Russian Defense Ministry to Upgrade 130 Mig-31s

Released on Monday, April 13, 2015
SR-71 Blackbird
US - United States
A KRET radar system will enhance the aircraft's combat capabilities

The MiG-31, one of the most unique Russian combat aircraft, can launch a spacecraft into orbit, shoot down airborne reconnaissance planes, and identify targets at a distance of up to 320 km. This aircraft has been in service for more than 30 years. Now this supersonic fighter-interceptor is being upgraded. A KRET radar system will enhance the aircraft's combat capabilities.

Further, higher, faster

For a long time, fighter aircraft were developed under the slogan of "Further, higher, faster," but all three of concepts could not come together in one plane. In the middle of the 20th century, the word "further" in Russian was associated with the Tu-128 and "higher and faster" with the MiG-25.

A new plane combined the best qualities of the Tu-128 and MiG-25. In the mid-1960s, the Mikoyan Design Bureau began work on the first future heavy interceptor with a significantly longer flight distance and speed that could hit targets throughout a range of operating altitudes. This future aircraft was based on the MiG-25.

Only one aircraft in aviation history, the American reconnaissance jet SR-71, officially outperformed the MiG-25. The Russian jet could also travel three times the speed of sound but could not sustain it long enough to beat the American reconnaissance plane. Another serious problem was that the MiG-25 missiles had no opportunity to intercept such targets. The future MiG-31 was destined to overcome these shortcomings. With new features and R-33 missiles, the MiG-31 could effectively shoot down American bombers. Despite the fact that over the whole period of engagement, the SR-71 US reconnaissance aircraft was never shot down, it is known that that a couple of times it faced off in the sky with an enemy that could do it, namely the Russian MiG-31.

The MiG-31 prototype took its first flight on September 16, 1975. Already by May 6, 1981, the fighter-interceptor MiG-31 was commissioned into service. It became the only aircraft capable of independently using long-range missiles to intercept targets flying at speeds up to M-5, or five times faster than the speed of sound.

But not only for this reason did the MiG-31 became a pioneer in the history of aviation. It was the first aircraft whose weapons control system included the Zaslon radar with a passive phased array antenna, which was designed by V. Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design, now part of KRET.

The decision to create this radar was considered a gamble at the time, as installing an onboard phased array antenna was quite problematic. At the time of assembly, only ships, ground-based radars, and large bombers used this kind of radar. The main advantage of this antenna is that its interconnected phase shifters enable the manipulation of the radar beam at a speed of about 1.2 milliseconds. In comparison, mechanical scanning systems require an entire second to perform the same operations.

Specialists at V. Tikhomirov Scientific Research Institute of Instrument Design were able to deal with the tasks. The radar detection range was increased to 200 km and could monitor up to 10 targets simultaneously while guiding R-33, R-40, or R-60 rockets to four of them.

MiG-31: The flight continues MiG-31: The flight continues

In 1991, Zaslon was presented publicly at the Paris Air Show along with MiG-31. To demonstrate the revolutionary antenna the aircraft fairing was removed to show off the main highlight of the new Soviet combat aircraft, the Zaslon phased array radar. The antenna attracted great interest. Upon seeing the phased-array radar, some American engineers could not believe their eyes and said that the antenna was just a regular one with mechanical scanning.

The result of the show of the MiG-31 in Paris led to a special issue of the publication Flight Daily News, which said, "Externally, the MiG-31 is similar to its predecessor, the MiG-25, but this is a completely different aircraft that uses all the advantages of modern electronic equipment. The MiG-31 is a powerful fighter jet, and thanks to its detection systems it can destroy any enemy aircraft at any altitude. The MiG-31 cannot be compared with any other fighter jet of the new-generation. It makes no sense to search for any stealth concepts or an unusual aerodynamic shape. It simply a warhorse."

The Russian MiG-31 not only became the world's first fighter jet equipped with a phased antenna array radar, but remained the only such serially produced fighter for nearly two decades, from 1981 to 2000.

A new Zaslon for MiG

Since 1981, more than 500 MiG-31 of various modifications were created until its serial production ceased in 1994. The Russian Military-Industrial Commission, Ministry of Defense, State Duma, and even entire parliamentary hearings discussed the future of the MiG-31. As a result, it was decided to modernize the aircraft so that, according to the plans, the legendary interceptor could serve for fifteen more years.

By the end of 2018, the Russian Armed Forces will receive over 50 modernized MiG-31BM aircraft. It may be recalled that this is already the second such contract. In mid-2011, the Ministry of Defense and the plant Sokol signed a contract for the modernization of more than 50 MiG-31 and MiG-31BM aircraft.

"We expect the modernization of the MiG-31 will provide the armed forces with more than 130 updated, incredible aircraft with the necessary flight parameters," said Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov recently. According to him, the first 24 modernized MiG-31BM aircraft have already been delivered to the Russian armed forces.

If previous aircraft in this series were classified only as long-range interceptors, the modernized MiG is capable of destroying both air and ground targets. The MiG-31BM is 2.6 times more effective than the MiG-31. A new Zaslon-M radar developed by KRET will further expand the fighter jet's combat capabilities.

Source: MiG-31: The flight continues

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