Airborne refueling boosts MiG-31I range, poses threat to NATO bases

The MiG-31I, an enhanced version of the Russian Aerospace Forces’ MiG-31 Foxhound, has been fitted with a significant addition that allows in-flight refueling. An unidentified defense source relayed to the TASS News Agency that this particular modification, an aerial refueling system, has been incorporated into the MiG-31I fighter aircraft, thereby extending its range in combat scenarios. 

Airborne refueling boosts MiG-31I range, poses threat to NATO bases
Photo credit: Reddit

The insider shared, “MiG-31I planes serving in the Russian long-range air forces now have the capability for mid-air refueling, which substantially extends their operational distance during combat engagements.” Please note that TASS hasn’t received an official confirmation regarding this information yet. 

Many people may confuse the MiG-31I with the MiG-K variant. To resolve any misunderstandings, another anonymous source offered clarity to TASS. They explained that the MiG-31I is distinct from its ‘K’ counterpart, with the differences lying in their engines, avionic systems, and missile configurations. The MiG-31K is primarily known for carrying the Kinzhal hypersonic aero-ballistic missile.

Airborne refueling boosts MiG-31I range, poses threat to NATO bases
Photo credit: Twitter

Ukraine should also be alert

Vijainder K. Thakur, a former military personnel now turned analyst, discusses the possible ramifications following the MiG-31I’s new capabilities. He emphasizes that now most of Europe is vulnerable to Kinzhal’s prowess. Regarding Ukraine, the Armed Forces of Ukraine [AFU] must maintain a high level of vigilance continuously once alerted of a MiG-31I takeoff by US/NATO AWACS. 

Reports indicate that the MiG-31K already undergoes mid-air refueling via the Russian Il-78 tanker. Given the capacity of a single Il-78 or Il-78M, which is equivalent to two tactical aircraft, it can refuel two MiG-31Ks simultaneously. Considering the fuel requirement of a MiG-31, which is up to 17.7 tons, a single Il-78[M] should be able to carry enough fuel for one to three full refueling sessions.

The MiG-31 Ishim is a launch platform

The MiG-31I, also known as Ishim, is a variant of the MiG-31, a supersonic interceptor aircraft developed for use by the Soviet Air Forces. The ‘I’ in MiG-31I stands for ‘Ishim’, named after the Ishim River in Kazakhstan, where the Baikonur Cosmodrome is located. This variant was specifically designed for high-altitude, high-speed missions, particularly for launching small satellites into space. 

The MiG-31I differs from other MiG-31 variants primarily in its role and equipment. While the standard MiG-31 is designed as an interceptor, with a focus on speed, range, and the ability to engage multiple targets simultaneously, the MiG-31I was adapted for a more specialized role. It was equipped with a modified fuselage to carry a small launch vehicle for satellites, transforming it from a traditional fighter into a sort of airborne launch platform.

Still so powerful

Another key difference lies in the aircraft’s avionics. The MiG-31I was equipped with a new navigation system and other specialized equipment to support its space-launch mission. This included a new flight control system, a specialized telemetry system for monitoring the launch vehicle, and other modifications to support its unique role. 

Despite these modifications, the MiG-31I maintained many of the characteristics that made the MiG-31 a formidable interceptor. It retained the powerful engines and the high-speed, high-altitude capabilities of the original design. However, the changes made to accommodate the launch vehicle did result in some trade-offs, including a reduction in the aircraft’s combat capabilities. 

Ultimately, the MiG-31I represents a unique adaptation of the MiG-31 design, demonstrating the versatility of the platform. While it may not have seen widespread use, it serves as an interesting example of how military aircraft can be adapted for non-traditional roles.

Russia is testing a remote control of the supersonic MiG-31 interceptor
Photo credit: Mil.ru

Roughly 3,000 kilometers

Under standard conditions, without in-flight refueling, the MiG-31I can cover a distance of approximately 1,500 kilometers, or about 930 miles. When the MiG-31I undergoes in-flight refueling, its range can increase to roughly 3,000 kilometers or about 1,860 miles. This process effectively doubles the aircraft’s range, providing a substantial strategic advantage in terms of endurance and reach. 

It’s crucial to note that the actual range can vary based on several factors, including the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and payload. However, the MiG-31I’s ability to extend its range through in-flight refueling is a testament to its versatility and sophisticated design.

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