In what is expected to come as a significant boost to the Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS), the Nizhny Novgorod Aviation Plant “Sokol” delivered a new batch of upgraded MiG-31 Interceptor fighters to the Russian Ministry of Defense (RuMoD).
The modernization work was completed in accordance with a state defense order, and the upgraded aircraft have been sent to their permanent airfields, according to a message posted on the Russian United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) Telegram account, which controls the Sokol plant.
The message also noted that the newly-upgraded MiG-31 fighters have the same flight performance as when they were first put into service. However, they have now been fitted with additional features and capabilities to bolster their combat strength.
Yury Slyusar, General Director of UAC, said: “Modernization of MiG-31 aircraft is one of the main competencies and the most important activity of the Nizhny Novgorod Sokol Aircraft Building Plant in the UAC circuit. The enterprise fulfills its obligations to provide the Russian army with the necessary aviation equipment. In the future, work will continue within the framework of the execution of contracts for the current year.”
Slyusar added that the enterprise fulfills its obligation to provide the Russian army with the necessary aviation equipment. In the future, work will continue as part of the execution of this year’s contracts. The UAC, however, stopped short of specifying what variant the aircraft has been upgraded to.
The Nizhny Novgorod Aviation Plant "Sokol" handed over to the Russian Ministry of Defense a batch of MiG-31 fighter-interceptors, which were repaired and modernized. pic.twitter.com/p2zUlWUzEW
— Spriter Team (@SpriterTeam) July 31, 2023
When the plant was embarking on the upgrade program in November 2021, staff from the Nizhny Novgorod Aviation Plant stated that following significant maintenance and upgrades, the combat effectiveness of MiG-31 fighter interceptors would increase threefold.
At the time, the plant’s management went so far as to say that the MiG-31 fighter interceptor’s substantial upgrade to the MiG-31BM level was the primary mission of the Sokol aviation firm, and its development has been ongoing since 2007.
The upgrade program to the MiG-31BM variant level has since caught pace, despite the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February and the resultant protracted war that refuses to end.
UAC Mum On Which MiG-31 Variant Delivered
In December last year, the combat air arm of Russia’s Central Military District (TsVO), stationed in the Krasnoyarsk Territory, received two upgraded MiG-31BM fighter interceptors, as previously reported by EurAsian Times. This has fueled speculation that the aircraft has been upgraded to the MiG-31BM version.
The MiG-31BM is known to be the most advanced and efficient iteration of the original MiG-31 Foxhound. According to sources in local media, it is one of the few Russian aircraft capable of intercepting and destroying cruise missiles that are flying at very low altitudes.
It can be fitted with various Russian air-to-air and air-to-surface missiles, and its ability to intercept 24 targets at once is particularly noteworthy.
Currently, Russia has three squadrons of the MiG-31BM or about 90 active fighters. Since the UAC did not specify either the variant or the number of upgraded MiG-31s delivered, it is hard to say whether the RuAF has received an additional regiment of MiG-31BM.
Without more information, some experts even speculated whether the UAC upgraded the MiG-31 to the MiG-31K iteration designed to carry the Kinzhal hypersonic missiles.
For instance, Indian Air Force veteran and avid Russia watcher Squadron Leader Vijainder K. Thakur wondered whether the MiG-31s could have been upgraded to hypersonic carrier variants, as seen below.
When probed further by EurAsian Times on why the Russians would need additional MiG-31K, Thakur said: “Russia is preparing for a NATO intervention to deter it. As such, the number of MiG-31K aircraft in its inventory is currently low. My understanding is that the 2021 order was for the MiG-31K variant. Since the UAC report did not specify the variant, it is possible that different variants were included in the upgraded lot. But as others have reported, the lot could have been entirely of MiG-31BM.”
An additional batch of MiG-31 Interceptors may augur well for the VKS and significantly bolster its combat capability against any potential adversary. The aircraft has already proven its mettle by outperforming every other fighter deployed in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war.
MiG-31 In The Ukraine War
The Su-30SM and Su-35S, two highly developed Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) jets, have been particularly effective and deadly against Ukrainian aircraft throughout the war, as EurAsian Times has previously covered in extensive detail. However, the MiG-31 Interceptor has emerged as the showstopper.
According to a study on the Russian Air War in Ukraine by the London-based Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the defensive patrols of the VKS have proven to be very successful against Ukrainian combat aircraft, with the long-range air-to-air missiles R-37M and MiG-31BM posing particular difficulties for the Ukrainian fighter pilots.
According to the RUSI study, the Su-27, the Ukrainian Air Force’s top interceptor, cannot compete with the MiG-31’s altitude, speed, or range. The fighter can dash at Mach 2.5 for brief periods and fly at an altitude of around 18 kilometers for a distance of over 700 kilometers.
Experts at RUSI wrote in the report that “the extremely high speed of the weapon (R-37M), coupled with very long effective range and a seeker designed for engaging low-altitude targets, makes it particularly difficult to evade.”
The MiG-31BM is not the only Foxhound variant, however, which has had the Ukrainians over a barrel, as the Russians have also been using the MiG-31K armed with the hypersonic Kh-47 Kinzhal. Initially, it was the MiG-31BM that was intended to carry Kinzhal hypersonic missile, but eventually, the MiG-31K was the chosen one.
Recently, the VKS has increased the frequency of firing Kinzhal hypersonic missiles on Ukraine, especially as it sought to hunt down Ukraine’s Patriot missile defense system in June this year.
The utility of the MiG-31 for the Russian Air Force has, thus, only seen an uptick over the months since the conflict began. Moreover, Moscow has lost just one MiG-31BM aircraft since the conflict started, and the loss reportedly occurred in a non-combat incident.
Military experts have asserted that Ukraine needed to secure the F-16 Fighting Falcon from its NATO partners if it has to combat the threat posed by Russia’s high-altitude interceptors that outfox and hound Ukrainian fighter jets and its ground-based assets..
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