MiG-31BM Foxhound interceptor aircraft based in Karelia, the Western military district, were scrambled in early August during snap drills. The fighters of this type are expected to take part in the large-scale Zapad-17 exercise scheduled for September.
In July, the MiG-31BM did something unheard of before. It intercepted a supersonic cruise missile in the stratosphere during the Pacific Fleet exercises conducted to mark the Day of Naval Aviation. The missile was launched from the Sea of Okhotsk at an altitude of more than 12 kilometers traveling at least three times the speed of sound.
The MiG-31BM Foxhound is a two-seat Mig-25 Foxbat derivative designed to intercept the U.S. B-1B bomber flying at low altitude below the radar coverage. The multifunctional long-range fighter can destroy both air and ground targets.
The MiG-31 is one of the world’s fastest tactical fighters in with top speed of Mach 2.83 and a range of 1,450 km. Upgraded to the BM variant, it’ll stay in service till 2028 – 2030.
The armament suite includes up to 10 R-37M or RVV-BD missiles with an operational range of 320km (198mi). The range is 189km (117.5 mi) for stealth targets. The missile is designed to shoot down AWACS and other C4ISTAR aircraft whilst keeping the launch platform out of range of any fighters that might be protecting the target. It can attack targets ranging in altitude between 15–25,000 meters (5 – 82,000 feet).
The R-37M is capable of tracking its targets with both semi-active and active radar homing. The missile can also use a fire-and-forget mode where it is completely independent of its launch platform. Its high explosive fragmentation warhead is huge — 60 kilograms — and capable of critically damaging large aircraft. The speed is incredibly high – about 7,350 km/h or Mach 6.
R-77 is a medium range (80 km), active radar homing air-to-air missile system. It is launched in an active "fire-and-forget" mode over short distances and inertial guidance over longer distances. Within 20 km (12 mi) of its target the missile switches to its active radar mode. The host radar system maintains computed target information in case the target breaks the missile's lock-on. There are other variants under development, including the RVV-AE-PD, which boasts an upgraded engine to boost range at high altitudes to as much as 120–160 km.
The aircraft is also capable of mounting up to 18 thousand pounds of air-to-ground smart bombs and anti-radar missiles to operate in a strike role. Depending on the mission, it can be equipped with anti-radar missiles (Kh-31 and Kh-25), air-surface rockets Kh-59 and Kh-29, guided bombs KAB-1500 or to eight KAB-500 with television or laser guidance. The maximum mass of combat load is 9,000 kg (19,841lb). The MiG-31BM is also equipped with a six-barrel rapid-fire gun. In the air-to-surface operating mode, the fighter can be used for mapping the terrain and attacking ground and sea targets by using a wide range of guided missiles and precision-guided bombs.
The BM variant is equipped with upgraded avionics, hands-on-throttle-and-stick (HOTAS) controls, liquid-crystal color multifunction displays (MFDs), a powerful on-board computer system, digital data links and phased array radar. The Zaslon-M weapons control and radar system provides increased target detection range – nearly 320km (199 mi) – and a firing range of about 280km (174 mi). An aircraft can be engaged at a distance of 280 kilometers (173mi). The maximum detection range for air targets was increased in the upgrade to 320 km (189 for stealth). The aircraft can automatically track up to ten targets, and the latest units can track up to 24 targets and simultaneously engage up to 10 of them. The Zaslon-M also enables the use of air-to-air missiles, smart bombs and anti-radiation missiles.
The equipment includes digital secure datalinks. The APD-518 datalink integrates the MiG-31’s sensors with ground-based and friendly fighter planes, allowing the Foxhound to coordinate the entire air defense system. A flight of four MiG-31BMs can automatically exchange radar-generated data within 200km (124 mi) from each other. It also can direct other aircraft to targets spotted by MiG-31BM. A group of four of MiG 31BMs can control the air space of a front line 800-900 km (497-559mi) in length. The fighter can perform as airborne early warning and control aircraft, freeing A-50 AEW planes for other missions.
The MiG-31BM is powered by two D-30F6 fuel-efficient engines developing a top speed of 2,883km (1,860 miles) per hour at high altitude and about 1,554km/h (960 mph) at low altitude. It can break the sound barrier while flying level or ascending, whereas the majority of supersonic aircraft break the speed of sound in a shallow dive. The MiG-31BM can go supersonic at medium and high altitudes without turning on afterburners. It can accelerate up to 2,500km/h (1,553mi). At the maximum speed, it is faster than any similar aircraft in the world, by at least 500 kilometers per hour. Duration of the MiG-31 supersonic flight is only limited by the fuel supply.
The aircraft broke a record for the longest non-stop flight, spending seven hours and four minutes in the air while covering the distance of 8,000km (4,970mi) from Siberia's Krasnoyarsk region to the Astrakhan region in southern Russia with three mid-air refueling procedures performed en route.
The super-fast interceptor can traverse vast distances to knock out encroaching bombers and missiles before they approach close enough to strike. With so many features to make it stand out among other fighters, the MiG-31BM is able to carry out long-range interception, precision strike and defense suppression missions effectively to put it on the list of ten top aircraft in the world. In the coming years, the MiG-31BM will form the backbone of Russia’s air defenses.