- This article describes the real-life MiG-31. For the fictitious craft having this designation, see Firefox (novel and film).
In the 1970s, the newest Soviet interceptor was the Foxbat, which was the fastest fighter plane in the world, but had limited endurance and relatively unsophisticated avionics. The Mig-31 was developed con-currently with the MiG-29 and the Su-27, but while the other two became multi-role fighters, the Mig-31 had the same exclusive mission as the MiG-25: to intercept and destroy enemy bombers. These new fighters represented a new direction in policy for Soviet air defense. Previous planes had been heavily dependent on ground control, but the new machines were designed to allow the pilot to act more independently, much like the American model for air defense fighter strategy.
The first flight of the MiG-31 prototype was in September 1975, and the new fighter broke a number of time-to-altitude records. Production began in 1979. NATO had heard of the Foxhound from a defecting Russian pilot, but the West got its first good look in 1985, when Foxhounds based on the Kola Peninsula were met by Norwegian fighters when they came close to that country’s air space. The MiG-31 looked like a two-seat MiG-25 with larger engines and an internal gun.
Internally, however, the MiG-31 is a very different beast. While the MiG-25 had a primitive, if powerful, radar, the MiG-31’s radar system is a phased array capable of tracking ten targets simultaneously at a range of 75 miles. It is also the first Russian production plane with a true “look down/shoot down” capability, to detect low-flying planes or cruise missiles. The crew of two means that the workload can be divided, allowing the back-seater to concentrate on radar and the pilot to concentrate on flying. The composition of the airframe is different as well, with less steel and more aluminum and titanium than its predecessor. In addition, the turbojets of the MiG-25 were replaced in the MiG-31 by more fuel-efficient turbofans. This means that the Foxhound is slower than the Foxbat (although, at Mach 2.3, still faster than most American and European fighters), but has better endurance.
Since the primary mission is long-range interception, the primary weapons are R-37 long-range and AA-12 Adder medium-range missiles. The Foxhound can carry up to four of each. Alternately, AA-8 Aphid heat-seeking, short-range missiles can be carried on the wing pylons, and MiG-31s often fly carrying two of these. The Aphids and the internal 23 mm gun give the Mig a chance to defend itself if the battle turns into a dogfight.
Both Russia and Kazakhstan inherited MiG-31s when the Soviet Union collapsed. Syria has five Foxhounds on order, and the People's Republic of China had a contract for 24 planes, plus more built under license, but this agreement may have been abandoned.
Terminology in fiction
The term MiG-31 appears in Firefox (novel and film) as a fictitious single-seat jet fighter-interceptor with a maximum speed of Mach 5 or 6, and armed with four missiles, two cannons, and two rearward flak layers, controlled by an Electroencephalographic Decision Estimate system.
Notes and References
- Rolling Thunder: Jet Combat from World War II to the Gulf War, by Ivan Rendall, Dell Publishing, 1997
- Known in NATO aviation circles as “Flash Dance”
- The Encyclopedia of Modern Military Aircraft, ed. by Paul Eden, Aerospace Publishing, 2004
- Syria Buying MiG-31s
- People's Liberation Army Air Force
- The World’s Great Fighters: From 1914 to the Present Day, by Robert Jackson, Amber Books, 2005
- Mikoyan Mig-31 Foxhound