MiG-41 – a real breakthrough or just Russian speculation

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This post was published in Free Press. 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) – Recently, the president of the UAC, Yuri Slyusar, announced that the entire fleet of MiG-31 fighter-interceptors would be modernized by 2023. “We expect that in the coming years the Aerospace Forces will receive several dozen more modernized MiG-31BMs, so that by 2023 the entire existing fleet will be modernized,” Slyusar said.

Despite the fact that test pilot Alexander Fedotov made the first flight on the MiG-31 on September 16, 1975, exactly 45 years ago, even today this fighter continues to be one of the unique aircraft in the world. It is intended for use in the country’s air defense system. Able to carry out long patrols and fight at any time of the day in difficult weather conditions with intensive conduct of electronic warfare with all classes of aerodynamic targets [small cruise missiles, helicopters, high-altitude hypersonic aircraft, strategic bombers, low-orbit satellites and spacecraft, unmanned aerial vehicles].

How it all began?

The MiG-31 [according to NATO classification: Foxhound – “fox hound”] was developed in OKB-155 (now “RSK” MiG “) in the 1970s. It was the first Soviet fourth generation combat aircraft. At the initial phase, the work was supervised by the chief designer Alexander Chumachenko. Then, at the stage of deep engineering development and testing – the legendary Gleb Lozino-Lozinsky. In 1975, after Gleb Evgenievich began developing the Buran, Konstantin Vasilchenko headed the work on creating the aircraft.

The combat capabilities of the fighter were supposed to be significantly expanded thanks to the use of the latest electronic equipment, in particular, the radar with a passive phased antenna array used for the first time. The MiG-31 was built according to the scheme of the MiG-25 aircraft, but with a crew of two – a pilot and a navigator-operator.

The MiG-31 prototype made its first flight on September 16, 1975. By a decree of the Council of Ministers of the USSR of May 6, 1981, the MiG-31 fighter-interceptor with the RP-31 radar and R-33 missiles was put into service. Serial production began in 1979. By the end of 1994, more than 500 MiG-31 and MiG-31B aircraft were built.

Aircraft record holder

The glider of the MiG-31 has earned the respect of a whole generation of air defense pilots. This is a formidable aviation platform, capable of carrying more than 9 tons of weapons at a speed of 3 thousand km / h at an altitude of up to 25 thousand meters, mastered by the plant and experienced pilots and navigators, ground services. The square fuselage of the MiG-31 aircraft allows placing any antennas without violating either the aerodynamic parameters of the aircraft or the electrodynamic characteristics of radio devices. A great deal of experience has been accumulated in carrying out combat duty by aircraft in difficult climatic conditions.

Especially excellent assessments are expressed in relation to the MiG-31M, which was produced in the 90s of the last century in only six copies. During the tests of this modification of the aircraft, our pilots achieved outstanding results, which have not yet been surpassed either by ours or by foreign fighters of this class. In the OKB them. A.I. Mikoyan, the option of further development of the MiG-31M aircraft was also worked out with the installation of a deltoid wing of a large area without horizontal tail (analogue abroad – F-16 XL).

But neither the MiG-31M, much less the “flying wing” version, went into production. The official reason is due to the difficult economic situation in the country. However, there is a number of data testifying to the considerable influence of the overseas “friends” of the Yeltsin regime on this decision and on the creation of conditions by them in order to prevent the further equipping of the Russian Air Force with these aircraft. The same fate befell the rest of the MiGs – their production was discontinued under the pretext of lack of engines for them. But now the aircraft remaining in the Russian Armed Forces are being upgraded to the MiG-31BM version.

The issue of the MiG-31 was even devoted to parliamentary hearings on the topic “Resumption of production of the MiG-31: reality and prospects.”

The one who does not fly does not fall!

During the operation of the MiG-31, there were about 40 accidents and disasters. The reasons were different: material failures, pilot errors, engine fires due to fuel leaks. The most resonant disaster was April 4, 1984 at the LII airfield [Ramenskoye]. One of its versions was the destruction of the inter-shaft bearing and engine runaway, which led to a violation of control, and then an explosion of the aircraft in the air. The crew [crew commander – Honored Test Pilot of the USSR, Hero of the Soviet Union Major General of Aviation Alexander Fedotov and navigator-operator Valery Zaitsev] died.

On April 11, 2008, a serious accident occurred with the MiG-31: at the 21st minute of the flight, the folding part of the canopy of the first cockpit collapsed and both cabins of the MiG-31 were depressurized. The crew [Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Prikhodko and Lieutenant Colonel Konstantin Kozitsky] took action to reduce speed and altitude in extremely low temperatures [below 55 ° C], and then made a safe landing at the airfield. For their courage and high professionalism, the pilots were nominated for state awards.

On March 10, 2010, at the Kotlas airfield (Savvatiya) (Arkhangelsk region), while landing, a MiG-31 fighter rolled over to the side safety strip and turned over. During the accident, the pilot and navigator were injured. The plane was destroyed, the amount of damage was 86 million rubles.

On August 11, 2020, the MiG-31 long-range interceptor, which destroyed the main landing gear wheel, made a regular landing in the Perm Territory, the Central Military District reported. “The signal” Ready “from the airport dispatcher arrived at 19.50, – said a source close to the situation. – “For almost an hour then the plane was running out of fuel to make an emergency landing. There were two crew members on board. At this time, all emergency services were pulled to the airport.” At 20.40 the plane made an accident-free landing.

Despite accidents and disasters, the operation of the MiG-31 continues. Probably, that sage was right who once said: “He who does not fly does not fall.”

Modernization of the MiG-31: pros and cons

Of course, Russia needs today the MiG-31, a unique combat aviation complex to fulfill the missions of the Aerospace Defense and other troops. The grouping of the modernized MiG-31 would make it possible to fulfill a number of space defense tasks: the destruction of enemy spacecraft and the launching of small satellites [up to 200 kg] into a low [200–800 km] orbit of the Earth. Moreover, according to domestic experts, at present, the Russian Aerospace Forces has about 120 MiG-31s, plus about 150 more aircraft at storage bases. According to their estimates, today about 100 modernized MiG-31BM are in service.

Of course, modernization is a good and necessary business. After its implementation, Russia will receive for many years a multifunctional, unsurpassed long-range aircraft, which will have no equal in the world. For many years to come, the MiG-31 will evoke a sense of pride in our great country, its Armed Forces, Soviet and Russian science and industry. However, there are certain drawbacks to its implementation. In particular, the State Armament Program for 2011–2020 does not provide for the resumption of production and the acquisition of MiG-31 aircraft and its modifications. And the modernization will require, according to various estimates, tens of billions of rubles, which today – during the recession of both the domestic and the world economy, as well as the appearance of the coronavirus – will be quite difficult to find.

In addition, the technologies of a number of parts of the MiG-31 fighter were lost, in particular the nose cone, canopy, avionics, as well as the production of components. Although the restoration of lost technologies at a new technical level is quite possible even without a significant amount of testing of airframe structures. The restoration of production, according to the UAC forecast, will require at least 15 billion rubles. and five years. And this means lifting the Russian economy. After all, the amount of funding for the state program “Development of the Aviation Industry” alone until 2025 is 1.2 trillion rubles.

The irretrievable loss of a large number of highly qualified personnel, which will be difficult to recover, is also alarming.

It is necessary to increase the detection range of the MiG-31. In particular, on the MiG-25 with the “Sapphire-25” radar, it was received more than on the MiG-31, and, moreover, the “snake” target maneuvers did not affect the characteristics of the “Sapphire-25” radar. A modern radar station [of the “Zhuk” type installed on the MiG-29SMT, MiG-35, Su-27KUB, etc.] will be able to provide a range of at least 400 km against the current 80 km. It is necessary to remove excess metal from the nose cone [air pressure receiver, antennas, wires] and change its shape to ensure acceptable radio performance. Essential modernization of the entire radio-electronic equipment of the aircraft and the heat direction finder is required.

D-ZOF-6 engines stored in the warehouses of OJSC Perm Engine Company belong to the 2nd category and cannot be installed on new aircraft. Installation of engines of the 2nd category will require changes in the legislation. After refurbishment, the engines will be able to provide the required resource. This approach does not require large costs and time. According to OAK, the resumption of engine production will require at least 5 billion rubles. [included in the declared OAK 15 billion rubles). The plant retained the production of the main elements of the engine (production of blades and stages of the compressor and turbine].

It is no secret that at present the tasks of the MiG-31 are partially capable of performing the Su-35, MiG-29 and Su-57. True, even today they are inferior to him in terms of cruising speed of supersonic flight, rate of climb and payload.

Will the MiG-31 replace the PAK-DP?

They say that nothing lasts forever under the moon. Someday the MiG-31 will also become obsolete, and it will have to look for a replacement. They started talking about this several years ago. So, the general director of JSC “RSK” MiG “Ilya Tarasenko announced that the design bureau is developing the so-called PAK-DP (Advanced Long-Range Intercept Aircraft Complex). In short, it will be a new generation long-range fighter.

“The promising aircraft will use new types of aviation weapons, it will be created using new stealth technologies, it will be able to transport the required amount of weapons, and will operate at a very large interception radius. Now all these requirements are laid down in the appearance of the aircraft,” Tarasenko said. According to him, the PAK-DP will become a unique fighter. And it will fly in space, and its speed will exceed 4 M, and its radius of action will exceed 11 thousand km. The MiG-41, as it was named, will carry both conventional and hypersonic air-to-air missiles, as well as laser weapons.

According to Western and domestic experts, 4 M is a very high speed. An aircraft with such characteristics will weigh and cost as much as a heavy bomber, and it will still be vulnerable to air-to-air missiles and enemy air defenses. The task of reaching the launch line [which, in theory, should be solved by high speed] may well be solved by cruising supersonic of the same Su-57. In addition, today the Su-35 has a powerful radar and long-range missiles, and the Su-57 has a powerful radar, long-range missiles and cruising supersonic.

These two fighters may well meet the interceptor missions at the present time. The task of long patrols to search for cruise missiles is much more efficient to solve with specialized UAVs with a long flight duration or balloon radars where possible. Experts claim that the MiG-41 will be made using stealth technology, but at a speed of 4 M, any radio-absorbing and stealth coating will fall off, and the fighter will be visible on enemy radars! The technique must be changed when it does not meet the requirements for it. So, I think, the MiG-41 is another speculation on the PAK-DP!

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