Russia uses AA-13 VLRAAMs accelerating up to 6x the speed of sound
WASHINGTON — After nine months of the war in Ukraine, new details of the weapons used by Russia for the invasion are gradually being revealed. Reports of various non-governmental organizations “float” to the surface. Often they are based on assessments, stories, and interviews of soldiers and officers of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
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Officers and commanders from both the Ukrainian Air Force and Ground Forces reveal that Russia has already begun using Very Long Range Air-to-Air Missiles [VLRAAM]. Remains have been found. Four air force officers from the Ukrainian Air Force testified that in October, the Russian Air and Space Forces [VKS] launched six such missiles per day.
It is about the Vympel R-37 [NATO reporting name: AA-13 Axehead] hypersonic missile. This missile was used against Ukrainian air targets as far as 250 miles away. The missile itself is designed to engage air targets at low altitudes, making it difficult to counter and almost impossible to evade.
AA-13 or just ‘Vympel’
Over the past few days, we’ve been revealing details from the Royal United Services Institute [RUSI] report with authors Justin Bronk, Nick Reynolds, and Dr. Jack Watling. It is in this report that special attention is paid to the deadly Russian combination, namely the MiG-31 armed with the Vympel R-37. The authors make a very important point: the Vympel R-37 rocket, which accelerates six times the speed of sound, is launched from an aircraft that accelerates more than twice the speed of sound.
The Ukrainian military says it has detected enemy missiles from the hypersonic missile. Based on their data, as well as data from external sources, it is assumed that it is the combination of MiG-31 and Vympel R-37 of the Russian Air Force that is responsible for many downed Ukrainian aircraft.
Experts explain the principle of action of Vympel R-37. The very targeting, they say, of this missile is quite difficult. Once fired, this rocket flies in an arc. During this flight, the missile relies on inertial navigation. Approximately 18 miles [29 km] before the target, the missile begins to use a dual-band radar whose purpose is to pick up the target.
The high speed of the Russian missile simply cornered the Ukrainian Su-25 Frogfoots and the Su-24 Fencer supersonic bomber. Compared to the rocket, their speed is too small. And if for the Su-24 Fencer there is an extended period in which to try to escape the plane [but only the period is extended, the plane cannot escape], then for the Su-25 which can fly at a maximum speed of 600 miles the inevitable end is almost instantly. What this means: the escape zone of the Su-25 is much more limited than that of the Su-24.
There are experts with a different opinion than that of the Ukrainian pilots and the data indicated in the RUSI report. For example, former US Air Force pilot Colonel Jeffrey Fisher claims that the Vympel R-37 missile has small wings, making it difficult to maneuver. Therefore, according to the colonel, the Ukrainian planes would be maneuverable enough to escape.
However, an interesting fact should be addressed. The Russian Air Force fired six Vympel R-37 missiles a day in October, Ukrainian officers say. This means that Russia has succeeded in fooling Western analysts. For many years it was believed that this rocket was a “boutique production” or in other words – an exotic weapon. The analysis stemmed from the fact that Moscow struggled for years to produce and deploy enough long-range R-77-1 air-to-air missiles, and the Vympel R-37 was left out of sight. The generous spending in October on this type of missile suggests that Moscow probably has enough of them.
Lt. Col. Fischer also opines here, saying that in his opinion, the presence of a large amount of Vympel R-37 means that Russia does not have enough of the R-77-1 and R-27 missiles. Of course, this is an expressed personal opinion and could easily be classified as “speculative”. But once you made the mistake of claiming that Russia does not have the Vympel R-37 exotic weapon, can you afford to repeat such a mistake?
Let’s say something about the MiG-31. This is an old plane, already 40 years old. However, it turns out that it is this old technology that flies very fast and at a very high altitude that is difficult to bring down. Only one MiG-31 is reported to have been destroyed, and that was because it was parked next to the runway during the Ukrainian attack on the Saki base in Crimea. Other Russian modern aircraft “drop like pears” while the MiG-31 stands steady in the air.
There’s a reason for that, and it’s called the MiG-25 Foxbat. The MiG-31 Foxhound was developed to replace the MiG-25 Foxbat. According to the RUSI report, the MiG-31 outperforms Ukrainian fighters in terms of speed, range, and altitude. This is because the MiG-31 inherits the speed of its predecessor, the MiG-25. Let us remind our readers that the MiG-25BM still holds the record for the fastest flight by a military aircraft.
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