In August 2019, the Russian Zvezda channel showed a footage of the MiG-31BM interceptors of the Russian Pacific Fleet conduct stratosphere interception drill.
The flight was conducted at an altitude of more than 20,000 meters at a speed of 2,500 km/h. Russian Pacific Fleet spokesman said, to make the mission more difficult, the interceptor had to detect the simulation target itself without any help from the ground control center.
The crew completed the mission and intercepted the target successfully in the stratosphere at a distance of 150 km. The exercise further shed light on the capabilities and intended role of the latest incarnation of the Mig-31 line. These aircrafts will be a “headache” for any enemy attempting to attack Russia.
It can be said that, with the capabilities of Mig-31, the sky of Russia is perfectly protected. The Mig-31 can intercept any target, from cruise missiles to satellites, in all weather conditions, day and night, at any speed. Analysts believe that no other aircraft can compete with Russia’s MiG-31 over the next 10 years.
To this day, the Mig-31 still looks not obsolete even after serving nearly half a century. It is still considered one of the most dangerous interceptors with enemy bombers or early warning aircraft. The 2-seat supersonic interceptor MiG-31, dubbed Foxhound by NATO, developed by Mikoyan design bureau from the cold war to replace the earlier MiG-25 Foxbat.
In the late 1960s, there were two reasons for the Soviet Union’s determination to build the MiG-31: first, the United States stepped up deployment of its strategic cruise missiles and FB-111 bombers. FB-111 can fly over the Arctic sky and reach the border of the Soviet Union at low altitude, taking advantage of the terrain to avoid entering the observation area of Soviet satellites to conduct serious intimidation activities. Second, at that time the Soviet Union had a serious gap in surveillance radars on the vast northern border. And to make up for this gap, as well as being ready to respond to any uninvited guests coming from outside, Moscow decided to build a plane capable of monitoring the large airspace at high altitude. Those are the new MiG-31 aircraft. The arrival of the MiG-31 subsequently created a significant deterrent, prompting US spy planes to reduce their operations along the Soviet border. The first flight was made in 1975. Production of the MiG-31 began in 1979 and was commissioned in 1982. A total of 519 aircraft were produced until the production line stopped in 1994. It continued to be inherited by the Russian Air Force and the Kazakh Air Force after the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Overall, the Mig-31 is the successor of its predecessor, the Mig-25. Mig-31 has a length of 22.62m, a wingspan of 13.45m and a height of 6.5m. The empty weight is 21.8 tons while the maximum takeoff weight is 46.2 tons. Like the MiG-25, the MiG-31 is a large twin-engine aircraft with side-mounted air intake ramps, a shoulder-mounted wing with an aspect ratio of 2.94, and twin vertical tailfins. Unlike the MiG-25, it has two seats, with the rear occupied by a dedicated weapon systems officer. The MiG-31 is limited to five g when travelling at supersonic speeds. While flying under combat weight, its wing loading is marginal and its thrust-to-weight ratio is favorable. The MiG-31 is not designed for close combat or rapid turning.
The wings and airframe of the MiG-31 are stronger than those of the MiG-25, permitting supersonic flight at low altitudes. Like the MiG-25, its flight surfaces are built primarily of nickel-steel alloy, enabling the aircraft to tolerate kinetic heating at airspeeds approaching Mach 3. The MiG-31 airframe comprises 49% arc-welded nickel steel, 33% light metal alloy, 16% titanium and 2% composites.
Foxhound is equipped with two Soloviev D-30F6 afterburning turbofan engines, providing a dry thrust of 93 kiloNewton each and up to 152 kiloNewton with afterburner. The Russian interceptor can reach a maximum speed of Mach 2.83, cruise speed of Mach 2.35. The thrust-to-drag ratio is sufficient for speeds in excess of Mach 3, but such speeds pose unacceptable hazards to engine and airframe life in routine use. The operating range of the Mig-35 is 3,000 km, up to 5,400 km if aerial refueling, and the service ceiling of 25,000m.
The MiG-31 is also known as the “flying radar” because of its unique avionics capabilities. This was the world’s first operational fighter with a passive electronically scanned array radar, the Zaslon S-800. Its maximum range against fighter-sized targets is approximately 200 km, and it can track up to 10 targets and simultaneously attack four of them with its Vympel R-33 missiles. The radar is matched with an infra-red search and track system in a retractable undernose fairing. The MiG-31 was equipped with RK-RLDN and APD-518 digital secure datalinks, which enables a flight of four MiG-31 to automatically exchange radar-generated data within 200 km from each other. It also enables other aircraft with less sophisticated avionics.
To carry out the interception mission, Mig-31 was designed with 8 underwing pylons that can carry air-to-air missiles including four long-range Vympel R-33E air-to-air missiles. It is used for attacking large and high-speed targets such as the SR-71 Blackbird, the B-1 Lancer bomber, and the B-52 Stratofortress. The latest Mig-31BM version can accommodate the AA-12 Adder missile and various Russian air-to-ground missiles such as the AS-17 Krypton anti-radiation missile. The original variants were also equipped with a six-barrel 30 mm internal cannon, but were quickly removed after determining that a cannon installation was unnecessary on a long-range interceptor.
Today, Moscow maintains hundreds of Mig-31s in its inventory as part of its multi-layered air defense network, and will continue to do so for many years to come. An export version was also planned, the MiG-31E, but never saw foreign sales. Foxhound is too specialized and expensive to attract foreign buyers. There are reports that Russia is developing a new generation long-range interceptor aircraft to replace the MiG-31, the PAK DP, also known as the MiG-41. In Russia’s military doctrine, the Mig-41 will become a long-range “pack-horse” that can both move extremely fast while carrying an enormous arsenal of weapons including long-range missiles and accurate ammunitions. In other words, the MiG-41 is a “trump card” in an unprecedented war between the Russians and NATO, if that is the darkest scenario we can think of.