Ukraine Seizes ‘Scary’ Russian R-37M Missile Wreckage Used To Launch Deadly Strikes From Su-35, MiG-31 Fighters

As Russia continues to rain missiles on Ukrainian cities amid a fresh offensive launched last week, images of a long-range Russian R-37M air-to-air missile wreckage have surfaced online.

The image of the wreckage, which Ukrainian soldiers allegedly found, was posted to social media on February 12. This long-range missile, believed to have no competitors, is used by Russian fighter jets to launch attacks on Ukraine from stand-off distances.

Although the Russian fighter jets have been unable to operate in Ukraine’s airspace without coming under attack from portable air defense systems or surface-to-air missiles, they have successfully shot down several Ukrainian fighter jets using these long-range missiles.

This makes the discovery of the wreckage significant for the Ukrainian military and its allies in the West. Earlier, the Ukrainian troops got their hands on the remains of a downed Russian Kh-101 air-launched cruise missile which was relatively intact.

On its part, the R-37M is a modern air-to-air missile capable of hitting targets from a range of almost 300 kilometers. It is designed to take down a variety of air targets, including aircraft, cruise missiles, and helicopters while keeping the launch platform out of the reach of any fighters or air defense units that may be defending the target.

The feature that makes this Russian missile more lethal is the guidance system, which is engaged towards the end of the missile’s flight path and is said to be inertial with radio correction and active radar homing. It uses a two-mode solid-fuel engine for propulsion.

As an explosive device, the radar active non-contact and contact sensors of the target are used. Moreover, the rocket’s military component contains a high-fragmentation explosive, allowing the Russian warplanes to shoot down Ukrainian jets with a devastating impact.

The missile weighs 1,124 pounds (over 500 kilograms) and is roughly the same size as the well-known Russian R-33 missile. However, the R-37M reaches nearly double the range thanks to a dual-pulse solid-propellant rocket motor and an improved flight profile.

R-37 missile Russia
File Image

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) announced the first use of this missile in early November last year and said that a Su-35S had shot down a Ukrainian fighter jet by firing the R-37M missile.

However, even before the official admission, there were reports that Russia’s most advanced combat aircraft were using this long-range missile to down Ukraine’s Soviet-era jets.

R-37M Missile Wreaks Havoc On Ukraine’s Air Force

The renowned Russian research and production organization Vympel, in charge of all Russian AAM families, manufactures the R-37M air-to-air missile. The development of this missile began in the mid-2000s.

Only the MiG-31 Foxhound fighter jet was initially supposed to carry the R-37M. However, the manufacturers later decided to improve the weapon to make it more compatible with Russian fighter jets like the Su-30, the Su-35, and the fifth-generation Su-57 fighter jet.

According to media reports, the R-37M has been extensively fired by the Su-35 and the MiG-31 to down Ukrainian targets in the ongoing conflict. British media reports say it can hit air targets from more than 200-300 kilometers away at almost hypersonic speed.

MAKS Airshow 2013 (Ramenskoye Airport, Russia) (524-21).jpg
R-37M at 2013 MAKS Airshow (Wikipedia)

The MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors flying high-altitude patrols have reportedly shot down several Ukrainian fighters by firing their potent long-range Vympel R-37M air-to-air missiles. From their vantage point in the skies, MiG-31 pilots can fire a single, underbelly R-37M missile at targets up to 200 miles (more than 300 kilometers) away.

The R-37M missile, however, operates most effectively at distances no larger than 80 miles (over 128 kilometers). In contrast, a Ukrainian Su-27 can only fire a Vympel R-27 missile 50 kilometers away. This has given the Foxhounds that can shoot at enemy jets and escape unscathed a clear edge in combat.

A RUSI report published in November last year said, “The VKS has been firing up to six R-37Ms per day during October. The extremely high speed of the weapon, coupled with a very long effective range and a seeker designed for engaging low-altitude targets, makes it particularly difficult to evade.”

MiG-31 and Su-35 aircraft reportedly shot down Ukrainian jets using the R-37M missile while on high-altitude defensive patrols along the constantly shifting frontlines.

The Su-35S aircraft started its captive-carry sorties with R-37M missions in 2020, according to the Russian daily Izvestia. The advanced Russian workhorse can carry four R-37Ms, two under each set of wings and another pair beneath the fuselage.

The Russian Ministry of Defense released footage of sorties of the Su-35S and Su-30SM on November 1. The Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Su-35S and Su-30SM were on an air patrol when they reportedly spotted an unidentified Ukrainian aircraft and destroyed it using the R-37M.

The fifth-generation Su-57 fighter jet, which has allegedly been pressed into combat by Russia in the ongoing war, has also fired this long-range missile. According to a UK MoD assessment, the stealth aircraft is likely limited to flying over Russian territory and launching long-range air-to-surface or air-to-air missiles into Ukraine.

According to an American media outlet that cited a Ukrainian MiG-29 pilot who called it “f*****g scary,” the long-range R-37M air-to-air missile is particularly worrying to the Ukrainian pilots among the long-range Felon arsenal.