Russian interceptor MiG-41: ‘The Foxhound’ of the XXI century

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This post was published in Naked Science. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.

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MOSCOW, (BM) – The PAK DP program (a promising long-range interception aircraft complex) is attracting more and more attention. Let’s figure out what it is and whether Russia will have a new combat aircraft.

Park renewal

Russia has almost received the first fifth-generation serial fighter, made as part of the PAK FA program, and in the foreseeable future, a presentation of a promising strategic bomber, known as PAK DA – or “Messenger” can take place.

The first will replace fighters built on the basis of the old Su-27, such as the Su-27SM and Su-30, as well as a few of the surviving MiG-29s: the prospects for its successor, the MiG-35, are still foggy. PAK YES, respectively, is replacing all strategic and long-range bombers.

In this regard, they are increasingly talking about the need for a replacement for the MiG-31, especially since these aircraft are unique and are considered the fastest winged combat vehicles in service.

The maximum speed of the 31st is 3000 kilometers per hour, cruising speed is 2500. This is significantly higher than any modern fighter, including the new, fifth generation.

The MiG-31 fighter was made on the basis of the Soviet MiG-25, which took off in 1964 and largely predetermined the development of aviation. Fearing the speed of the MiG-25, the Americans finally abandoned the development of the Valkyrie super-fast bomber: in the new realities, its capabilities no longer guaranteed invulnerability.

The unique capabilities of the Soviet interceptor was a sin not to use in the 90s, and the country’s leadership understood this. So there was a MiG-31BM – an upgraded version.

The aircraft received a new weapons control system and a radar station, allowing to detect targets at ranges up to 320 kilometers. In fairness, this concerns targets that do not have radar stealth – that is, not stealth.

Another important advantage of the MiG-31BM is the ability to use the latest R-37 long-range air-to-air missiles. This is the development of the old Soviet R-33 missile, which can be used by the MiG-31. However, if an old missile has restrictions on target overload of 4 G (which means it cannot effectively hit maneuverable targets), then the R-37 should have an 8 G.

We can say that the MiG-31 was transformed from a highly specialized interceptor, capable of effectively fighting only cruise missiles and strategic bombers, into a multifunctional complex that can withstand even fighters of a potential enemy.

But not so simple. The problem is a change in the generation of military equipment, or more precisely, in the already mentioned stealth, around which a modern aviation complex is built, such as the F-22, F-35 or Su-57.

The MiG-31 was never a stealth, it will never achieve the performance of aircraft, which were originally created with emphasis on “invisibility.” That is, to put it simply, it will not become a combat vehicle of the 21st century. Need another plane.

Missed opportunities

MiG understood this perfectly, nevertheless, the company missed its chance, unlike Sukhoi, which has been heard since the beginning of the 2000s. Recall, on February 29, 2000, the prototype of the fifth-generation fighter MiG 1.44, which was created as a counterweight to the F-22 fighter and which, according to some reports, exceeded the American “hawk” for the first time, flew up into the sky.

So, the maximum speed of a MiG 1.44 aircraft should even exceed the speed of the MiG-31 and reach 3200 kilometers per hour. However, scandals followed, exposures and the general distress of the industry affected. In 2002, a government decree was issued on the creation of the Su-57, which finally put an end to the history of MiG 1.44. The debate about the correctness of this decision has not yet subsided. But, if you remove the emotions, you need to admit one fact.

The advantage of the Su-57 concept over the MiG 1.44 was that the aircraft was originally built as stealth, while the MiG prototype was devoid of even a hint of stealth – in the modern American sense of the term. Perhaps this was the reason for the rejection of the project.

Also, the MiG-31’s heir could become a heavy interceptor “Project 701” (project 70.1?), Which was allegedly developed back in the early 90’s. The flight range of the giant 62-ton aircraft was supposed to be seven thousand kilometers, and the maximum speed – 2500 kilometers per hour. However, the reliability of information about the interceptor raises many questions. Most likely, such a machine would never have appeared, even if the country had money for it in those years.

MiG of the future: the first data

The future of Russian interceptors, if any, is associated with the PAK DP (long-range interception long-range aviation complex) program, also known as the MiG-41. What kind of program is this and how active it is now – let’s try to figure it out.

The problem is that the few statements made by pilots and aircraft manufacturers do not so much answer the questions posed as they add even more confusion. So, in 2014, test pilot Anatoly Kvochur announced the car.

“Such modernization was supposed to take place 20 years ago. However, this did not happen then, so now the requirements are increasing. They include, inter alia (increase. – Approx. Aut.) Interceptor speeds up to Mach 4-4.3,” he said. In 2017, Viktor Bondarev, the former commander in chief of the Aerospace Forces, made his statement on this subject.

“The range will be in the range of 700 to 1,500 kilometers. It is planned to arm it with a R-37 air-to-air missile, as well as fundamentally new missiles, the military said. “This is supposed to be the fastest fighter in the world.”

It is not clear why the aircraft needs such speed: achieving such indicators in practice will require unthinkable forces and technologies, which, apparently, no country has. In addition, by the time the aircraft was taken into service, not a new R-37 missile (in the broad sense, just a modification of the Soviet R-33) could be completely out of date.

However, now on the basis of the already mentioned R-37, a new RVV-BD rocket is being developed, which, according to sources, has a dual-mode solid-fuel rocket engine and an improved homing homing head 9B-1103M-350 “Washer”.

Visually, the new missile differs from the R-37 in a shortened by about 15 centimeters head compartment with a translucent radome of a modified shape. It is assumed that the rocket will be able to hit targets at ranges of more than 300 kilometers. However, a number of circumstances need to be taken into account, some of which have already been considered.

First, when launching a missile at a maneuvering target (say, a fighter), it will itself be forced to perform maneuvers, losing energy. Secondly, aiming a missile at an inconspicuous target is associated with a number of difficulties, so that the effective launch range on inconspicuous aircraft can be less than 100 kilometers, not to mention 300. In addition, long and ultra-long range missiles are traditionally high in price and even exceed the cost medium-range missiles, such as AIM-120 or P-77.

Most likely, both long / super long-range missiles and medium and short-range missiles could enter the arsenal of the future interceptor, as can be seen in the example of early MiG-31 upgrades.

It was assumed, for example, that the MiG-31M will be able to carry up to six R-33 / R-37 missiles under the fuselage and four medium-range missiles RVV-AE on the underwing nodes. Thus, against low-maneuverable targets such as “strategic bomber” or “cruise missile”, R-33 missiles could be used, while medium-range missiles would be used to fight fighters.

Obviously, in case of real interest of the PAK DP from the Ministry of Defense, they will try to make it as multifunctional as possible, but with emphasis on interception. Recall that the functions of the multi-role fighter will be performed by the Su-57, which is more suitable for these tasks than the interceptor.

Invisible fighter

Finally, we come to the most important thing: what exactly will distinguish the conventional MiG-41 from the 31st and its many modernizations.

The first is speed. If you believe the words of Anatoly Kvochur about the speed of four Machs, it must be said that the achievement of such indicators within the framework of the old platform is impossible. Consequently, the aircraft will most likely have to be created from scratch – with emphasis on higher flight performance. Secondly (this is perhaps even more important), there is reason to believe that they want to see PAK DP as an inconspicuous machine, like the Su-57 or F-22, as we already said.

“A promising aircraft (PAK DP) will use new types of aviation weapons, it will be created using new stealth technologies, it will be able to transport the necessary number of weapons, and it will operate on a very large interception radius,” said the Director General of MiG Aircraft Corporation in 2019 Ilya Tarasenko.

The head of the company added that these requirements are laid down in the appearance of the aircraft, and scientific and technical work on it should be completed by the end of 2020. Recall that in 2018 Tarasenko announced the reality of development. “This is not a mythical project, the project for MiG is long-standing, now under the auspices of the UAC we are carrying out these works intensively and will soon introduce them to the public,” he noted.

In 2017, the supervisor of the FSUE GosNIIAS Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yevgeny Fedosov said that the military also considers the PAK DA strategic bomber (a promising long-range aviation complex) as a long-range interceptor.

However, one version about the transformation of the MiG-31 in the PAK DP still cannot be ruled out. Recall the American project Boeing F-15SE Silent Eagle, aimed at the partial transformation of the old aircraft into stealth.

The F-15SE fighter was equipped, for example, with a V-shaped plumage, and part of the armament (also for the sake of maintaining radar stealth) was removed to the internal compartments.

The “inconspicuous aircraft for the poor,” as they called it, did not meet with much interest in the market, since there are more advanced aircraft and the device can no longer fully satisfy modern requirements.

As already noted, everything speaks in favor of the development by MiG engineers of a new machine, rather than the upgraded MiG-31. Another question is how interesting it is to the Ministry of Defense.

In October 2018, it became known that the Russian military department received materials on a project for a promising long-range interception aircraft complex, which is being created to replace the Mig-31. This was announced by the general designer, vice president of innovation of the United Aircraft Corporation Sergey Korotkov.

But while there are no official statements that would seriously allow talking about the interest in the car from the Russian Defense Ministry, no.

Could the program exist outside the desire of the videoconferencing to get a new interceptor? A difficult question, and the most correct answer to it is probably not.

The market for combat aircraft is not as wide as the market for civil aviation. This can be seen even in the example of relatively popular multi-purpose machines. There is nothing to talk about highly specialized interceptors, as well as front-line bombers like the Su-34.

Most likely, international customers for the new aircraft will not be able to find, even if the car is successful. A heavy interceptor is of interest only to countries with very long borders and, therefore, the need to guard these very borders. There are not many such states, and some, like China, have their own aircraft industry.

MiG-41: is it needed?

The implementation of the PAK DP program will cost without exaggeration of fantastic means, which is clearly seen in the example of fifth-generation fighters. The F-22 development program cost US taxpayers more than $ 60 billion, and the F-35 project cost over $ 50 billion. It can be assumed that sixth generation fighters will require even greater investment.

How much will a promising sixth generation interceptor cost Moscow? No one can answer this question now, but there is no doubt that the amount will be astronomical, especially by the standards of Russia.

Together with technical risks, this raises uncomfortable questions and casts doubt on the feasibility of something like that. They don’t really believe in PAK DP in the West. So, aviation specialist Justin Bronk from the Royal Institute for Defense Research earlier said that he saw no prospects for the MiG-41, as “Russia does not always bring the matter to serial deliveries of new military equipment.”

However, this thesis is only partially true. New technology always requires a long period of bringing to a combat ready state, that is, no one (at least now) has refused either the Su-57 or the T-14 tank. Moreover, this year there was information about the conclusion of a contract for the supply of seventy-six Su-57s to the troops.

More important are issues of a conceptual nature that Business Insider reporters previously drew attention to. “The best way to intercept are ground-to-air missiles.” And the Russians are talking about the MiG-41 to promote another aircraft – the MiG-29SM, ”they note.

Indeed, the S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, provided that a new 40H6E missile is used, could theoretically hit targets at a range of almost 400 kilometers. The combat radius of the MiG-31 is 700 kilometers, and the range of its R-37 missiles, as we have already said, can reach 300 kilometers. Thus, the conclusions of Business Insider experts are not entirely correct: neither the S-400 nor the S-500 will be able to become a full-fledged replacement for the interceptor.

However, the functions of the MiG-31 / MiG-31BM can be partially taken over by Su-57 fighters, which, as previously stated, must learn how to use the RVV-DB missiles. If we take into account the planned installation of the engine of the second stage, the Type 30, on the Su-57, the cruising speed of the aircraft in theory will not be inferior to that of the F-22 Raptor. That is, it can be higher than 1,500 kilometers per hour.

So, PAK DP may simply not be needed due to the availability of other modern machines. However, not everything is simple here. The fact is that a number of experts – both in Russia and in the West – “woo” the MiG-41 into sixth generation fighters.

Recall that now active work in this area is carried out in Europe and the USA: it is enough to recall the American F / A-XX and the European New Generation Fighter. The logic is clear: F-35 and F-22 are not eternal, sooner or later they will have to be replaced.

So far, the requirements for the sixth generation are not fully formed. But experts believe that we can talk about an aircraft built using stealth technology and capable of developing hypersonic speed.

This is where the MiG developments on PAK DP may come in handy. Simply put, the MiG-41 in fact may not be a replacement for the MiG-31, but the successor to the Su-57. That is, not a interceptor, but a multi-functional fighter that combines high speed, good maneuverability and the ability to hit ground targets. In a word, wait and see.

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