Russia developing new interceptor aircraft

The MiG-31 remains the cornerstone of Russia's air defences.

The MiG-31 remains the cornerstone of Russia's air defences.

Marina Lystseva / TASS
The MiG Russian Aircraft Corporation is working on a new aircraft to replace the Mikoyan Mig-31 with its various modifications. The state-of-the-art interceptor aircraft, provisionally assigned the designation MiG-41, will perform air defence operations and be capable of near-hypersonic speeds. It is likely to enter service after 2020.

MiG General Director Sergey Korotkov told journalists in late December 2015  that 'a new aircraft system that will replace the legendary interceptor will be built based on modern principles of military aircraft engineering and out of modern materials.' The new aircraft's exterior is now being developed.

Work on the new interceptor began in early 2014. At the time, Aleksandr Tarnayev, State Duma Deputy and Defence Committee Member said a document had been signed to start research work on the MiG-41 project.

Almost no details about the aircraft have been released. According to Viktor Bondarev, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Air Force, the new interceptor should be ready by 2020.

Test pilot Anatoly Kvochur believes that the new aircraft will embody all the advantages of its predecessor, the MiG-31, but will be significantly faster, capable of reaching Mach 4+. 'This upgrade should have happened 20 years ago. That, however, did not happen then, so the requirements now are higher. These consist, among other things, of [increasing] the interceptor's speed to Mach 4-4.3 [roughly 4,248 kph – ed.],' said the pilot in an interview with RIA Novosti news agency.

The work on the supersonic MiG-41 interceptor is making use of the MiG-301 and MiG-321 projects begun in the 1990s. Because the new aircraft is competing with a project by the Sukhoi Design Bureau, which has taken the initiative of building an inexpensive interceptor 'operating' at speeds of 2,500-2,700 kmph, the industry and the military will have to come to an agreement on the viability of developing either project.

The simultaneous development of the new Sukhoi and MiG aircraft recalls a similar situation in the 1970s involving the Tupolev Tu-22M and Sukhoi T-4, of which the latter never went into production because of its high cost and difficulty in maintenance.

The MiG-31 remains the cornerstone of Russia's air defences. Today some of the fighter-interceptors are undergoing a planned upgrade aimed at enhancing the aircraft's combat capabilities. The upgraded Mig-31 aircraft (which will be assigned the designation MiG-31BM) will have new avionics and weaponry. This will make the MiG-31BM 2.6 times as effective as the MiG-31.

The first three upgraded MiG-31BM aircraft were delivered in December 2015 to an aviation regiment based at Tsentralnaya Uglovaya Military Aerodrome near Vladivostok. The regiment's entire fleet of Sukhoi Su-27 SM and MiG-31 aircraft is to be replaced with more modern aircraft during 2016. The MiG-31BM will continue to be used by the Russian Air Force until 2028, when it is due to be completely replaced by the MiG-41.

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