Despite tensions of the Cold War, the Soviet Union sought to enhance its air defenses by developing the MiG-31, which would eventually play a key role in Soviet air defenses.
The plane’s impressive speed, altitude, and climb capabilities, along with its groundbreaking Zaslon radar, would eventually become a formidable threat against high-flying threats.
A Remarkable Interceptor
The MiG-25 Foxbat was popular for its exceptional speed, altitude, and rapid ascent. However, despite being fast, it lacked maneuverability and was designed primarily for intercepting aerial threats via its engines, radar system, and long-range missiles. But it had limitations in low altitudes, relying on ground-based radar, and was strictly a high-altitude weapon.
Meanwhile, the MiG-31, its successor, had more powerful engines, better control at low altitudes, and featured an expanded radar suite managed by a second crew member in the rear cockpit.
With the MiG-31, the Soviet Union had an interceptor with remarkable long-range capabilities.
As a dedicated long-range interceptor, the MiG-31 replaced the Tu-128 in the Soviet arsenal. It had double the range with superior sensors and weaponry as compared with its predecessor. The new interceptor was designed to take on fast and high-flying enemies such as the iconic Lockheed SR-71 reconnaissance aircraft.
The MiG-31 featured more powerful engines, advanced avionics, a number of hardpoints for missiles, an internal cannon, and an independent interception radar.
The West was concerned with its capabilities, including its counter-cruise missile capabilities. Spy satellites eventually got images of the MiG-31 engaging and destroying targets at varying altitudes, which showed its advanced capabilities.
One of the World’s Fastest Production Aircraft
The MiG-31 was a plane that prioritized speed, altitude, and climb rate over maneuverability. As one of the world’s fastest production aircraft, its main missions included intercepting cruise missiles, and their launch aircraft, detecting and destroying low-flying threats, providing long-range escort for strategic bombers, and defending areas without ground-based air defense systems.
Flying at supersonic speeds, it can accelerate up to five times the force of gravity. Its wings and airframe which are mainly made from nickel-steel alloy can withstand high temperatures generated by flying at speeds that are close to Mach 3, were stronger than the MiG-25, allowing it to fly at supersonic speeds at low altitudes.
Equipped with D30-F6 et engines, the plane could reach a maximum speed of Mach 1.23 at low altitudes. It also allowed it to carry a range of missiles that allowed it to engage and neutralize enemy planes even at considerable distances.
Its most notable capability is the Zaslon radar- the first of its kind, allowing the plane to engage in high and low-flying intruders such as cruise missiles and bombers. With a range of 200 kilometers, it can simultaneously track up to 10 targets while engaging 4 simultaneously with its Vympel R-33 missiles.
Moreover, it can guide other planes such as MiG-23s, MiG-25s, MiG-29s, Su-15s, and Su-27 to targets found by its powerful radar. Russia has also set its sights on developing a successor to the MiG-31, which is known as the PAK-DP also known as the MiG-41.