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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Russia’s MiG-31 Is No Stealth Fighter (But It Can Hit Mach 3)

MiG-31 Fighter History
Image: Russian state media.

With so much interest surrounding today’s fifth-generation fighter jets, it might be easy to miss the Russian-made MiG-31 “Foxhound.” Its lack of full stealth features makes this defense interceptor easy to overlook, but make no mistake – the Foxhound is a seriously impressive aircraft. It will probably continue to play a role in the Russian air force for years to come.

A Range of Capabilities

The Mig-31 was designed off the MiG-25 “Foxbat” interceptor, but any resemblance is mostly cosmetic. Outfitted with two D-30F6 engines, the two-seater MiG-31 can reach an impressive maximum speed of Mach-3 and an altitude between 65,000 and 67,500 feet. It has an excellent range of 1,900 miles upon takeoff and 3,400 miles with one aerial refueling. The jet is all-weather. It can operate at day or at night, and it can network with other planes in its sortie to share information in real-time. Additionally, the Foxhound entered service as the first Soviet fighter to have genuine look-down/shoot-down capabilities, thanks to its phased array radar. It was also the first fighter of its kind to sustain a cruise at supersonic speeds.

Its weapons capabilities include a standard Gsh-6-23, 23mm cannon, as well as the ability to employ R-37 long-range air-to-air missiles and R-77 short-range missiles. Active radar guidance on these munitions provides engagement ranges of up to 400 km to the former and 110 km to the latter, with the R-37 carrying a large 61-kg warhead. The Zaslon-M radar helps the Foxhound fire at such ranges, detecting large and medium aircraft more than 400 kilometers away.

The Foxhound’s MiG-K variant was recently outfitted with the Kh-47M2 “Kinzhal” hypersonic tactical ballistic missile. This munition can reliably reach any number of ground and surface targets, staying accurate at ranges up to 2,000 kilometers and traveling at Mach-10 speeds.

The MiG-31 Is an All-Russian Aircraft

The original Foxhound’s first test flight was all the way back in September 1975. It officially entered service with the Russian air force in 1981. Since then, 519 have been produced, with 370 remaining with the Russian air force, while 30 are in service with the Kazakh air force. Most others remain in the post-Soviet world, though details on their whereabouts are scant.

True to Russia’s habit of upgrading older airframes rather than developing new craft, the MiG-31 was upgraded to the MiG-31B variant long ago. An uncertain number of aircraft in the Russian fleet have been upgraded to either MiG-31BM or MiG-31BSM status. These upgrades have added important technologies, including the aforementioned network-centric combat control, phased array radar, and possibly the ability to load hypersonic missiles.

Exports of the MiG-31 remain nonexistent. Syria contracted to purchase a small amount of the aircraft but was pressured by various entities to back out of the deal. Nonetheless, there are reports that the Syrian government may be operating MiG-31s. 

The craft has also seen combat experience in Ukraine. Though details are limited, the Ukrainian military claims it has downed two of the craft, making this high-flying interceptor seem more vulnerable than it was in the past. Indeed, until now it has been unclear just how great the MiG-31’s capabilities really are.

But Russia appears to have no plans to move on from this interceptor anytime soon. Reports suggest a revamped version of the MiG-31, the MiG-41, will feature superior performance across all indicators. It would reportedly fly at speeds exceeding Mach-5, reach higher altitudes, and carry more capable weapons (such as directed energy weapons and new classes of anti-satellite weaponry). It would also integrate artificial intelligence and newer hypersonic weapons.

If the MiG-31 wasn’t beastly enough, the forthcoming MiG-41 certainly will be.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

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