Russia To Welcome F-16 Fighters With 300-Km Ranged R-37M Missiles Now Loaded On Su-30 SM2 Jets

In a significant development for the Russian military, a Russian Su-30SM2 fighter jet has been spotted, for the first time, with R-37M long-range air-to-air missiles.

This sighting was revealed in footage released by the Russian Ministry of Defense on May 22. The video showed a Russian Naval Aviation Su-30SM2 multirole fighter, designated B/N “80” Blue, equipped with two R-77-1 medium-range air-to-air missiles (AAMs) and two R-37M long-range AAMs.

This was the first time the Su-30SM2 variant was seen with the R-37M missiles, which have a range exceeding 300 kilometers and are designed to target high-speed aircraft.

Previously, only the Su-57, Su-35, and MiG-31 aircraft were reported to be compatible with these formidable missiles.

The R-37M missile has already established a reputation as a potent weapon in the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. The MiG-31 interceptor, armed with the R-37M, has been a major threat to the Ukrainian Air Force.

A still from a newly released Russian MoD video showing a Russian Naval Aviation Su-30SM2 multirole fighter (B/N “80” Blue) armed with two R-77-1 medium-range AAMs & two R-37M long-range AAMs.

Reports indicate that MiG-31 aircraft have successfully downed several Ukrainian planes using the R-37M missile. In December 2023, a Ukrainian MiG-29 fighter jet was brought down by an R-37M missile, underscoring the missile’s effectiveness in combat.

The threat of these missiles has reportedly compelled Ukrainian pilots to develop tactics to evade them. A Ukrainian pilot earlier admitted that while the R-37M wasn’t achieving numerous direct hits, it was compelling Ukrainian pilots to alter their flight paths to avoid potential strikes, thereby disrupting their missions.

This evasive maneuvering could be considered a “soft kill,” as it prevents pilots from completing their objectives. Nonetheless, the Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Su-30SM2, observed carrying R-37M missiles, was on a mission to destroy unmanned boats of the Ukrainian Armed Forces in the Black Sea.

The operation involved receiving target data from surveillance equipment operators and successfully eliminating all detected unmanned boats.

“Destroying an unmanned enemy boat is a challenging task due to its small size and the difficulty of detecting it against the background of the sea. The complexity lies in having only a split second to aim during a dive,” explained one of the pilots involved in the mission.

A Threat To F-16 Fighter Jets? 

The Su-30SM2, an advanced version of the Su-30 series, can leverage the R-37M’s extended range and high velocity to effectively engage distant targets. The R-37M enhances the Su-30SM2’s air superiority and multi-role missions.

This flexibility is crucial for maintaining air dominance, particularly in contested environments where the ability to neutralize threats from afar can be decisive.

Russian media underscored the significance of recent flights involving the Su-30SM2 armed with R-37M missiles. The move is perceived as a demonstrative display, especially against the backdrop of the anticipated yet “repeatedly postponed” arrival of American F-16 fighters for the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Russian analysts suggest that their military pilots are signaling their readiness for potential encounters with NATO aircraft, asserting their readiness to counter any perceived threats effectively.

The Russian media further claimed that the only close analogs to the R-37M, according to open sources, are the American AIM-47 Falcon and AAM-N-10 Eagle missiles. However, these American missiles, with a range of up to 200 kilometers, were never adopted into standard service by the US Air Force.

F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Royal Danish Air Force – Wikimedia Commons

The American AIM-120 AMRAAM (Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile), another Western analog, has a shorter range than the R-37M. Though classified, the range of the AIM-120D is believed to extend to about 160 kilometers or potentially up to 180 kilometers.

Ukrainian pilots are hopeful that the soon-to-be-supplied F-16 fighter jets, armed with AIM-120 AMRAAM missiles, will be crucial in countering the Russian Air Force.

Meanwhile, the availability of Su-35 aircraft equipped with R-37M missiles is also expected to enhance the Russian military’s ability to intercept and shoot down Ukrainian Storm Shadow/SCALP-EG cruise missiles.

The widespread deployment of Su-30 fighters, armed with long-range missiles, across the Russian Air Force and naval aviation expands the ability to intercept air targets.

The R-37M’s built-in radio adjustment system alleviates the need for continual radar correction by the Su-30SM2 aircraft post-launch. Such tasks have been seamlessly delegated to the modernized A-50U Airborne Early Warning And Control Aircraft.