Desert Secrets: How the Iraqi Air Force Captured US Forces’ MiG-25

In the vast expanse of the desert, where one least expects to uncover relics of Cold War-era aviation history, an astonishing discovery was made: the unearthing of a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25, a marvel of Soviet engineering. This high-speed interceptor, known as the “Foxbat” under NATO designation, stands as a testament to the complex geopolitical landscape of its time. Celebrated for its remarkable speed and capacity to reach impressive altitudes, the MiG-25 transcended its Soviet origins, becoming part of the arsenals of numerous air forces worldwide, including those of Syria, India, Algeria, and Iraq.

Among the various iterations of the MiG-25, the MiG-25RB, codenamed “Foxbat-B,” is particularly noteworthy. This single-seater aircraft featured enhanced reconnaissance capabilities and a bombing system that could carry up to eight 500-kg bombs.

The Discovery

In a photograph that garnered international attention, American troops are seen unearthing this interceptor from the sands of Al Taqaddum Air Base in the western Iraqi desert. This surprising revelation occurred in April 2003, during the early stages of the Iraq War. The buried aircraft, its wings removed before its sandy burial, caught many off guard despite the existence of intelligence suggesting hidden artifacts in the region.

Former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld expressed his astonishment, stating, “We’d heard a great many things had been buried, but we had not known where they were, and we’d been operating in that immediate vicinity for weeks and weeks and weeks… 12, 13 weeks, and didn’t know they were [there].”

Preservation and Significance

The aircraft’s fuselage remained remarkably well-preserved, though its wings were conspicuously absent. Supposedly, the decision to bury the MiG-25RB was a preemptive measure aimed at safeguarding it from potential destruction by coalition forces during the invasion. As of 2006, this specific aircraft found its resting place at the National Museum of the US Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

This revelation wasn’t an isolated incident. In 2003, several dozen aircraft of similar types, including additional MiG and Sukhoi Su-25 models, were discovered buried beneath the desert sands. The question that looms is why these aircraft were interred instead of being used in defense.

Strategic Decisions

Interestingly, prior to the US invasion in 2003, Iraq boasted one of the most formidable Air Forces in the region. Substantial investments were made to bolster its aerial capabilities, involving the acquisition of modern jets, expansion and improvement of airbases and runways, and the construction of new hangars.

However, when the American forces marched into Baghdad, they were met with minimal aerial resistance. The Iraqi leadership had determined that deploying their air fleet against the overwhelmingly superior American forces would be futile. Consequently, a directive was issued to bury the fleet in the desert – a decision that led to the astonishing discovery of numerous aircraft buried under layers of sand.


In the heart of the desert, where sand and history intertwine, these buried aircraft tell a unique tale of military strategy, geopolitical dynamics, and the unexpected twists of warfare. The unearthing of the MiG-25RB serves as a poignant reminder of the complex decisions that shaped the destiny of nations and the surprises that lie hidden beneath the shifting sands of time.

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