Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Russia's MiG-31 Fighter Is a Mach 3 Monster

In the last decade of the Cold War, the MiG-31, codenamed Foxhound by NATO, enjoyed a certain mystique in the West. The same grainy photos aerial photos of the high speed fighter would show up in aviation publications, along with ominous speculation over its capabilities. But unlike its peers—the MiG-29 and Su-27—the Foxhound never fully emerged from obscurity after the Cold War.

The reason is simple—the MiG-31 was built to be a home-defense interceptor, and was neither exported nor used in combat. But Moscow maintains hundreds of the fighters in its inventory as parts of its multi-layered air defense network, and will continue to do so for years to come.

After the defection, the MiG-25 began to be sold for export, while the Soviet Union focused on building a better high-speed interceptor out of the Foxbat airframe. Moscow was no longer just concerned solely by high-altitude high-speed bombers, but also low-altitude cruise missiles zipping through gaps in its radar defenses. New design elements included a back seat Weapon Systems Officer to operate a powerful new radar, improved long range air-to-air missiles, and better engines.

This much evolved super Foxbat, designated the MiG-31, was distinguished by the addition of a backseat Weapon Systems Officer (WSO) to operate its large Zaslon S-800 Passive Electronically Scanned Array (PESA) radar. The heavy radar had a maximum range of 125 miles and featured “look down, shoot down” capability to detect and target low-flying aircraft, which was not widespread at the time. An infrared-red search and track system (IRST) further complimented it sensor suit.

The MiG-31 retains the Foxbat’s high-altitude performance, though it is a bit slower at Mach 2.83—still faster than any operation Western fighters today. More importantly, it can fly up to Mach 1.23 at low altitude—which the MiG-25 cannot. This makes it ideal for hunting ground-skimming cruise missiles and fighter bombers.

Nonetheless, the Foxhound is not highly maneuverable, and cannot safely pull more than 5Gs while flying supersonic. The MiG-31 would not fare well in air-to-air engagements against contemporary fighters such as the F-15—but that’s simply not what it was designed to do. The Foxhound is intended to close on intruders at high speeds, fire off its missiles and disengage.
Russia's MiG-31 Fighter Is a Mach 3 Monster Rating: 4.5 Posted by: Minato Namikaze