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MiG-31: No F-35 Stealth Fighter, But a Mach 3 Monster

MiG-31
Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The MiG-31 is certainly no stealth fighter, that much is clear. However, this Russian plane is very, very fast and will surely serve in Moscow’s air force for a long time. This plane has even played a role in the war in Ukraine:  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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Pav

    July 17, 2022 at 12:15 am

    Alex,
    this plane is a dud in any war. Ukraine downed couple before they entered their airspace.
    Speed, above 1Mach, is useless. There is no big anougth tanks to sustain it.

    Few years back, couple of them flew close to US Navy ship on Baltic sea. Russian pilots were surprised that none of the defense system were activated. It turned out that ship knew planes were weaponless before they flew close by. Russians were in total shock. This is current warfare, not WW2 or Vietnam.

  2. Ray Shewmaker

    July 17, 2022 at 12:28 am

    It is my frim hope that Ukraine can receive longer Range Missiles. And be able to destroy all Bridges in Western Russia. An even than would bring this War to an earlier end. As for Mr I’m asking for everyone’s prayersy 53 year old Son is Dying of Intestinal Cancer. So haw ever you reach out to the Creator please include Me & my Son.🙏😢🇺🇸⚓🐵

    • Dan

      July 17, 2022 at 7:18 pm

      Will pray, bless you guys.

  3. Ray Shewmaker

    July 17, 2022 at 12:33 am

    Sorry it seems Autowrong.is having much Better day than I Be Safe and God Bless 🙏🇺🇸⚓🐵

  4. Pete Thomas

    August 19, 2022 at 9:55 am

    Skin temperatures at mach 3 would indicate the aircraft has an 80,000ft operational envelope, not 67.5k. Consider it an F-15 with turbojets, instead of turbofans. With hypersonic missiles it becomes a threat that can not be ignored. The “air train” across the North Atlantic to supply Ukraine wit U.S. tax dollars, now becomes instantly threatened. It will take half our tanker fleet, and all of our F-22’s to escort the sky train.

  5. Zeno

    January 29, 2023 at 10:20 pm

    Pav,

    You’re 100% WRONG. Multiple western news outlets have confirmed that the MiG-31 shot down several Ukrainian warplanes using their BVA R-37 “Arrow” missiles. In fact, as of 2023 no MiG-31 Foxhounds have ever been lost to combat.It has proven itself to be a highly effective interceptor. You are confusing the MiG-31 with the SU-24 which is certainly a dud.

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