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The Russian Mach 2.82 MiG-31 fighter is making a historic comeback

Summary: The MiG-31, known by NATO as the “Foxhound”, remains a crucial part of Russia’s aerospace force despite its age, thanks to significant upgrades over the years. Recently, the MiG-31I variant has undergone improvements including an aerial refueling system, updated engines, advanced avionics and improved missile capabilities, increasing its operational range and combat effectiveness.

MiG-31

-Originally derived from the MiG-25 “Foxbat”, the MiG-31 has been in service since 1982 and is known for its high speed, long-range interception capabilities and advanced Zaslon phased-array radar, capable of tracking multiple targets simultaneously.

-Although mainly operated by Russia with some in service in Kazakhstan, there have been controversial reports of possible deployment in Syria. With continued upgrades, the MiG-31 is expected to remain in service until at least 2030.

The Russian MiG-31 receives major upgrades: improved capabilities extend its operational life

Described as the “world’s fastest operational fighter aircraft,” the Mikoyan MiG-31 (NATO reporting name Foxhound) has been in service for more than four decades but shows no signs of slowing down. The aircraft has received several major updates over the past 40 years and this week it was reported that the latest variant, the MiG-31I, has been upgraded and given an aerial refueling system to increase its combat radius.

According to most analyses, the MiG-31 could reach Mach 2.83.

“MiG-31I fighters of Russian long-range aviation gained the ability to refuel in mid-air and increased the combat distance,” a source in the Russian defense industry told state media company Tass, while another source added that the MiG-31I differs from the previous MiG-31K as it is equipped with “different engines, avionics and missiles”.

MiG-31

Tass quoted the military daily Izvestia, which reported that the “MiG-31I can refuel in the air. The fighter has electronic systems that increase its flight characteristics and capabilities. The jet is equipped with an electronic remote control system and on-board computers that control the aircraft automatically move it into the required trajectory and fire a hypersonic missile at the calculated time.

Although an older platform, the upgrades should ensure the MiG-31 remains in service with the Russian Aerospace Forces for years to come.

The MiG-31 in sight

The MiG-31 long-range supersonic aircraft, derived from the MiG-25 (NATO reporting name Foxbat) interceptor and equipped with state-of-the-art digital avionics, has retained a certain mystique in the West, partly because there is still much speculation about all its capabilities. The reported airframe consists of 49 percent arc-welded nickel steel, 33 percent alloy, 16 percent titanium and two percent composites.

Unlike the MiG-25, it has two seats, with the rear occupied by a special weapons systems officer.

The MiG-31 was also designed to operate efficiently in all weather conditions, while its highly aerodynamic and streamlined body allowed it to fly at low altitudes at the required supersonic speeds. It is equipped with efficient turbofan engines with a low bypass ratio, which enable an extended combat range.

Although the MiG-31 was not designed for close-quarters or fast-turning combat, it was the first Soviet fighter aircraft that could actually look down and shoot down, while tracking multiple targets simultaneously at high altitude.

MiG-31

In addition, the MiG-31’s Zaslon radar was the world’s first phased-array unit, with a range of 200 km. It could track 10 targets simultaneously and monitor the engagement of 4 of them at the same time. Until 2001 – when Japan’s Mitsubishi F-2 was introduced with an advanced phased-array radar – the MiG-31 was the only serial fighter aircraft in the world equipped with such a phased-array radar.

Rumors have it that during the late Cold War a MiG-31 Foxhound may have been used to chase the US Army’s SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and was reportedly pinned down with its missiles, but as the US reconnaissance plane was never deployed to fly over flying into Soviet airspace. Whether the incidence occurred has remained a matter of conjecture at best.

Still in service

The MiG-31 made its maiden flight in September 1975 and production of the aircraft began in 1979, while it formally entered service in 1982.

The MiG-31 was never exported by the Soviet Union and a total of 519 were produced. Most have remained in service with the Russian Air Force, while about 30 are reportedly in service with the Kazakhstan Air Force.

However, Syria had reportedly ordered eight MiG-31E aircraft in 2007, with the order suspended due to Israeli pressure and a lack of Syrian funds. More recently, Turkish news media have reported that six of the planes may have been delivered for use by the Syrian Arab Air Force, but Russia has denied that it actually sold the planes to Syria.

MiG-31

The Russian Ministry of Defense expects the MiG-31 to remain in service until 2030 or beyond.

Experience and expertise of author: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a writer from Michigan. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites with more than 3,200 published pieces during a twenty-year career in journalism. He writes regularly about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics and international affairs. Peter is also one Contributing writer for Forbes and Clearance jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

You can send the author an email: (email protected).

All images are Creative Commons.