In just 2 minutes, he reached the coastline and was over the Sea of Japan.

He activated an emergency signal to indicate that he was about to crash and switched it off 40 seconds later in order to try to convince anyone monitoring the distress frequency that he had indeed crashed. Then he shut down his radar and any electronic equipment whose emissions could be tracked. He also switched off the radio although it was non-emitting as he did not want to be distracted by what the ground controllers and other pilots might be saying and did not want to know how he was being pursuit.

Feet Wet

Belenko continued to maintain an ultra-low altitude flying over the Sea of Japan as he would still be within range of search radars on land as well as on missile-armed naval vessels. He encountered poor weather with dark clouds, squalls and high waves forcing him to ascend to 150ft. He had to swerve more than once to avoid fishing vessels. Then, he faced another imminent crisis. At wave top level his MiG-25 consumed a lot more fuel than he had allowed for in his pre-flight calculations and he realized that he would never reach Chitose unless he drastically reduced his fuel burn rate by ascending to at least 20000ft, which in turn might make his MiG-25 detectable by Soviet aircrafts hunting for him. The situation was so dire that he had no choice but to ascend into the thick cloud layers and continue flying towards Hokkaido by dead reckoning.

Now halfway across the Sea of Japan and at altitude, the MiG-25 was detected by Japanese long range air defence radars. At 1320 hours as he was approaching Japanese air space and with interception by JASDF F-4EJ Phantom fighters imminent, Belenko reduced the speed of the MiG-25 so as not to appear hostile and descended with the intention of going below the cloud cover to facilitate interception. He desperately wanted to be intercepted by the Japanese fighters so that he could avoid being shot out of the sky and more importantly, so that the interceptors could guide and escort him to a safe landing field nearby, though Chitose was the only one he knew about. Bear in mind that he could not transmit the coordinates of his current whereabouts or communicate his intention to defect to the Japanese since his radio only functioned within a very narrow frequency spectrum. Neither could he inform the Japanese about his rapidly dwindling fuel status. All he could do was to hope that the Phantoms would find him quickly but that proved difficult because of the thick and very low cloud cover.

A pair of Mitsubishi F-4EJ Kai Phantoms from 5th Air Wing 301 Squadron
 based at Nyuutabaru Air Base in Miyazaki, Kyushu.
They are improved versions of the F-4EJ that
populated Chitose in 1976. Photo : JASDF

Air Space Violation

By his own estimates Belenko reckoned that he breached Japanese air space at 1322 hours. Unknown to him, a pair of Phantoms from Chitose were being vectored on him but as he descended looking for clear skies, the MiG-25 disappeared from the radar screens of the ground based tracking stations. Without guidance from ground controllers and with their radars lacking look-down capabilities, the Phantoms were flying blindly in the clouds and did not manage to intercept the MiG.

At 1330 hours, Belenko managed to see a stretch of the coastline and deduced that he was approaching Hokkaido's southwestern peninsula. Chitose lies about 100miles to the northeast, somewhere towards the centre of Hokkaido, covered with clouds, with mountain ranges all the way in between. By now, Belenko realised that the Japanese weren't going to find him and that he only had about 16 to 18 minutes of fuel left according to the gauges and could barely make it to Chitose with no guarantee of locating the air field or landing safely before he ran out of fuel. As he was more concerned with delivering the MiG intact over his own personal safety, he made the decision to forgo landing at Chitose and instead went below cloud level and began searching for a suitable landing site nearby, all the while maintaining a general northeasterly course towards Chitose. Anything would do, an airstrip, a highway, a flat open ground ... anything rather than crashing into a mountain in the clouds.

At 1342 hours the cockpit warning system alerted Belenko visually with flashing lights and screen display that his fuel status was critical - only six minutes left. He had now flown over the southern peninsula of Hokkaido and was again over water. Maintaining an altitude of 1800 feet, he altered his course an flew north towards land. He was still among the clouds but flying any lower would have consumed more fuel. Then another cockpit warning, this time vocal, that the fuel status had dropped to emergency level. The gauges indicated empty and Belenko estimated that he had at most two minutes left. Without any other option, still shrouded by clouds, he started his descend towards the ground.

The MiG-25P's cockpit would resemble this front cockpit of the
MiG-25PU dual seat trainer, full of analog dials and gauges. Credit on Photo.

Forced Landing at Hakodate

As the MiG-25 started its descend from 1800 feet, it plunged through seemingly endless layers of clouds and still more clouds. At 750 feet of altitude Belenko suddenly found himself beneath the cloud cover and the entire vista opened up in front of him. Somehow he had descended on the port city of Hakodate with its small civilian airport right next to it. However, the runway was about a third shorter than those that he previously used to land the MiG-25.

Foxbat over the roof : dramatic image of the low flying MiG-25P
as it traversed Hakodate just before landing.
Photo : Hokkaido Shimbun

According to John Barron's book, Belenko banked right sharply and turned about 260 degrees and began his approach to the southern end of the runway. He then found himself in direct collision course with a Japanese Boeing 727 which was taking off. With his fuel guage at empty, he was not sure if he had enough fuel left for another approach but none the less veered his aircraft into the sharpest turn he could manage to avoid the airliner, not wanting to endanger civilian lives. He then made an acute dive towards the runway and touched down at a speed of 220 knots. Even with drag chutes deployed and brakes applied, the MiG-25 barged towards the northern end of the runway and ploughed into the turf, in the process knocking down a couple of poles before coming to a stop in front of a ILS localizer antennae near a perimeter motorway. He overshot the runway by 800 feet and had about 30 seconds of fuel left in his tanks.

Lt Viktor Belenko's MiG-25P with pennant number 31 after landing
at Hakodate. Video grab : NHK BS2

The MiG-25 viewed from the rear. Video grab NHK BS2

Lt Viktor Belenko's MiG-25P tearing up 800 feet of turf at
Hakodate Airport. Photo : Mainichi Shimbun.

Low resolution video grab from NHK BS2 MiG-25
Documentary / Talkshow showing the orientation of the aircraft
after coming to a halt in relation to its immediate surroundings.

The trouble with the above was that runway at Hakodate Airport was and still is orientated in an almost east-west direction with the coast and the sea to its south. Video footage unequivocally showed the MiG-25 pointing eastwards after landing with the sea to its right side. So I have to conclude that Mr Barron must have made a small error. The MiG made its final approach from the WESTERN end of the runway and overshot its EASTERN end.

Hakodate Airport circa 1976. Runway extension works have began at the eastern end.
Red arrow marks the approximate location where the MiG-25 came to a stop.
Photo : Japanese Ministry of Transport / Wikipaedia

Hakodate Airport in modern times circa Sep 2014. North is up. Note the extended runways.

Hakodate Airport ( 函館空港 Hakodate Kuko ) is located about 10km east of Hakodate City and became operational in 1961. Its single runway had been extended three times, in 1971, 1978 and 1999 as evident in the two satellite photos above. The terminal building had been rebuilt in 2005. The old site where the MiG-25 overshot the tarmac ( the second turfed zone from the right ) had since been incorporated as part of the extended runway system.

The video above, originally from NHK Achieves but somehow uploaded to Youtube, showed the chaotic scenes around the landing site, how the MiG-25 was concealed and how a C-5A Galaxy swallowed it tail first and then taking-off in the night for Hyakuri Air Base. On the MiG-25 was a banner with the Japanese words " 函館の皆さん  さようなら  大変ご迷惑をかけました " bidding goodbye to the people of Hakodate and apologizing for all the inconvenience caused. The Japanese are always, always so amazingly polite, even during times of distress like that.

Japanese Corroboration

Viktor Belenko's descriptions of his flight to Hokkaido generally matched official Japanese Ministry of Defense archival records very well.

JASDF Northern Air Defence Force's Air Bases and Radar Stations with their emblems.
The four radar stations that detected the MiG-25 are labeled in yellow :
Tobetsu 45th Aircraft Control And Warning Group, Okushirijima 29th ACW Sqn,
Ominato 42nd ACW Grp, Kamo 33rd ACW Sqn.

Sequence of events largely from Japanese MOD Defense White Paper 1977 ( 防衛白書昭和52年 ) :

At 1311 hours, Japan Air Self Defense Force ( JASDF ) search radar at Okushiri Island ( 奥尻島 ) just off the western coast of Hokkaido main island some 180km southwest of Sapporo was the first to have detected an unidentified aircraft at an altitude of 6000m ( 18000ft ) travelling on an easterly course at a speed of about 800km/h.

At 1320 hours, a pair of JASDF F-4EJ Phantom II interceptors were hastily scrambled at Chitose Air Base ( 千歳基地 ). The still unidentified aircraft maintained its eastward course while gradually lowering its altitude. Okushiri issued a warning to the aircraft on international frequency regarding an imminent violation of Japanese air space.

At 1322 hours 30sec, the unidentified aircraft crossed into Japanese air space in the vicinity of Cape Motsuta ( 茂津多岬 Motsuta Misaki ) some 115km southwest of Otaru City. It then changed its course and flew south, at the same time decreasing its altitude.

At 1325 hours airborne radars of the F-4EJ scrambled from Chitose managed to track the aircraft for 30 seconds before losing contact.

At 1326 hours, multiple JASDF radar sites at Okushirijima, Tobetsu ( 当別 ), Ominato ( 大湊 ) and Kamo ( 加茂 ) all reported losing radar contact with the aircraft, which we know in retrospect was most logically due to its lowered altitude.

For 10 minutes between 1322 to 1332 hours Okushirijima radioed warnings in both English and Russian to the aircraft about airspace violation and ordered it to turn back immediately.

At 1335 hours, continuing their search, F-4EJ and ground radars reported capturing a fleeting contact of the aircraft off Okushiri Island ( see diagram below ). Poor weather conditions with cloud cover at 3000m and radar waves being reflected from the sea surface and land masses purportedly prevented a decent track.

At 1349 hours F-4EJs were vectored towards Hakodate direction after JASDF received an inquiry from Hakodate Airport requesting information on a jet fighter.

At 1350 hours, the MiG-25 force landed at Hakodate Airport.

At 1357 hours, JASDF received confirmation of the unidentified aircraft's landing at Hakodate Airport. The F-4EJs were recalled back to Chitose AB.

Flight path of the MiG-25 in thick black line and the F-4EJ in thin black line.
Diagram : Japanese MOD White Paper

Sequence of Events Immediately After Landing

As the MiG-25 landed at a civilian airport rather than a military air base and its final stopping location was right at the perimeter of the airport near a major motorway and next to the runway extension construction site, hordes of curious onlookers quickly gathered. A construction supervisor even had a camera and was taking photos of the MiG-25 which had been considered a state secret by the Soviets. Belenko instinctively wanted to safeguard the secrets of his aircraft just as he had always been trained to do by the Air Defense Command. He removed his oxygen mask and his parachute harness, opened the canopy and fired a warning shot with his service pistol, since he could not communicate verbally that the onlookers stop taking photos! The photographer was said to be so intimidated by the discharge of the firearm that he immediately ripped the film ( its 1976 and the Sony Mavica digital still camera's debut was 5 years away ) out of the camera and discarded it in fear.

Airport officials arrived onsite in three cars within minutes and approached Viktor Belenko cautiously as it was plain to see that he was armed and agitated with his preoccupation of protecting his aircraft from prying eyes. They tried first to establish if he spoke English ( he didn't ) and then requested that he surrender his sidearm and survival knife. He was taken to the Airport Terminal Building where again hordes have gathered to get a glimpse of the pilot who dropped in from nowhere.

A Japanese official who spoke fluent Russian and who claimed to be from the Foreign Office was summoned to the airport manager's office within 10minutes of Belenko's landing. The asylum note was produced and handed over. He tried to establish if Belenko himself wrote the note and then to find out how he arrived in Hokkaido and if he had lost his way, but it was communicated and clear immediately that the landing was premeditated and voluntary. Belenko indicated that he was seeking asylum in the United States and demanded that his aircraft be guarded and concealed and for the Americans to be contacted right away. The Japanese in the room cheered when Viktor's motives and requests were translated. He was then quickly taken to a hotel presumably in downtown Hakodate where he stayed the night, guarded by two security men inside his room and another two sentries outside his room.

By then news of the MiG-25's landing in Hokkaido had already gone global. Moscow had insisted that the whole affair was simply a navigational error and that an emergency landing was made at Hakodate. They demanded access and custody of the pilot and the return of the aircraft. An official visited him at 9pm and informed him that he would be transferred to Tokyo the next day and reassurances that the Japanese would try their best to resist the Soviet Union's pressuring demands for he and his aircraft's early return.

Transfer To Tokyo And Imprisonment

On 7th September, the news of Viktor Belenko's defection and the landing of one of the Cold War's most secretive and mysterious aircraft in Japan made to the front page of every major newspaper the world over. Defense attaches, embassy staff and foreign intelligence agents were flocking to Hakodate Airport in droves to film and record whatever information that could be gathered. Japanese Foreign Office confirmed Belenko's request for political asylum to the United States and conveyed the information to the Soviet Union, at the same time working through the United States embassy to effect the asylum request.

Digitalised front page of The Straits Times of
Singapore with the MiG-25 news.
Image : NLB / Singapore Press Holdings

Meanwhile, after spending a night in Hakodate, Belenko was taken to Chitose Air Base by helicopter and then put on a military transport and flown to Tokyo, likely arriving at Haneda Airport as Narita Airport wouldn't have been operational until 1978. So he did manage to reach Chitose after all, just a day late!

In Tokyo, Belenko was whisked off to a prison ( within a naval or coast guard compound? ) amidst profuse Japanese apologies as the fear of swift retribution of some sorts from the Soviets made them believe that it was the most secure place that they could guarantee his safety. At the base commandant's office, he met his first American, agent Jim, who assured him that the President of the United States had granted his request for political asylum and all was well.

That same day, the Japanese government also initiated the first round of emergency meetings with the relevant ministries and agencies to discuss strategies and solutions. The Self Defense Forces were put on high alert just in case the Soviets, already threatening all sorts of undesirable consequences for not complying with their demands of the return of their pilot and aircraft, became aggressive or engaged in sabotage activities. At the JGSDF's Hakodate Garrison located just 2 miles west of the airport, anti-aircraft guns were brought in from Sapporo and live ammunition was loaded onto the Type-61 Tanks. JMSDF warships were put to sea as the Soviets started detaining Japanese fishing boats....


Charged For Criminal Offences

 8th September morning. Much to his astonishment, Belenko was formally charged with four criminal offenses :

1) Illegal intrusion of Japanese air space.
2) Entry into Japan without a valid visa
3) Illegal possession of a firearm
4) Discharging a firearm.

In countries with strict gun control laws like Japan, carrying and firing a gun are considered grave criminal offences that often came with severe punishments. From John Barron's book, having admitted to have carried out all the charges, the conversation between the judge and Belenko during the trial was almost comical :

Why did you disturb our air space?
I did not have a donkey to ride here. The aircraft was the only means of transportation available to me. This means of transportation will not permanently damage your air space. The aircraft moves through the air without harming the air. Giggles from interpreter.

Why did you not have a visa?
If I had requested a visa, I would have been shot.

Why did you bring with you a pistol?
The pistol was a required part of my equipment. Without it I would not have been allowed to fly.

Why did you fire the pistol?
To keep away people who I feared might damage something of great value to the rest of the world.

Are you prepared to sign a confession admitting your guilt to these crimes?
If that is what you want.

The judge then went on to rule that Belenko's was a special case and no punishment was warranted. He told Belenko not to fear and reassured him that his plans would not be affected, smiled, shook Belenko's hands and asked the interpreter to wish him well.

It was all for show, first to satisfy Japan's legal bureaucracy so that there could be accountability and closure for the various agencies and authorities involved in that very unprecedented incident before Belenko left Japan for good. But its was also a brilliant diplomatic stalling tactic deployed by the Japanese as one of the excuses for not giving the Soviets custody to their comrade pilot - he broke Japanese law and it was therefore the jurisdiction of the police to detain him during their investigations. The foreign office was not in a position to interfere before the proceedings were concluded. Sorry.

By mid-morning, the Japanese Foreign Office official who had accompanied him from Hakodate brought disturbing news. The Soviets have applied tremendous pressure on Japan on all fronts for the return of pilot and aircraft, flexing military muscles while pushing for diplomatic solutions and god knew what other covert recovery operations might be underway. Japan was trying her best to resist those attempts as much and for as long as possible. But now the Soviets, in a desperate attempt to get him back, have insisted that they didn't believe Belenko acted voluntarily, instead accusing Japan of detaining him by force and by the use of narcotics. Although not required of him, Belenko would have done a great service to Japan if he could agree to meet with the representative from the Soviet Union to dispute their baseless allegations and provide direct proof that he acted on his own will. He was told that the Soviets would likely try to establish psychological contact with him and make him feel that he was lost and they were coming to rescue him and bring him home. They would try to dominate and control the conversation and confuse him and would no doubt bring up pleas and appeal letters from relations back home, but he had the right to interrupt and say whatever he wanted. He would have a protection delegate and could terminate the meeting at any point he wished, stressed the official. The most important point was to prove that he had acted voluntarily. Although reluctant to meet his countrymen, Belenko agreed to answer the Foreign Office's request for help. That afternoon, the Japanese even staged a detailed rehearsal of what was to come for the benefit of Belenko.

At Hakodate Airport, a makeshift hangar was hastily build around the MiG-25, by now shifted to a grass patch closer to the terminal building and draped in sheets of tarpaulin, to conceal the aircraft further.

The MiG-25 covered under drapes now shifted to the vicinity
of the terminal building.

Meeting With Compatriot And Flight To America

9th September. Another American appeared and reassured Belenko that everything was in order and his flight to the United States was scheduled for that evening. They had his tickets and someone would be accompanying him on his flight.

Late in the afternoon, the confrontation took place with a KGB officer posing as a Soviet embassy official. He behaved exactly like what the Japanese had predicted and raved on and on the usual rhetoric and was about to start reading letters from relatives when Belenko interrupted the conversation and forcefully stated that he had arrived in Japan on purpose and voluntarily out of his own desire. There was no coercion from anyone and he was not under the influence of drugs. He had requested political asylum in the United States on his own initiative and that was it. End of meeting. " Traitor! " screamed the KGB officer and he left Belenko with a chilling message. " You know what happens to traitors. One way or other, we will get you back! ".

The meeting thus successfully concluded, the KGB officer was told to F.O. and Belenko and his new found Japanese friends celebrated the event by sharing a bottle of vodka which they had presented to him as a gift to be brought to America.

Then in the darkness of the night that ensued, under heavy security, Belenko was escorted out of the prison to Haneda Airport a.k.a. Tokyo International Airport where he boarded a North West Orient Airlines Boeing 747 and was greeted by Jim. Barely more than 72 hours since he touched down at Hakodate Airport in his MiG, he was on his way to America and to the beginning of a new life.

A Northwest Orient Airlines Boeing 747-135, probably similar to the one which took
 Belenko to America, at Haneda Airport, Tokyo on the night of 27th Apr 1977.
Photo : With the kind permission of Lars Soderstrom

Materiel Evidence of A Criminal Offence

10th September. With Belenko out of Japan and on his way to the United States, the Soviet damage control efforts began shifting gears to the early recovery of their aircraft. The Foxbat was initially  detained by the Hokkaido Prefectural Police as materiel evidence of its pilot's illegal immigration and landing at Hakodate Airport. Now perhaps with Belenko's trail concluded and with the pressure of returning him to the Soviets taken away, it was decided the responsibility of the MiG-25 would be transferred from the Ministry of Justice to the Japanese Defense Agency.

Preparation For Transfer To A Military Base

11th September. The Japanese Defense Agency began feasibility studies for the transfer of the MiG-25 to a military base.

18th September. The Japanese Defense Agency acknowledged the deficiencies of the Self Defense Forces and the need for technical assistance and the provision of a large military transport aircraft like the Lockheed C-5A Galaxy of the USAF to effect the transfer of the MiG-25. The location was to be Hyakuri Air Base ( 百里基地 ) in Ibaraki Prefecture less than 50km northeast of Tokyo.

19th September. The disassembling of the Foxbat's wings and vertical stabilizers had began but not before the aircraft's self-destruct mechanism was disabled. Apparently, without even the knowledge of the MiG-25 pilots, explosive devices had been installed to prevent sensitive technology like the Foxbat's powerful radar from falling into the hands of unauthorized powers. Even the C-5A could not take in the MiG-25 in its entirety without some form of dismantling.

20th September. The Foreign Office rebutted point by point the Soviet Union's protest on the Belenko incident lodged on 9th September. It was stressed that the defection and request for asylum in the United States was voluntary. The issue of infringement of air space and Japan's security was also brought up. The Japanese government clarified its stance.

22nd September. It was Soviet Union's turn to refute Japanese statements made two days earlier.

24th September. Arrival of the C-5A Galaxy strategic transport aircraft. The flight to Hyakuri AB carrying the Foxbat was made in the predawn hours of the 25th, escorted by Japanese fighters.

Anatomy Of The Foxbat

25th September. The start of the investigation to the true capabilities of the MiG-25 had started. The aircraft would be taken apart piece by piece but for fear of antagonizing the Soviets further, the Japanese government already made the decision that there would be no test flights.

26th September. Technical assistance from US Forces stationed in Japan was sorted as the Japanese did not possess the required expertise. US defense experts would be admitted to the Hyakuri site as long as they were dressed as civilian contractors.

From USSR With Fake Love

28th September. Soviet Foreign Ministry staged a news conference in Moscow for foreign and Soviet press claiming that the notion of Viktor Belenko voluntarily flying to Japan because of dissatisfaction with life in the Soviet Union was a lie fabricated by Western Propaganda. It featured Belenko's wife and mother in a tearful drama claiming his innocence and requesting for his return to the Soviet Union. It was broadcasted globally and was also featured by major newspapers the next day. Both women were coincidentally known as Ludmilla Belenko. The older Ludmilla was the mother Viktor Belenko last saw when he was two years old, yet she had plenty to say and vouched for her son's good character. The wife who was preparing to walk out of the marriage not too long ago now was crying, reading open letters and asking for reunion. All very dramatic but full of bullshit so typical of Soviet state propaganda of that era.

The Moscow Press Conference on 28th Sep 1976.
Credit : AP

Ludmilla Stepanova Belenko. The mother who
Viktor had not seen for the past 27 years. Credit : AP

Ludmilla Petrovna Belenko, another Ludmilla,
 Viktor's estranged wife crying in front of cameras.
Credit AP

So Long, And Have Fun Piecing It Together!

29th September. Negotiations between Japan and the Soviet Union on the return of the MiG-25 started at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

2nd October. Soviets were informed by their Japanese counterparts the Foxbat was likely to be returned sometime after 15th October.

4th October. Having stripped the Foxbat down to the last bolt, Japanese and American had seen what had to be seen and began wrapping up the investigation. They also started packing up the aircraft to prepare for its return to the Soviets.

9th October. Soviet and Japanese were at an advanced stage discussing the technical issues of returning the aircraft.

12th November. The Foxbat, now packed in crates have been transported out of Hyakuri AB to the Ibaraki port of Hitachi to be inspected and inventoried by Soviet representatives.

14th November. Inspection of the aircraft parts completed. Soviets found some twenty parts missing, including the film made during the Foxbat's last flight.

15th November. The Soviet freighter Taigonos with its precious cargo in 30 crates departed Japan. It arrived at Vladivostok three days later. And so ended the Lieutenant Belenko MiG-25 Defection Incident ( ベレンコ中尉ミグ25亡命事件 ).

According to Wikipaedia, Belenko's MiG-25P 31 Red was eventually reassembled and is on display at RAC MiG's Sokol Plant in Nizhny Novgorod, some 400km east of Moscow.

MiG Alley at Sokol Aircraft Building Plant, Nizhny Novgorod.
From right to left are the various historical MiG jet fighters,
MiG-15, MiG-17, MiG-19, MiG-21, MiG-25 ( small red circle ),
MiG-29, MiG-31 ( Big Red Circle ).
Could it be Belenko's MiG-25P?

MiG Alley at Sokol Plant. Pennant numbers correspond to aircraft's official designation.
 Could this be Belenko's MiG-25P with its original 31 Red now repainted as 25 Red?
Credit on Photo.

The MiG-25 Foxbat Unveiled

Belenko's aircraft was a late model MiG-25P ( NATO reporting name Foxbat-A ) produced in February 1976 so it represented the latest Soviet technology then. The revelations from the dissection were nothing short of surprise and disbelieve.

The MiG-25P high altitude interceptor on display at
Ulyanovsk Baratayevka Airport Mar 2015. Credits on Photo.

First, the Mach 3.2 capable MiG-25 with a service ceiling of 80000 feet was a high altitude interceptor, not an air-combat fighter as previously thought. In fact, the P suffix actually stood for Perekhvatchik, Russian for interceptor.  It was designed to counter the American XB-70 Valkyrie strategic bomber which was ultimately cancelled and never went into production. It had a very powerful radar and its twin Tumansky R-15B-300 afterburning turbojet engines could allow it carry up to four massive R-40 ( NATO reporting name AA-6 Acrid ) air-to-air missile, scramble and quickly reach altitudes of 60000 feet or higher, fire the missiles at the intruder and then hightail it home. It could not sustain high g maneuvers and was not meant to engage in a dogfight. It had a relatively short range due in part to its thirsty engines. Belenko's started with almost a full tank, about 14 tons, and yet when he landed at Hakodate 620km away as the crow flies he had about 52 gallons left. The fuselage was largely fabricated from nickel-steel alloy and aluminum, with titanium used only where it was critical, so it was heavy. Rivets with non-flush heads were used to hold some of the metal plates together in certain areas that do not affect aero-dynamic efficiency. Some of the welding was done by hand. For the onboard avionics, vacuum-tube technology was still used instead of the more advanced solid-state technology with transistors, which incidentally made them resistant to electromagnetic pulse generated by nuclear blasts.

Yet, crude as its technology might be, the MiG-25 was robustly built and generally required little maintenance in the field, like most Soviet military aircrafts. When it did, most of the problems could be managed by the technicians with relative ease, as attested by Belenko. The MiG-25 also held many world records, some even made during its development phase as a prototype. These included several speed records and time to height records, absolute height record ( 123520 feet ), some of which have yet to be broken today. It was an amazing aircraft build specifically for a purpose which it performed as its designers expected, all within a reasonable budget ( at least compared with America's runaway arms acquisition programs ) and within a reasonable time frame - first flight 1964, operational service 1970.

MiG-25RB at Voronezh Baltimor 2011. Credits on Photo.

MiG-25RB with central drop tank 2013. credits on photo

Repercussions Of The MiG-25 Incident

In the United States, everybody from Air Force generals to aerospace engineers were relieved that their initial assumption of the Foxbat being a supersonic air superiority fighter was wrong. Had the Soviets really been able to field an agile jet fighter that can attain such a high speeds and altitude, America would have been in deep trouble as it had nothing similar on the drawing block. In fact it was foxbatophobia, the unfounded fear of the MiG-25, that prompted the development of the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle, the next generation fighter that would evolve to become one of the best multi-role fighter of the late 20th and early 21st century. Without the Foxbat, there might just have been no Eagle.

In the Soviet Union, the loss of the late model MiG-25P to the intelligence services of the United States and its allies in the West prompted the Soviets to develop an improved version of the Foxbat interceptor, the MiG-25PD equipped with a better engine ( Tumansky R-15BD-300 ) the new N-005 Saphir-25 (RP-25M) Pulse-Doppler radar with look-down/shoot down capability and capable of detecting a target with RCS more than 10m² at 100km, Infra-red Search and Tract System, better anti-jamming protection, ground attack and dogfight capabilities. The MiG-25PD was designated Foxbat-E by NATO and was operational by 1978. All older MiG-25P models were eventually upgraded to the PD standard.

A MiG-25PD, an improved version of Belenko's MiG-25P
now stands as a gate guard, complete with 4 x AA-6 Acrid missiles.
After half a century, the Foxbat is no longer at the forefront of technology
nor is it a mystery aircraft anymore. Credits on Photo

Needless to say, the Soviets also implemented additional restrictions at their air bases like disallowing pilots from flying the same aircraft twice in a row so that they cannot cheat on reporting of the fuel status and end up eventually with a near full tank. Things always got harder after every successful defection.

In Japan, MOD realized belatedly that they had a serious air defense gap to fill. A single low flying aircraft avoided detection by ground based long ranged search radars for most of the time it intruded onto Japanese air space and had what was then their best interceptor, the F-4EJ Phantom run circles around it without a meaningful radar track, less visual identification or intercept.

An E-2C AEW aircraft from Misawa Air Base bearing the
JASDF 40th Anniversary logo in 1994. Photo Rob Schleiffert via wiki commons

These air defense shortfalls would eventually lead to the urgent acquisition of an airborne early warning system in fiscal year 1979. The Grumman E-2C Hawkeye was selected and a total of 13 aircrafts were procured. They were operational in 1983 equipping the JASDF's 601st Squadron at Misawa Air Base, Aomori and the 603rd Squadron at Naha Air Base, Okinawa.

In Dec 1977 it also lead to the accelerated acquisition of the F-15J which had already been selected in 1975 as Japan's next generation fighter to replace the ageing F-104J Starfighter and the F-4EJ Phantom. With its lookdown shoot down radar, the F-15 would drastically enhance the air defense capabilities of the JASDF. The F-15J has been in service with the JASDF since Dec 1981. A total of 223 aircrafts had been produced by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and they equip all the major air bases from Chitose to Okinawa.

A pair of F-15J Eagle multi-role combat aircraft from Chitose Air Base
 over snow capped mountains. Photo : JASDF

JASDF also progressively upgraded its air defense radar systems, some of which were USAF equipment dating back to the late fifties or early sixties and handed over when the Americans left. The 28 radar stations spread across the country are now networked and linked through a system known as Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment, operational since 1989. The radars themselves had also been upgraded and are today ballistic missile defense capable.

New Life In America

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss in detail Belenko's new life in the States. For that you'll have to read John Barron's book, but this is the essence of what happened. He was debriefed by the CIA for a period of five months. The Americans had found him honest and truthful and gained valuable information on not just the MiG-25 aircraft itself but the operational aspects of the Air Defense Command and the Soviet military as well.

John Barron's MiG Pilot hard cover edition. Credit : Amazon

Although the value of the information revealed on the MiG-25 alone was already so huge that it was immeasurable, Belenko never once sort monetary rewards from his adopted homeland. None the less the Americans felt that they owe him a huge debt and wanted to ensure that his future was secure. It was also in the interest of the US government to have Belenko successfully integrated to the American society as he would remain a useful asset to the military and intelligence community for many more years to come. News of well settled defectors also tended to encourage more defectors in the future. So an irrevocable trust fund was set up in Belenko's name, managed by financial experts, that will give him a generous income for the rest of his life. If he wished, he could have chosen to retire and spend his days pursuing his hobbies. Of course that didn't happen and Belenko spent his initial years in the US learning and adapting to the American way of life, at one stage even working as a temporary farmhand.

He was granted US citizenship in 1980 by President Jimmy Carter and became an aerospace consultant. He would eventually marry a music teacher from North Dakota, Coral Everson, with whom he fathered two sons, Paul and Tom. The marriage later broke up.

Where is Belenko currently? A search with the White Pages showed a Viktor I Belenko, age unknown, with an address at Billings, Montana and who might be associated with Coral Everson, Paul Schmidt and Thomas Schmidt. Another more recent entry listed a Viktor I Belenko, age 69 at Evansville, Illinois who might be associated with Coral M Everson. Well, Belenko is still around somewhere for sure, though no longer the young dashing fighter pilot he once was. There are always some pictures of Belenko in his older years looking a little plump floating on the web, if you search hard enough.

An older Belenko in flight suit. 

The Cold War might have been over almost three decades ago, but thanks to his courageous act of defiance to an oppressive regime, the mystery of MiG-25 was unveiled and some of that information must have ultimately contributed to making this world a safer place. May this Cold War veteran be blessed with good health and may he enjoy many more good and fruitful years to come.

Foot Note


An unintended effect of Belenko's defection to Japan was to dramatically boost the scales of Hasegawa Model Company's 1/72 scale model kit of the MiG-25 for months immediately afterwards. Military themed kits continued to remain Hasegawa's main focus for some time and unlike its competitors, diversification into other product categories like figurines from popular manga and anime series was delayed.

Box art of Hasegawa's MiG-25 1/72 scale kit featuring
Belenko's 31 Red. Image : Hasegawa Model Co.

Belenko's Foxbat 31 Red was never sent to the United States, unlike what some web entries claimed erroneously. As much as America would want to have the aircraft, and much as the Japanese would wish to please their long time ally, the Japanese government wouldn't have allowed that to happen as Japan would be the one facing the Soviet wrath. Even Belenko who all the while believed that he risked his life to bring the Foxbat as a gift to the United States was incredulous when told the MiG-25 was not coming to America. The fact was the aircraft was not even test flown at all in Japan, only completely disassembled with every part thoroughly studied.

The production of the MiG-25 in its various configurations continued for a few more years after the Belenko incident until 1984 when a total of 1190 units was reached. It excelled as a tactical reconnaissance platform as well as a high altitude all-weather interceptor and after 1979 saw export to several foreign air forces including those of Syria, Algeria, Libya, India and Iraq. It was largely withdrawn from service within Russia after the mid nineties and the design eventually evolved into the next generation MiG-31 fighter, NATO code name Foxhound.

Despite their threats the KGB never managed to get Belenko back or successfully get him " fixed " in the United States. For some years, perhaps to deter future defections, they perpetuated rumours that Belenko was killed in a not so accidental traffic accident in his new found homeland, succinctly implying that there would be no place on earth that is out of reach of the KGB. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Belenko even travelled to Russia on business, and there was no suggestion that the KGB or its incarnation the FSB had made life difficult for him.

KGB emblem. Wikipaedia

In 1976, a barrel of crude oil cost $13. Gerald Ford was the US President. Leonid Brezhnev was the leader of the Soviet Union. ABBA topped the charts with Mamma Mia, Fernando and Dancing Queen, Star Wars was not yet released .... those good old days of yond.